The Spotlight editorial of January 17, 2018 touched on an important issue for me as a member of the Town of Bethlehem’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Committee. Yes folks there are a group of people volunteering their time to try and improve the safety of residents who use our streets.
We also have observed the failure of vehicles to stop for pedestrians in the crosswalks of our town roads. Last year I participated in an annual survey to observe the vehicle pedestrian interactions at the marked cross walk in front of the post office on Delaware Avenue. The survey was conducted between the hours of 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and again from 3 to 5 p.m. During that time I personally observed over 35 percent of vehicles failing to stop for a pedestrian attempting to cross the roadway in the crosswalk. In the 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. session it was raining and one would think that a driver in a warm dry vehicle would stop for a pedestrian standing in the rain trying to cross the street. Apparently not!
So why the failure to stop? Are you unaware of the vehicle and traffic law that informs you that you must stop? That law has been in effect for over 20 years! It is in section 1151 of the Vehicle and Traffic law and it imposes three points, a penalty and a state surcharge. Is it really worth it to not take a moment to stop for a pedestrian? The Bethlehem Police Department issued seven tickets last year for this violation. Driving while distracted? Sure, we all have seen many drivers using hand held devices and not paying attention. In a hurry? Of course the kids are late for soccer practice. All of these are just excuses! Pedestrians are vulnerable road users. They do not have a steel roll cage, air bags or seat belts.
Perhaps the police department may need to issue more tickets in order to make the point. Perhaps a better way is for all of us to become more responsible drivers and understand that pedestrians have rights and need to feel less threatened by the increasing number of vehicles in our town. Perhaps we need to get out of our vehicles, walk more and begin to better understand what it is like to be a pedestrian. In doing that we can also make a small step in another way by driving a little less and helping Bethlehem to become a more sustainable community.