The city of Fort Lee, N.J., sits across the Hudson River in the shadows of New York City. But with a population of about 35,000, it must deal with smaller city issues, sort of like what we do here on a daily basis. Given that it's New Jersey, things can get pretty amped up pretty quickly. And that's why Fort Lee finally said enough is enough when it recently implemented an $85 fine for anyone caught jaywalking while texting.
Three fatalities and 23 overall incidents of vehicles striking pedestrians in the first three months of 2012 prompted the city to take action. This comes on the heels of two fatalities and 74 auto-pedestrian accidents in Fort Lee during 2011. What we have here is not a failure to communicate, but instead the ability to communicate too often.
Walking while texting, in general, is a talent I can admire. But I have no desire to become proficient in that skill. If I had wanted to be that successful with my fingers, then I would have taken piano lessons as a child. Learning to type by first mastering the home row was enough of an achievement. So, when I see people walking and texting, I am generally amused. But when I'm driving, I remain alert because I can't trust these folks at intersections.
I was a passenger in a vehicle involved in a close call on North Street about one month ago, and I nearly picked someone off at the Allendale Shopping Center last week. In each case, the pedestrian wasn't using the crosswalk and in one case texting was evident. I will admit there are a number of crosswalks in the city where the paint is pretty much obliterated, but even the most dense of those pounding the pavement can guess where it's safe to cross and where it's pretty dangerous.
Maybe it's the spring air, but pedestrians become foot loose and fancy free this time of year. I give the foot traffic on North Street barely a passing grade in their attempts to get from one side to the other. And the closer you get to BMC, the more interesting the game becomes. What earns a failing grade year after year are the petulant teens who bolt from The Common into the traffic on First Street with neither an eye nor a care for their own safety. This group includes the helmetless cyclists who obviously think it's your job to avoid them.
I hope Junior's right, because if they're assuming that everyone behind the wheel is operating with a full deck, then they one day might be in for a big surprise. Hey kids, listen. The auto-bike collision usually goes in favor of the vehicle. Not that anyone's a winner when it happens.
So, I wish them well in Fort Lee. But those northern New Jersey types are tough cookies and don't crumble easily. But five fatalities in two years? It should be enough to make them think. If that law makes it there, then it can make it anywhere.
On that note, we should start thinking about it here. Not the fine, not yet. But thinking about how we can walk and text safely on our own city streets? The ability to multitask isn't always such an impressive feat.
While we're on the subject, here are some other transgressions and accompanying fines I am considering for the city I love.
The fine is $15 if you order two mini-chili dogs and a side order of the chili at Daddy-O's. The waitress actually questioned my order, and rightly so. The fine is in the interest of air quality in that quadrant of the city. This law has nothing to do with the chili, which is great. Obviously, I think so.
The fine should be $10,000 for anyone who needs two parking spaces for one vehicle. OK, maybe they've been fendered-bendered a few times in these big parking lots. But, still ...
Littering. There was a time when it wasn't just prevalent, it was almost acceptable. The garbage on our roads during the 1960s was eye-popping. People tossed stuff out of the car window with little or no conscience. Then, we began to clean up and fines were imposed, at least there were road signs that alluded to that. But now I see no signs, and with the number of fast-food joints around, the cups and bags and wrappers, etc., are plentiful and opportunities for littering seem endless. Add to the mix those plastic sports drink containers and you have a recipe for some trouble. Offenders in my world pay $100 if caught and are given 100 hours of community service with a pointed stick and a bag.
So, enjoy tonight's Third Thursday, folks. And try not to litter.
Brian Sullivan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.