More cars are hitting New Paltz pedestrians – what should be done?

The Crosswalk at North Front and Main in New Paltz. (Photo by Lauren Thomas)

Pedestrians are being hit by cars on Main Street in New Paltz in much higher numbers recently, more than quadrupling in just two years, according to data presented to the New Paltz Village Board last week by Lieutenant Robert Lucchesi of the town police force.

(Between that meeting and when this article was written, another pedestrian was struck by a car.)

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Lucchesi said that the data, which lump bicyclists in with walkers, show that 21 were struck in 2019, up from 11 in 2018 and only four the year before that. Local officials anticipate pedestrian traffic on Main Street could very well increase this year as the Empire State Trail, a pedestrian and bike trail linking New York City to Buffalo that opened last year, becomes more popular. The official route splits bicyclists off to follow Henry W. Dubois Drive as they ride between the Thruway and the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail, while those on foot walk down a road that’s become markedly more dangerous to their safety.

The village is seeking help with the state Department of Transportation (DOT) in creating more crosswalks, a school-zone designation for the middle school and a lower speed limit. Rogers characterized a recent meeting with state officials as “not terribly encouraging.” Village officials were told their request for more crosswalks would be denied, but they plan to make it anyway, with county officials promising to do camera work to bolster the case.

Lucchesi offered something of an apology for drivers who strike pedestrians, noting that it can be “difficult to see anybody” under conditions when glare is a factor, such as after rain. Trustee William Wheeler Murray suggested that when visibility is low, it’s time to slow down or avoid driving. Deputy Mayor KT Tobin agreed that many of the crashes occur in early evening, but Rogers thinks distracted driving is also a factor. The lieutenant said that the interplay there is “unknown,” but Tobin disagreed, asserting that the research is compelling.

Trustees see the DOT’s attitude as contradicting the state’s Complete Streets law. The DOT website defines a Complete Street as “a roadway planned and designed to consider the safe, convenient access and mobility of all roadway users of all ages and abilities. This includes pedestrians, bicyclists, public transportation riders and motorists; it includes children, the elderly and persons with disabilities.” Route 299 is a state road, meaning responsibility for implementing the law falls to DOT personnel, who in addition to overseeing repairs and design, also regulate signage, speed limits and crosswalks along the stretch that ends at the intersection with Chestnut Street.

Trustees believe if there were more crosswalks, there would be a greater likelihood they’d be used. Rogers thinks that educating drivers is at least as important as training pedestrians, since “we’re trying to encourage people to walk more.”

That effort supports another of Governor Cuomo’s initiatives, that of sharply reducing carbon-equivalent emissions in the state. The irony of a state program being undermined by the decisions of state employees is not lost upon New Paltz officials. “How do we relay that message to DOT?” Rogers wondered at one point.

Other trustees are feeling much the same. Murray found the increase in crashes “very distressing,” and Michele Zipp said that the DOT stance was “frankly, insulting.”

Speed limit changes are also subject to state approval. The standard speed limit inside villages is set at 30 mph by state law and trustees are closely watching an effort to get that lowered to 25. A number of requests to reduce speed limits have been made by village and town officials in recent years, but none have ever been approved. The rationale that’s been described by Neil Bettez, the town supervisor, is that if the average vehicle speed is higher than the posted limit, lowering it will not be considered.

Tobin, lamenting what she sees as a desire to “move vehicles faster,” pointed out that built environment changes behavior. All of their desired changes would support pedestrian safety by altering behavior of either pedestrians or drivers.

It doesn’t seem like any planning went into managing the impacts of the Empire State Trail, Rogers believes. What’s needed are ways to manage conditions of poor visibility and increasing users, but rather than add more crosswalks to aid in safely getting people across the road without walking a quarter mile or more out of the way, state officials seem to instead make conditions less safe with their decisions.

Trustees say the lack of school zone at the middle school, which would lower the speed limit, is another example of an unsafe situation. Rogers says he was told a school zone designation isn’t necessary because there is a traffic light at that corner. At the same time, there’s also a crosswalk from the school across South Manheim Boulevard near La Bella Pizza Bistro, not at all close to a light. It’s also on a state road, and renovations to the school have left it poorly placed. The barrier to relocating it, according to the mayor, is paying for the curb cut that’s required for wheelchair access.

While data are being gathered to bolster arguments, trustees are also asking town council members to join with them by requesting that the speed limit on 299 past the village line be reduced from 35 mph to 30, or even 25.

Board member Alexandra Wojcik suggested seeking out alliances with leaders of other communities that play host to the trail or to SUNY campuses. Rogers suggested asking college officials if they could use their influence, and also noted that Jen Metzger, the state senator, had similar conversations with DOT staffers as a town board member in Rosendale.

There are 25 comments

  1. Victor E OfThePeople

    There are an inordinate amount of pedestrian crosswalks throughout New Paltz, drivers really need to be very aware and focused as they drive through New Paltz.

    1. Corey Arnold

      The problem is that not many pedestrians look, now use the side walks. People think just because they’re pedestrians and they have the right of way that they can act childish and arrogant.

      At this point in time it wouldn’t hurt to have cameras up, ones that protect drivers against the foolishness of people who don’t look both ways or make eye contact.

      As for at night, more people should wear lighter clothes or a vest, maybe even fund reflective flags on cross walks for people to hold while crossing the street.

  2. Diane A.

    Why not start ticketing pedestrians not using crosswalks or stepping out in front of cars without looking? Or ticketing both bicyclists and pedestrians not on the correct side of the road or not following traffic laws? It’s not just distracted drivers or road glare causing the accidents…

  3. Charlie Hubert

    We don’t need more crosswalks but rather we need to enforce jaywalking laws. Many of the pedestrians create their own situations by walking right in front of vehicles traveling in both directions. They hold a hand up and walk right in front of moving traffic while crossing the street. They will be within 50 feet of a designated crosswalk yet they’ll jaywalk.

    Additionally they’ll cross at a crosswalk that has a traffic control device when it clearly indicates ‘don’t walk’ yet still cross the street as though they have the right of way.

    Don’t get me started on the bicyclists, I think the picture says it all, no helmet, riding on the sidewalk… ‘Share the road’ works both ways.

    I suggest ticketing pedestrians that violate the law to let them know that the responsibility is a shared one.

  4. Long Haul

    I bet they could cut down on some of the cyclist – vehicle accidents by actually enforcing roadway laws and fines that are completely ignored by cyclists every single day. No more riding through a red light, ignoring right of way, passing on the right, etc. Everytime I go through New Paltz is see these and more, and the cops just watch them and do nothing. Green initiative or not, maybe a few more cyclist traffic stops and tickets would mean a few less accidents and injuries.

  5. Rick R.

    I always yield to peds in all circumstances, but the onus falls on the ped to open his eyes and NOT step in front of a moving vehicle just because he has the right of way.

  6. tommus

    Driving through NP is frustrating. Whatever you do, you’re gonna be sitting in a line of cars at an intersection for while , pedestrians and cyclists are everywhere, so why not just slow down and be aware of your surroundings? Even if a pedestrian or cyclist is technically breaking the law, if you hit them with your automobile you are probably at fault. Drivers control the deadly force, ultimately it’s up to the person behind the wheel to create a safe environment.

  7. JR

    New Paltz pedestrians on Main St often display an arrogance when crossing the street. They do not look and/or step off the curb and start crossing as if motorists (which they most likely are themselves), will yield to them immediately regardless of conditions.
    Those on bicycles rarely follow traffic laws they are supposed to adhere to. They’ll ride their bikes in crossings when they should dismount and walk across. When they are on their bicycle they are not pedestrians.
    The worst are cyclists that ride 2 and 3 across instead of single file as they are supposed to.
    As pointed out, in the photo is a cyclist without the required helmet.
    In the busiest part of Main St it is common to see people crossing wherever they please instead of using the numerous crosswalks.
    Pedestrians should stand and wait for an indicator that gives them the right of way at any crossing, as found at traffic lights. Install these and make them wait to cross making it safer for them and those in vehicles.

  8. Scott gibson

    This is shocking report. I Feel I have more invested in this than normal. I have been in the bike industry for 20 years, I design and build hydration packs and gear in HV for cyclist since 2005. In the last six months I started doing high visibility colors and incorporating EL wires, electric lights into the pack designs, All things to increase rider visibility. There Are more deaths in New York City as well, this is not an isolated Hudson Valley new Paltz situation. We’re moving away from fossil fuel‘s , we’re getting healthier , more people are on their bikes , Electric bikes are changing transportation rules and regulations, our infrastructure needs to catch up. Not an easy fix from A mayors seat, or state DOT , riders beware! We got Jersey drivers on our streets, you ever driven in Jersey? Municipalities need to put up cameras In high-risk areas before the Fourth of July.

  9. Ron Weller

    Some of these crosswalks are so dark that you dont see them or the pedestrian untill you’re right on top of them and they do just walk right out without even looking. I’m in NewPaltze twice a day every day and I’ve had my share of close calls. LIGHT UP THE DAMN CROSS WALKS. And they need to be more cautious as well!

  10. Brad eckert

    I have worked on main Street in new paltz for many years.. and yes pedestrians cross any where without looking but I think that younger drivers should be taught correctly both by driving classes and parents doing the teaching. People should be more educated on how to cross a street also. When working on main Street I always walked up to the cross walk to cross. It took me about 100 ft more to walk but was alot easier to cross. In my years crossing at the cross walk I have seen with my own eyes car by car pass thru the crosswalk staring at me standing in the walkway waiting to cross. I would say 3 out of five cars did not stop to let pedestrians cross

  11. Bob

    Hmmmm, seems by the comments, that the 100% majority are pointing the finger at the pedestrians and bi-cycleists. Maybe, there in lies the issue, not the automobile drivers.

  12. FunkieGunkie

    Bring back the trolley and get rid of cars on Main Street. Lowering speed limits will add to an already dire traffic problem on Main Street. Slow the flow of not for profit ecotourism that saturates the Town by cubing parking lot construction every 1 mile along Rt.299 and Institute a daily user permit system to protect the environment like a responsible conservation groups should. Enforce laws. Use common sense. Really, how hard is it NOT to get hit by a car while on foot or bike? It’s your choice Town of New Paltz, do something right for your constituents.

  13. The Original Village Idiot

    If the university allowed freshmen to have cars again, then there would be less pedestrians, bicycles, skateboards and unicycles on the street.

  14. Pay attention

    What happened to the pedestrians accountability for their own safety and look both ways before crossing. I press this into the minds of my children, constantly. It’s your life, you need to protect it. Not rely on someone else, because it’s the law. Both drivers and pedestrians need to be aware of the surroundings. Often, you see pedestrians walking through crosswalks without stopping to look for oncoming traffic. Their attention is usually consumed by their phone or conversation with little to none on their immediate surroundings, including a vehicle coming right at them.

  15. The Wright Brothers

    The Village should issue free-dashboard cameras, reconstitute a Village police department with cops on bicycles to patrol by, eliminate parking meters and parking on Main Street, Church Street, etc., make the fire department a paid professional one, get its own Rescue Squad, put in the by-pass road around the university as proposed more than 20 years ago and now long forgotten and have the trustees of the village out on the streets fulfilling their constabulary duties, as prescribed by State law.All of this would be paid for by commercial entities, who are currently real-property taxed at the same rate as single family owner occupied domiciles are, or even less.

  16. Tracy

    I literally count daily, watching the crosswalk from my office at the Main/Front/Plattekill Intersection, an average of 100 pedestrians who literally walk into the crosswalks directly in front of oncoming traffic — they do not look up, they do not stop before stepping into the crosswalk even when a vehicle is less than 20-feet away from them, they are looking at their phones, those riding bikes cross diagonally, it is a mess — the turth of the LAW regarding crosswalks, is that the Pedestrian Has The Primary Responsibility to look in all directions, stop walking, and evaluate on-coming traffic BEFORE STEPPING INTO THE CROSS WALK.

    The “assumption” by pedestrians, is that a 3,500 pound car traveling at 20 MPH can stop in an instant as the pedestrian ambles into a cross walk without looking or assessing traffic timing and they expect a car to be able to stop on a dime.

    That is IMPOSSIBLE.

    Every crosswalk needs bold signage directed at pedestrians that says:
    Stop Before You Cross. Look Both Ways. Do Not Cross Into Oncoming Traffic.

    Personally, I am 50% pedestrian, 50% driver – and because I am a driver I know that I have to stop and look
    before I set foot in the crosswalks because I understand that a person behind the wheel has a real challenge heaped on them to do the “work” that the pedestrians SHOULD be doing.

    Traffic in New Paltz already moves slowly, it is stop and go virtually the entire length through town. So lowering the speed limit frankly is not the answer – you’ll have a parking lot.

    We need to TRAIN our school students, and most importantly our SUNY Students at orientation about HOW to use a crosswalk.

    The other two pinchpoints to be honest, is a traffic light needs to be installed at Main/Front/Plattekill and another traffic light needs to be installed at Main/Water/Hugenot St intersection. Doing so will properly time the entire length of Main Street. Will remove the burden from pedestrians ambling into crosswalks and force them to cross with the light in a traditional manner.

  17. Cobble Stones

    Henry Bliss was the first American pedestrian to be struck and killed, hit by a New York City electric-taxi, no less on September 13, 1899. Arthur Smith was the cabbie, who had just charged his motor at a pre-Telsa juicing station and didn’t see Bliss stepping off a trolley car.

    Bliss’s dying statement was “Get a horse!”

  18. Lucrezia B

    We should make more sections auto-free pedestrian zones. Whatever the reason, if you want to blame people or not, they are dying and that is everyone’s responsibility. Nobody wanted to stop for school buses when they first made that law, either.

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