Police chief addresses pedestrian safety

SUMMIT – Are pedestrians safe in Summit? Police Chief Robert Weck believes they are, but a person’s perception of reality can often cloud the issue.

After a crossing guard was struck by a car earlier this month, residents became alarmed over the lack of pedestrian safety in the city. A preliminary investigation indicated that when the crossing guard, DJ Abdullah, stepped out onto Morris Avenue to stop traffic, she was struck by a car traveling eastbound. The woman suffered a broken leg and arm and as a result had to go into a rehabilitation facility.

As concern mounted, blog postings increased, many of which blasted the police department for the lack of pedestrian safety. One resident even said the police department placed greater emphasis on traffic management rather than pedestrian safety while another said Morris Avenue has been a death trap for ten years.

Others said the police department should install a switch at intersections so pedestrians can activate flashing lights in the roadway or crosswalk. Another suggested that residents call the police chief to complain and provided the telephone number.

Weck responded to this public lashing by explaining the number of actual pedestrian accidents and what the police department has been doing to address the situation.

“Let me start off by saying that even one pedestrian struck by a motor vehicle is one too many, and we will continue to do what we’ve been doing and that is to utilize the three E’s of traffic safety: Education, Engineering and Enforcement to ensure motorists and pedestrians alike are safe when crossing, walking near or driving on our roadways,” the police chief said.

Weck also pointed out that there were a variety of reasons why the public may not be not be aware of the actual motor vehicle accident statistics or initiatives conducted by the police department and other city departments.

“It is important to note that while they are officially labeled as pedestrian accidents, they may not be consistent with the public’s perception of a pedestrian accident,” he said.

Weck explained that of the nine pedestrian accidents occurring in 2013, two were the pedestrian’s fault, one was actually a driver in a parking lot who hit the gas instead of the brake, four were the result of driver inattention, and two were questionable accidents where there were differing opinions as to what took place.

“As these statistics show, pedestrian accidents are not of epidemic proportion,” he said, adding that traffic issues have always been a high priority concern for the police department as well as the city.

“We have made great strides in our efforts to improve pedestrian safety and will continue to do so every year,” Weck added, noting, for example, the actual pedestrian fatality tally had declined steadily since 2010 when there were two such incidents. There were none in 2012 and 2013.

The police chief backed that up by pointing to the number of moving violations the police department issued, explaining that in 2011 the department gave out 2,673 tickets but in 2013 that number jumped to 3,962.

“It’s important to note that distracted driving type summonses, failure to stop for pedestrians and cell phone use have almost doubled in the last two years,” the police chief said, mentioning that this is where the “perception vs. realty factors in.”

“The department has also logged hundreds of hours conducting radar throughout Summit, which resulted in numerous summonses being issued for a variety of traffic violations,” Weck said.

The police chief said the city and police department will continue to do all it can to address the traffic issues, both “perceived and real,” but if pedestrians and motorists alike don’t do their part in being aware of their surroundings and taking their time while traveling through the city, Summit will not realize its goal of zero pedestrian accidents.

“So I ask you, won’t you please be a part of the solution and not the problem?” Weck asked.

Meanwhile, middle school families banded together with the Parent Teacher Organization to help Abdullah. In a message to the community online, the PTO asked for help from the community for this crossing guard.

“DJ has helped care for our children over the years and now its our turn to assist her,” the message said, noting the PTO was coordinating a donation effort to assist the crossing guard with her needs when she returned home from rehabilitation.

“Whether it is having groceries delivered, house cleaning, or taxi service to physical therapy, our school community would like to help provide whatever assistance is necessary,” the PTO message continued.