- While traffic deaths are way up across the country, Hoboken, New Jersey, has managed to go years without one.
- The mayor and head of transportation credit a slew of road improvements and policy changes.
- These include lowering speed limits and installing new crosswalks, curb extensions, and bike lanes.
American roads have gotten a lot more dangerous in recent years.
Between 2019 and 2022, traffic fatalities jumped 18%, with pedestrian deaths hitting a 40-year high in 2021, according to data from the Governors Highway Safety Association. Authorities blame the increased fatalities on speeding, impaired driving, and people not wearing seatbelts.
But one New Jersey city is bucking the trend. In Hoboken, local leaders have invested in a concerted effort to cut road deaths — and it’s working. The city hasn’t had a single traffic death since January 2017, and traffic injuries have declined about 40% in that period, Bloomberg reported.
Hoboken Mayor Ravi Bhalla, who was elected in 2017, started the city’s Vision Zero effort in 2019. The project has an ambitious goal of eliminating all traffic deaths and injuries n the city by 2030.
Hoboken has since pursued a slew of measures to calm traffic, and design roads and intersections to promote safety, while encouraging residents to bike, walk, or take public transit.
Hoboken lowered its speed limit to 20 mph citywide in 2022. Research has found that the speed a vehicle is traveling at when it hits a pedestrian has a significant impact on how deadly the accident is. While a pedestrian who’s hit by a car traveling at 20 mph has a 93% rate of survival, the survival rate drops to 80% when the vehicle is going 30 mph. Both death and injury rates continue to rise as speeds climb above 30 mph.
The city has also installed new crosswalks, bike lanes, and curb extensions, which prevent cars from parking or turning right next to the corners of sidewalks at intersections. Known as “daylighting,” these curb extensions provide more visibility to pedestrians and drivers at crosswalks.
Bhalla introduced Citi Bike — the popular bike-sharing program — in 2021, and Hoboken now has bike lanes on almost half of its streets.
The idea behind Hoboken’s Vision Zero is to make its streets less car-focused, and more welcoming and accessible to all kinds of transport, Bhalla told Bloomberg CityLab.
The improvements start out simple — sometimes all that’s required is a little sidewalk paint, he said. Sturdier and more expensive road alterations come later.
“Just with a bucket of paint, you can actually create a curb extension; you can create high visibility crosswalks, which create a much safer environment at a very cheap cost,” Bhalla said. “And then when you do the next iteration of repaving, you can really amplify and increase on those improvements that you’ve made.”
Hoboken began by piloting these changes and then polled residents, who supported the movement.
“The goal was to make complete streets components as fundamental as a centerline or an ADA ramp,” Hoboken’s director of transportation and parking, Ryan Sharp, said at a transportation summit in April.
As additions like bike lanes have grown in popularity, city council members who initially opposed them have changed their tune, Sharp said.