U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand came to Saugerties Monday, May 5 to tout a bill that would make federal highway safety funds available to communities, counties and states for pedestrian safety measures like crosswalk signals, sidewalks along rural roads and islands in the middle of large roads.
Surrounded by county, town, and village elected officials and 150 students from Cahill Elementary School, Gillibrand discussed her Pedestrian Safety Act of 2014 at a press conference on the side lawn of Cahill adjacent to the busy intersection of Main and Washington streets, where the state will soon install a traffic light.
When asked what they know about pedestrian safety prior to Gillibrand’s speech, students, teachers, and the principal at Cahill said that pedestrian safety skills are no longer part of the curriculum in Saugerties schools, a revelation that surprised Mayor William Murphy and Police Chief Joseph Sinagra.
Fourth grade student Elliot Wakefield said he and his classmates learn about safely crossing streets and bicycle safety from their parents, not at school.
Cahill Principal Susan Gies said she doesn’t remember when schools stopped including pedestrian safety training for students, “but we have to teach the students so many things these days, that it’s no longer part of the curriculum.”
Later that day, Murphy said the village and police department could team up to hold assemblies in all the elementary schools to educate students.
Sinagra said his department is addressing pedestrian safety through a campaign called “See, Be Seen,” which includes flyers posted throughout the village and a weekly education session at the Boys & Girls Club conducted by the school resource officer, a police officer assigned to the schools.
The SRO and members of the police department are also available to speak at Parent Teacher Association meetings and other school organizations as well, Sinagra said.
“So yes, we have, and are addressing the education of the children in the schools,” said Sinagra.
Gillibrand said school districts and communities would be able to apply for funding for educational measures if her bill is approved.
Gillibrand’s bill currently has six co-sponsors, all of whom are fellow Democrats. It has yet to be assigned to a committee for review.
“We must ensure our communities have safer roadways to protect children and seniors,” said Gillibrand.
She noted that there have been 23 pedestrian fatalities and “nearly 990 injures” in the Hudson Valley.
In Saugerties alone, 12 pedestrians were hit by vehicles last year, Sinagra said, and of those, two were fatalities, with one fatality this year.
“One of the most common factors in these incidents,” Sinagra added, is “the failure of pedestrians to look both ways before crossing the street.”
He said officers will be out on the streets reminding residents of the dangers of distracted walking and driving— which includes doing either while texting, talking on the phone or listening to music.
Ulster County Executive Michael Hein said, “The county will do everything in its power to make communities safer, and to help students learn the basic skills of bicycle safety as well. It’s essential to better protect our population.”
Cahill fifth grader Sophia Williams and sixth grader Lela Valles said that half their fellow classmates walk to school, “so please make our streets safer for us.”