Making the county’s deadliest road safer

The latest research on the hazardous John F. Kennedy Boulevard

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Michael Allihan discussed what might make JFK Boulevard a safer place for all.
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Consultants mapped out recommended safety features at several collision hot spots.
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Michael Allihan discussed what might make JFK Boulevard a safer place for all.
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Consultants mapped out recommended safety features at several collision hot spots.

John F. Kennedy Boulevard, the 14-mile thoroughfare stretching from Bayonne’s southern point to the edge of North Bergen, is the deadliest road in Hudson County, according to the Hudson County Sheriff’s Office.

On the boulevard, there are 44 schools, and tens of thousands of motor vehicles travel it daily. From 2014 to 2016, the corridor was the scene of more than 4,000 crashes, more than 1,100 injuries, and 12 fatalities. Many commuters travel “JFK,” as it’s popularly known, every day.

Hudson County officials want to reshape the boulevard to make it safer for pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists.

Hudson County and the North Jersey Transportation Planing Authority sponsored a yearlong study by consultants at the Connecticut-based Fitzgerald and Halliday, who analyzed archives of audits and police reports dealing with collisions. They also conducted new audits at four locations in North Bergen, Union City, Jersey City, and Bayonne. With a few months remaining in the study, the company presented its findings to the public on April 23 at Hudson County Community College.

“Though our study is only going on for a few more months, this is just the beginning of a much larger process,” said consultant Michael Allihan.

The recommendations will be available to municipal and county governments, both of which have oversight in any enforcement, education, or engineering that takes place.

Research methods

The boulevard’s design and collision rates were factored into the study. At the four hot spots the group audited, traffic cameras were set up to analyze intersections at various times of the day over several months.

“We looked at huge volumes of crash data to help us develop our recommendations,” Allihan said. “We started with 11 years of data for the entire length of the corridor, developed crash diagrams for each of the focus areas, and a conflict analysis, which looked at the potential for conflicts in intersections where we set up traffic cameras.”

Months of public opinion research was conducted both in person and online, which was fed into the report based on what mattered most to the hundreds who responded to the survey.

Years of police investigation reports provided further details on the types of crashes and the conditions that gave rise to them.

What will make the boulevard safer?

According to consultants, some policies and features should, ideally, be adopted across all 14 miles of the corridor.

The trifecta that consultants recommended were “education, enforcement, and engineering.”

Allihan said that high-visibility safety awareness campaigns have a positive affect on traffic incidents, according to data. When police departments receive grant funding for safety enforcement campaigns and provide education and signage, accidents, injuries, and fatalities go down dramatically.

“You may have seen some of these signs here, but there’s a lot more marketing that can go through schools, businesses, and the community to promote safety on the corridor,” Allihan said.

Effective engineering would improve walking and biking features, and reduce the speed at which vehicles travel.

High-traffic areas

Consultants looked at the efficacy of infrastructure designs that would best serve intersections, and high-conflict traffic areas. Some areas are residential, others commercial.

Throughout the boulevard, block sizes change, the number of lanes change, and there is a wide variety in the number of driveways per block.

At four high-traffic area consultants suggested:

  • lighting improvements
  • curb extensions
  • high-visibility crosswalks with angled lines
  • painted rumble strips
  • turn restrictions
  • lane reduction
  • road-width reductions
  • traffic light patterns that give pedestrians a few seconds to cross with traffic lights staying red in all directions.

Pros and Cons

Currently, some areas of the boulevard have staggered traffic lights, which limit the number of blocks a motorist can drive before being forced to stop. Consultants recommend more of these in an effort to prevent speeding. Local governments would likely look for alternatives to staggered lights in areas where traffic jams are frequent.

“If you have green lights for miles, you can just keep accelerating and accelerating,” Allihan said.

According to the Hudson County Sheriff’s Office findings, the average speed on JFK in 25-miles-per-hour zones is 42.3 miles per hour where staggered lights aren’t in place.

On stretches of the road that are straight, drivers unintentionally speed. Those areas would require design and infrastructure changes that could cue motorists to slow down.

The consultants suggested installing more barriers in the middle of the road, on the edge of sidewalks, and near pedestrian crossings to prevent cars from crossing curbs and center lines.

Another safety measure would be to limit the number of driveways per block because each driveway represents a conflict point. This would be disruptive for residents and business owners.

These infrastructure changes might reduce parking availability, and could cause delays on one of the most congested roads in the state. While drivers would be inconvenienced, the safety features are designed to reduce traffic incidents and fatalities.

For updates on this and more stories check hudsonreporter.com or follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Mike Montemarano can be reached at mikem@hudsonreporter.com.