JERSEY CITY — Seven years ago, Stephen A. Clifford had his life cut short after being struck by a pickup truck driven by an off-duty officer at Kennedy Boulevard and Fairmount Avenue. The officer was acquitted of all counts in the fatal crash.
Clifford was only 24 years old.
Sunday was World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims, and Kennedy Boulevard and Fairmount Avenue was one of the six vigil locations in the city. Attendees at the event said there’s been some progress to make roads safer, but there’s still work to do.
“Since the death of Stephen Clifford there’s been safety improvements (on Fairmount Avenue and Kennedy Boulevard),” Meghan Howard-Noveck said. “But we want the safety improvements without the terrible situations.”
So far this year, Hudson County has already had 21 roadway deaths.
The latest was in October. A 48-year-old man on an electric scooter died after a head-on collision with an SUV on Ocean Avenue.
Howard-Noveck, who lives three blocks away from Kennedy Boulevard and Fairmount Avenue, said she has two children and thinks it’s “terrifying” when crossing JFK.
At least 844 pedestrians have either been struck and injured on this strip of road from 2004 to 2014, a Hudson County Sheriff spokesman said in 2015.
Paul Bellan-Boyer — who’s part of the Department of Health & Human Services’ division of injury prevention – said roads need to be designed better.
“It’s a matter of design,” Bellan-Boyer said. “A speed bump can reduce speed and prevent a head-on collision… I’d rather take a damaged fender bender.”
Bellan-Boyer and his wife, Lisa, have lived near Saint Peter’s University for over 20 years. They regularly walk along the boulevard and said they’re always “mindful” of sidewalk safety.
Last year, the city unanimously approved “Vision Zero,” a 77-point action plan that seeks to prioritize traffic safety projects on the “high injury network,” a collection of street segments identified as the most dangerous in the city.
The network includes the entirety of Montgomery Street, Communipaw Avenue and Martin Luther King Drive, plus long stretches of Baldwin, Central, Ocean and Summit avenues; the county-owned Kennedy Boulevard and state highways Routes 440 and 1&9.
During the pandemic, numbers of fatal crashes decreased, Bellan-Boyer noted.
But Howard-Novek said that people began to get used to emptier roads, so they might have developed risky habits, and haven’t been able to snap out of it, which is why crashes are still happening.
“We need to rework the language,” Howard-Novek said. “As a society we don’t see traffic deaths as violence… This is all 100% preventable.”
“When we say ‘accidents,’ we let ourselves off the hook,” Lisa added.