Surf City — The amount of traffic on Long Beach Island already has significantly increased from last week to this. For the next two months, that traffic will continue to increase to mammoth proportions, whether it be those on foot, bicycle and skateboard or others in or on some type of motorized vehicle.
And with such a large number of people populating the 18-mile stretch from Holgate to Barnegat Light, it’s bound to happen – somebody is going to be an accident waiting to happen because he or she is not following the rules of the roadways.
“I’ve heard all kinds of excuses why somebody’s not abiding by the laws when on the roads,” said Long Beach Township Community Police Officer Megan Keller, who oversees the township’s Street Smart NJ initiative alongside the Island’s other police departments. “I’ve even heard ‘There’s no shade on that side and that’s why I’m walking on this side.’ A lot of people are putting themselves at risk by not following the laws.”
If you’re walking and not crossing Long Beach Boulevard by way of a designated crosswalk, you’re in danger of getting hammered by the nearest SUV cruising along. If you’re bicycling without a helmet and not stopping when a traffic light turns red, you’re running the risk of getting crunched by oncoming traffic. If you’re driving a car and see another car stopping near an intersection, zipping by that vehicle in the next lane is creating the possibility of killing somebody.
Nonetheless, all of these are law-breaking maneuvers that, at the least, may get you stopped by a police officer and merely warned or, at worst, may cause serious injury to you or others.
“Everybody who is walking, bicycling and driving needs to be vigilant in remaining aware of what’s going on around them at all times,” said Ship Bottom Police Officer Brian Tretola. “We want anybody coming to the Island to have a good time, but it’s vital that you pay attention. Have the best time you can, but do it safely. Don’t put yourself or others at risk of injury or death.”
Let’s start with the obvious. Drivers operating vehicles must be on the lookout for pedestrians at all times, in addition to adhering to all traffic signals and signs. On an island that is bustling with tens of thousands of people on any given Saturday, that’s not always easy, especially given the number of vehicles traveling on the roadways as well. Still, it’s a motorist’s responsibility to remain alert and be ready for anything.
“Part of the problem we see here is that many visitors are from another state, and they may not fully understand the laws here,” Tretola said. “Sometimes motorists from other areas just don’t know what to do in certain situations, and it just increases the risk of an accident.”
For starters, if a pedestrian is attempting to cross a roadway inside a designated crosswalk, all motorists traveling from any direction toward that crosswalk must stop. Additionally, if you’re driving on a multi-lane road and see another vehicle ahead of you slowing to a stop to allow a pedestrian to cross, you are not permitted to pass the other vehicle – you must stop as well.
“Drivers really have to be aware of what’s going on ahead of them,” Keller said. “If you see another vehicle slowing down at an intersection up ahead, it’s a good idea to slow down and be prepared to stop. If that other vehicle stops to allow pedestrians to cross, you have to stop. If you don’t stop and can’t see the pedestrians crossing in front of that other car, you’re putting lives at risk.”
Conversely, if you’re a pedestrian, don’t think for a second you can do anything you want when walking across roadways. Laws exist to keep you safe as well, and, yes, you should abide by them, Tretola said.
“We see it a lot in the summer. People are heading to the beach, crossing Long Beach Boulevard from west to east, and they decide not to go the nearest traffic light or intersection with a crosswalk,” he said. “They cross somewhere in the middle, where there’s no marked crosswalk, and they’re taking their chances. Not only can they get hit by oncoming motorists, but even if they don’t get hit, a motorist may get rear-ended by another motorist because they’re abruptly stopping when they otherwise shouldn’t have to.”
The rule is simple: If there is no crosswalk, a pedestrian must yield the right-of-way to vehicles. Pedestrians “can’t just strut out into traffic,” Keller said. If the pedestrian does and gets hit by a car, it’s the pedestrian’s fault. And, even if you’re attempting to cross the road in a marked crosswalk, you should do so only if you’ve allowed an oncoming vehicle a sufficient distance to safely stop. Don’t try to cross if a car is 40 feet from the intersection.
Also, if you’re walking or running as part of an exercise routine, make sure you’re walking or running against the flow of motorized traffic. And please, do not walk inside the left-turn lanes at the center of the Boulevard in many sections of the Island – those are only for vehicular traffic.
As for bicyclists, you’re supposed to be following the same exact traffic laws as any other vehicle – when it comes to the roads in New Jersey, all bicycles are considered motor vehicles. Keller said anybody on skates or skateboards falls under the same category.
“If you’re on something with wheels, you follow the same laws as the cars on the road,” Keller said. “You must stop at all stop signs and obey traffic signals. You should be traveling with the flow of traffic, not against it. And if cars are stopping to let pedestrians cross the road, you must stop, too.”
Additionally, while some towns on the Island prohibit riding a bicycle on sidewalks, others – such as Ship Bottom, where it is optional, particularly on Long Beach Boulevard – don’t have laws set in stone on whether bicyclists are allowed on sidewalks. Check with your local police department on the specifics.
Not surprisingly, both Keller and Tretola agreed that cell phone use when walking or cycling along the roadway is just not a good idea, and for motor vehicle drivers it’s completely against the law throughout the state. Remember, fines exist for all traffic violations, whether you’re driving, cycling or walking.
“When an officer encounters anybody creating an unsafe situation, the officer has the discretion to issue a summons,” Tretola said. “We want to educate the public on the specifics of the traffic laws, especially when it comes to walkers, runners or bicyclists, but we also have to enforce the laws, and sometimes that will mean issuing a summons.”
Keller said she once drove up behind a woman on Ocean Boulevard who had a phone in her hand and was oblivious to the fact she was walking in the middle of the street.
“Put the phone down and get your head up,” Keller said. “Whether you’re walking, bicycling, skateboarding, driving, whatever … if you’re distracted by your phone, your life is at risk. At this time of the year, with all the traffic on the Island, it’s extremely important to be alert at all times, wherever you are.”
— David Biggy