AMHERST, N.Y. — 2 On Your Side has been working hard to get changes on Niagara Falls Blvd after six deadly pedestrian crashes in recent years.
The New York State Department of Transportation told us they're now planning to make changes. And surrounding towns are talking to each other, as well.
But many people on social media still expressed concern over the problem with jaywalkers. So, 2 On Your Side asked New York State Police Public Information Officer, Trooper James O'Callahan, how that is enforced on Niagara Falls Blvd.
"If there's no pedestrian crosswalk," explains O'Callahan, "the pedestrian has to yield the right of way to the vehicle."
In the state of New York, crossing the road outside of a crosswalk isn't against the law. But walking outside of a crosswalk and failing to yield to vehicles is a violation.
If you're caught, O'Callahan says you can be ticketed, but he admits few pedestrians are fined, "It is very difficult to enforce that law. You have to see it happen because it's a violation. It has to happen in a police officer's presence."
O'Callahan says when there is a police presence, people don't tend to jaywalk. But he admits most state police traffic officers patrol in unmarked vehicles, and marked cruisers are dedicated to emergency response.
"The biggest deterrent shouldn't be the fine," stressed O'Callahan. "The biggest deterrent could be, if you're involved in a pedestrian accident, there's a very great chance that you're going to be significantly injured or killed."
Trooper O'Callahan tells 2 On Your Side, from his enforcement perspective, what makes NFB so deadly are a number of design flaws from Buffalo, north to Niagara Falls. He also believes speed, multiple lanes to cross, coupled with visibility issues make the Boulevard extremely dangerous, even for police.
2 On your Side obtained crash data for the Boulevard from Amherst Police which shows there were 66 pedestrian-involved crashes in the Northbound lanes over the past 5 years. The Southbound lanes fall under Town of Tonawanda Police jurisdiction. We put in a request for their crash data, as well, but we're still waiting for a response.
Of the collisions on the Amherst side, only 22 happened at intersections. That means more than 65 percent of pedestrian crashes happened mid-block, outside of a crosswalk.
"Now you've got this cumulative evidence, over these last several years...of these tragedies happening...So, it is time to act now," Phil Haberstro tells 2 On Your Side. "It is time for us to get the necessary mechanisms in place that can create the positive changes there."
Haberstro is an advocate for walkable communities, educating people about the benefits of safe pedestrian practices, through his non-profit The Wellness Institute of Greater Buffalo. He also lives in Kenmore, which is why he's intimately aware of the dangers along NFB.
Although he's hopeful over local and state pledges to make improvements he says pedestrians need to be held accountable, as well, "If we want to change the culture that's a longer term project."
Haberstro agrees with the need for public education campaigns. He says pedestrians need know what they can and can't do.
But Haberstro says more needs to be done to get residents, businesses and local community stakeholders...bordering the boulevard...involved in the decision-making process, "We still want to get that community input into the dialogue, so that it is owned by the community, and the community can therefore hold itself accountable for what it gets."
2 On Your Side met Haberstro during a walking event that his organization hosts regularly in different locations in Buffalo.
He took us on a 30 minute walk around the downtown area, show us some of pedestrian friendly elements in the city; ie. lighting for the road and sidewalks, spacious sidewalks, and well marked crosswalks and signs. He said walkable communities are not just great for the health of its residents, but also are a boost for local businesses. Haberstro says a pedestrian-friendly community is one that actually accommodates not just walkers; but drivers, disabled persons, those that use public transportation and cyclists, as well.