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Getting Serious on Pedestrian Safety

Wed, 05/29/2024 - 17:56


There’s a bill pending in the State Legislature that would allow traffic cameras at stop signs, and East Hampton Village officials have been having a look. It’s called the Protect Our Pedestrians Act, and the technology is similar to the cameras used on school buses to deter drivers from breezing past as children are getting on and off.

We’re not sure how likely it is that that the Protect Our Pedestrians Act will be able to sidestep the usual Albany roadblocks, but the issue it reflects is an increasingly important one: pedestrian safety.

Around here, where walkers and people on bikes truly take their lives into their hands at the sides of our crowded roads — and where many workers and day laborers rely on their feet to get to their workplace — pedestrian safety is a serious matter. Pedestrians and cyclists have died and will continue to die and, as yet, few meaningful measures have been taken to make the situation safer. At the start of every summer, we navigate the bumper-car slalom race and wonder when the next fatality will come. June? July? August?

But if the cameras are indeed eventually implemented at stop signs here in East Hampton, what impact might it have on pedestrian safety?

A commonly cited figure based on United States Department of Transportation figures puts the average number of stop sign deaths nationally at about 3,000. None of the pedestrian or bicyclist deaths on the South Fork in recent memory have taken place at stop signs; the shoulder of the road is the real danger zone, and crosswalks, counterintuitively, too.

That said, East End intersections are definitely becoming more treacherous, especially with the sudden boom in e-bikes — unregulated, often weaving in and out of traffic at speeds in excess of 20 miles per hour, often with a helmetless daredevil at the wheel (and often that daredevil is only a child). Meanwhile, so-called roll-throughs are so common here that when we come to a full and proper stop we feel like we’re confusing and annoying other drivers. Why so many refuse to comply with stop signs is mystifying; any time saved is vanishingly minute. If there were a phrase for the prevailing mind-set, it might be called “hurry culture” and it is a defining phenomenon of the tristate area.

While stop-sign cameras may not directly prevent deaths at the actual site of the stop sign, they may have an overall calming effect.

One word of caution: If the idea does become law, municipalities must keep the primary goal, pedestrian safety, uppermost in mind and resist the impulse to begin thinking of stop-sign cameras simply as cash machines (in the way parking regulations are only partly about parking, and otherwise a cash cow).

We are reminded of the “Broken Windows” theory of criminology, the idea that enforcement of seemingly petty infractions can ultimately change behaviors and have a much larger cumulative effect. A previous East Hampton Village administration, for example, lowered the speed limit in the village, with safety in mind, and that was a good first step. Perhaps stop-sign cameras are a decent second step in the right direction. But we need to keep taking these baby steps if we want to ultimately change the hurry culture of the roads.


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