One of New Jersey's most dangerous highways is getting new attention as lawmakers propose red lights with more sparkle, crosswalks so pronounced they practically scream "STOP," and stiffer traffic fines in an effort to reduce pedestrian deaths.
A crackdown on speeders and jaywalkers is also underway on Route 130 in Burlington County, a 23-mile stretch where 19 pedestrians were killed in the last six years.
But the head of the New Jersey Bike & Walk Coalition says a "culture change" is also needed.
Cyndi Steiner, executive director of the coalition, a statewide advocacy group, said highways should be designed and modified to accommodate all users, including pedestrians and cyclists.
"Drivers don't want speed limits reduced or traffic jams," she said, so the focus has been on keeping traffic moving and increasing highway lanes. Meanwhile, she said, "we have forgotten about accommodating pedestrians."
Steiner said the state's most dangerous highways were similar in that they are busy multilane corridors with high speed limits, numerous traffic lights, and "poorly marked crosswalks." She would prefer "traffic calming" measures - lowered speeds in pedestrian areas, more crosswalks and sidewalks, and bump-out curbs that reduce lanes at crossings.
Last week, a high-profile group of state officials and lawmakers gathered for a news conference in Delran, a mile from the latest Route 130 fatality where a 20-year-old woman was killed in March while using a crosswalk.
No other state highway in New Jersey had more pedestrian fatalities between 2009 and 2011, according to the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, a nonprofit that compiles traffic data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for highways in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut.
At the news conference, there was no talk of reducing speed limits, but N.J. Attorney General Jeffrey S. Chiesa announced that a $225,000 grant would be used on the highway to pay for extra patrols to stop speeders, distracted cellphone users, and aggressive drivers.
Chiesa said motorists who fail to yield to pedestrians at intersections would also be targeted.
John Pucher, a Rutgers University professor and author who has conducted research on pedestrian and cyclist safety, praised the approach.
"The almost total lack of enforcement of pedestrian rights is the No. 1 reason we have so many pedestrian fatalities," Pucher said. He said a study done five years ago found only 20 percent of motorists in New Jersey yield to pedestrians in crosswalks.
"We have got to do better," he said.
But Pucher said that was just the first step to correcting the problem. "There's no one easy solution - it has to be a whole package of things, including better training of drivers on how to avoid pedestrians and cyclists," he said.
State Assemblymen Troy Singleton, a Democrat from Burlington County, said at the conference he was cosponsoring a package of bills that would toughen fines for motorists who don't stop for pedestrians, create traffic-safety education programs, and install sidewalks, crosswalks, and special traffic signals that tell pedestrians how many seconds will elapse before the light changes.
Singleton said "engineering, enforcement, and education" improvements were all needed to address the "far too many deaths."
State Sen. Diane Allen, a Republican who represents Burlington County, recommends conducting a study to determine which type of crosswalk markings are most effective in getting motorists' attention. She also said she would like to have blinking lights installed at crosswalks and look into purchasing brighter traffic lights to let motorists know they "better darn well stop."
Finally, Burlington County Freeholder Director Joe Donnelly said the freeholder board would apply for grants from the state and the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission to study the highway and identify what is needed to stem accidents.
"I've seen firsthand some of the things that have happened along this highway," said Donnelly, a former Cinnaminson mayor. The dangerous stretch includes 12 towns, beginning in Cinnaminson and ending in Bordentown.
Steiner said she would prefer to see government agencies begin taking action. "I would rather they actually do a pilot project and then look at the data before and after to see if it was effective," she said. "A lot of studies just list what's already there."
For now, she said, she would like to see the installation of more pedestrian lights with timers, which have proved effective. "Pedestrians are not able to truly judge vehicular speed," she said. "They think they can make it."
When they miscalculate, she said, the consequences are often fatal.