By Rockland County Executive Ed Day
Another senseless tragedy on the roads in Rockland – this one involving a family out on a shopping errand and a little baby who is now dead.
A regular everyday chore turned into tragedy when a careless driver allegedly gave into road rage.
We send our condolences to the family of the three-month old boy who perished and we hope his mother and two siblings recover fully.
This area, Route 59 in the heart of Monsey, has long been identified as the site of an inordinate number of car crashes, many involving pedestrians, according to the state, which owns and maintains Route 59.
Data from the state a year ago showed that the average daily traffic on Route 45 is now 17,000 vehicles and an average of 39,000 vehicles on Route 59.
The two routes combined had over 1,100 crashes from 2012 to 2015.
State records show that nine pedestrians were killed on roads in Rockland between 2011 to 2013.
If anything, the roads are even more crowded now than they were a year ago and sadly the number of pedestrians killed on Rockland’s roads has increased as well.
It’s obvious that there is a multifaceted problem. The solutions have to include cars and roads and pedestrians and, above all, careful planning.
Rockland County has been an integral part of the development of the Lower Hudson Transit Link, the $92 million regional program being implemented along with the construction of the new Tappan Zee Bridge.
It includes a new bus system and numerous improvements between Suffern and Port Chester.
We have been in frequent communication with the state about project. Following this latest tragedy, I sent several people from County government to a meeting to discuss the timetable with state officials.
Commissioner of Health Dr. Patricia Schnabel Ruppert, along with a program director from the Department of Health and a representative from our County Department of Planning and Public Transportation attended the meeting and reported back to me that the state has numerous safety upgrades on the way including:
- 35 state-of-the-art traffic signal upgrades, including adaptive signal control that will enable signal timing to be adjusted according to real-time traffic conditions.
- Pedestrian signal improvements with audible signals, countdown timers, enhanced walk/don’t walk symbols
- 259 ramps that comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
There’s $13.5 million already put aside for upgrades to the Route 59 corridor, including sidewalks on both sides of Route 59 between the Route 306 intersection and Spring Valley High School.
Those new sidewalks would include the area where this family was struck by a car as they walked along the shoulder.
Will this prevent future tragedies? Hard to say.
It’s certainly a start. And a step that needs to be taken ASAP.
But there’s more to preventing future crashes than just sidewalks.
Every single person who gets behind the wheel of a car must always remember that he or she is in command of a 4,000 pound machine.
If not operated safely, a vehicle has the potential to inflict deadly damage.
Drivers have to act responsibly. Someone cut you off or made a rude gesture? Get over it. Don’t express your rage by driving unsafely and killing a baby as a result.
Pedestrians also have a responsibility to act safely.
The family that was hurt most recently was clearly not at fault.
But many of us have had experiences with pedestrians who fail to cross at a light, don’t look before they cross or, in this era of incessant cell phone use, become distracted while walking.
The Rockland County Department of Health ran a program See! and Be Seen! that focused on pedestrian safety. We are part of Complete Streets, a nationwide movement to improve access to safe modes of transportation.
There’s another factor here: Rampant overdevelopment in parts of Ramapo.
We all know that the roads in that area are jammed with both cars and pedestrians.
The infrastructure clearly is bursting at the seams. The area simply can’t handle the population.
Route 59, a suburban highway, wasn’t designed for the urban population that has grown around it in parts of Ramapo. What we are seeing as a result is a textbook example of the consequences of haphazard growth combined with non-existent planning – danger on the roads for both drivers and pedestrians.
We know that a developer has proposed adding 600 housing units to the long-vacant Rockland Drive-In property just across the street from where this latest crash occurred.
Think about it – thousands of additional people – and their cars on the already over-crowded Route 59.
No amount of sidewalks or traffic signals on Route 59 could ensure safety under those conditions.
There’s a reason communities are supposed to engage in responsible planning: to make sure that the infrastructure and other resources match the population.
When communities disregard all conventions of good planning and allow anything-goes type of development, chaos is the result.
And lives are put at risk.
Let’s not keep repeating the mistakes of the past.