Police Chief Joseph Sinagra announced last month the department would be ticketing motorists who fail to yield to pedestrians at crosswalks and, later this summer, jaywalking pedestrians.
As described, the enforcement of these laws will mark a significant change for Saugerties, making it one of the strictest towns in the area.
Regarding the requirement that motorists yield to pedestrians at crosswalks, Sinagra emphasized that this doesn’t mean pedestrians should feel free to cross at will. The law states that a pedestrian must provide ample opportunity for a motorist to stop their vehicle. This does not apply at intersections with walk and do not walk signage — there, pedestrians must wait for the walk sign. But it does apply at Main and Partition, at least until new signage is installed later this year.
Undercover police officers posing as pedestrians have begun to observe motorists. Those who fail to yield are ticketed.
Police are not just handing out tickets, said Sinagra, but pamphlets explaining the rules governing crosswalks.
“We’re not trying to do this to harass our public,” Sinagra said.
While drivers are part of the problem, so are the pedestrians. That’s why Phase II of the enforcement this summer will target jaywalkers.
Jaywalking includes crossing against a do not walk sign, failure to use a crosswalk when one is located within a “reasonable distance,” and, when there is no crosswalk, crossing the street diagonally instead of straight across. Walking in the middle of the street or on the street where sidewalks are provided also counts.
The fine is $125.
Complaints of an uptick in pedestrian and car accidents in the village had been increasing in recent years. The death of Robert Carlson, who was struck by a truck near the intersection of Main and Partition on Jan. 30, was responsible for the issue coming to the forefront.
Why the increase? Sinagra thinks distracted driving, such as talking on the cell phone and texting, is a component that has to be considered, but a majority of the accidents so far point to the pedestrian.
“So far, out of all our investigations, it’s inattention by the pedestrian that really was the cause of the accident, not the driver,” he said. “That’s scary when you think about that. It’s not just Saugerties that’s having the issue. It’s all over the place.”
Sinagra called pedestrian safety a two-way street. “Drivers need to start paying attention to pedestrians and pedestrians need to start paying attention to the drivers,” he said. “These are simple rules we all learned as kids, and for some reason, when we become adults they all go out the window.”
An observation of the Main/Partition intersection over the weekend yielded several close calls from traffic turning onto Partition St. As pedestrians waited to cross Partition St., many were caught off-guard by turning traffic as they watched for the traffic light to turn red, thinking it was then safe to cross.
Where there are crossing signals, such as Main and Market streets, Sinagra reminded pedestrians they must press the button and wait for the “walk” signal before crossing. Following the rules at that intersection is especially important because vehicles get a green arrow to turn right from Main St. to Market St.
The news of the enforcement effort has been greeted positively. One worker at the Saugerties Antiques Center was glad to hear something is being done. Pedestrians generally agreed.
But one clerk at Inquiring Minds bookstore at Main and Partition streets said he sees dangerous situations every day and suggested mounting a camera to document the incidents.
“They (the motorists) have no respect for pedestrians,” said the clerk, who declined to give his name. “Since I got here three years ago, I’ve noticed that.”
He said he’s seen near collisions four or five times a day if he happens to look up from his work.
“This is not the Daytona Raceway. This is Saugerties and Main and Partition.” The man said he grew up in New York City, where dodging traffic is a way of life. Despite that, he is worried about getting hit while crossing Partition St.