Livingston, New Jersey’s Most Important Statistic
From a “Letter to the Editor” published in the May 5th, 2016 issue of the West Essex Tribune, Livingston’s local newspaper
It was nice to hear about the many commendations that Livingston and its public schools have recently earned (“Livingston Makes the News”). The New York Times! High test scores! 12th in the state! 77th in the nation!
A different number should matter more than any of these rankings, however: zero.
Let me explain. Nine pages into last week’s Tribune, nine pages after the rankings and achievements, there was a brief mention of one 7-year-old Livingston resident. Zero has to do with him, because he was hit by a car last Tuesday on Livingston Ave.
Zero is the acceptable number of motor vehicle-caused fatalities or serious injuries in Livingston. This may sound familiar; it’s the basic premise of “Vision Zero,” an international campaign for safe streets notably adopted in New York City. In Livingston, we’re far from zero: the number was at least 20 in 2014 and at least 34 in 2013. I say “at least” because these numbers come from incomplete NJDOT data only including victims transported to hospitals with at least “moderate injury” (excluding, for example, hundreds with airbag deployment or ambulance transport but only “complaint of pain”). Without considering severity, NJDOT recorded more than 250 injuries/deaths in Livingston each year.
What most bothered me about last Tuesday’s crash, however, wasn’t the crash itself — thankfully, the boy escaped serious injury and did not increase this year’s number — but rather a Facebook comment about the crash, which read “The question is: why 7 year old was riding scooter without parents or any other adults supervision on Livingston ave.”
Judging by the number of likes that comment received, Livingston parents agree. And I can relate: I, an eighteen-year-old, find it dangerous to be on Livingston Ave. But the problem isn’t parents or the lack thereof — it’s the fact that our streets aren’t safe. Adult supervision shouldn’t make a difference; Vision Zero and common sense call for planning that accounts for humans making mistakes — for pedestrians crossing too slowly and for drivers failing to yield.
Mayor Anthony, as quoted in last week’s “Livingston Makes the News” article, said that we have “value, shopping, services that make Livingston a great place to live.” Yet while we celebrate our high-achieving schools and the endless variety of chain stores, we ignore that our streets have become unlivable. Cars drive too recklessly and too fast, our roads do not accommodate pedestrians or bicyclists, and we now hold the prevailing attitude that kids simply shouldn’t be on our town’s “Main Street.” Can any place where there exists substantial risk of injury or death from motor vehicles — where children must avoid the streets because of this risk — be a great place to live?
By the way, I intentionally called last week’s incident a “crash” (and not an “accident”). The advocacy group Transportation Alternatives explains it best, “Planes don’t have accidents. They crash. Cranes don’t have accidents. They collapse. And as a society, we expect answers and solutions.”
In other words, crashes are fixable — and zero is reachable.