David Porto, 43, of Jersey City, was fatally struck by a northbound Ford F-350 pickup truck on John F. Kennedy Boulevard between 30th and 31st streets on Wednesday afternoon while trying to enter his parked Nissan wagon, according to a statement from the Bayonne Police Department. Porto was pronounced dead at the scene. The truck then hit the rear of a parked car, which in turn damaged two vehicles parked in front of that car. The incident is still under investigation.The identity of the driver has not been released, nor has the driver been charged.
One resident who lives a few doors down on J.F.K. Boulevard from where the accident occurred said, “I hear a kaboom,” around 2 p.m. “I came outside. The neighbors told me, it’s so bad. It’s really an unfortunate situation.”
The resident, who asked to remain anonymous, said, the victim “was leaving the doctor’s office right there, went to get in his car, and he got hit.” There was confusion at first as to what happened. “I saw a black jeep run down and stop another guy thinking it was a hit-and-run. Then [Porto] was already dead.It’s very unfortunate.”
Proceed with caution
Residents expressed concerns about John F. Kennedy Boulevard. “We don’t feel safe,” the witness said.“We see accidents all the time. Two weeks ago a boy was hit. I know my neighbor’s dog was killed and my dog was killed.”
After sundown, he says cars get louder and faster. “At night it becomes a race track. My wife and I live right here. We can hear the cars passing up and down, all day and all night racing.”
His wife, who also asked not to be named, said that J.F.K. “is on a drag strip…the lights are green for many, many blocks so they tend to zoom.”
There are other factors. “I think it has to do with the speed limit, too,” she said.“The speed limit is 25, and if you go 40 sometimes you don’t realize it. And it’s so wide. I don’t think people intentionally speed…because I catch myself sometimes, like whoa, let me slow down.” Her husband added, “They need removable speedbumps, something.”
Pedestrian and traffic safety is an ongoing issue anywhere pedestrians share space with vehicles. Last week’s incident is one in a long string of fatalities on the boulevard across the county. Two teens were killed in early March by a vehicle that jumped the curb in North Bergen.Later that month, a five-year-old boy was struck by an SUV in Bayonne, causing minor injuries. On March 9, a woman was struck by a car while crossing the Boulevard in Jersey City.
One mile-long section of J.F.K. in Jersey City, between Fairmount Avenue and Newark Avenue, has been ranked the most dangerous stretch of road in Hudson County by the New Jersey Transportation Planning Authority (NJTPA), which oversees, studies, and funds safety and transportation improvement projects.
“We don’t feel safe. We see accidents all the time.” –J.F.K. Boulevard resident
What’s being done?
To address safety issues, the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office announced “Operation Slow Down, and Save Lives” in April. The program will place heavier enforcement on speeding, yielding to pedestrians, and jaywalking, according to an announcement from the prosecutor’s office. Local police departments will work with the prosecutor’s office and the Hudson County Sheriff’s Office to implement the program, which will continue into the summer.
Hudson County spokesman Jim Kennelly said, “The Bayonne section of J.F.K. Boulevard is a part of an overall safety study that is underway.” He said that the NJTPA study is meant to help improve pedestrian walkways, intersections, and other features designed to make roads safer for pedestrians.
After the accident, Hudson County Sheriff Frank X. Schillari said in a statement, “The safety of pedestrians and drivers throughout Hudson County is one of my top priorities … We are urging drivers to slow down throughout the county, especially on Kennedy Boulevard … In Operation Slow Down, Save Lives, we also ask that pedestrians be careful by using designated crosswalks, obeying crossing lights and looking out for oncoming traffic. Educating Hudson County residents on pedestrian and driver safety is of the utmost urgency for our residents’ wellbeing.”
The Bayonne Police Department is doing what it can to help improve traffic safety. It can control how much it enforces traffic laws on J.F.K., but not the Boulevard itself. The county is planning to improve intersections and better plan for pedestrian safety. These are all necessary steps to reduce the risk of more pedestrian fatalities, but they cannot fix a problem that has been irking taxpayers for a century and a half – road width.
In 1873, the New York Times chronicled the building of “Hudson Boulevard,” now called John F. Kennedy Boulevard. The state commissioned a board to oversee the construction of a “boulevard as fine as the view it would command” that would stretch from Bergen Point to the Palisades. It was largely popular, especially among property owners whose properties increased in value after the construction. The Times wrote, “There were no objections to the scheme itself, but objections to the line and the width – which the Commissioners proposed to fix at 150 feet.”
Wider roads make for faster drivers. They also take longer to cross, putting pedestrians at risk. They’re anathema to pedestrian safety, but they’re here to stay. Drivers should head the sheriff’s urging to drive with caution and obey traffic laws. Pedestrians should be especially cautious on wide roads like John F. Kennedy Boulevard.
Rory Pasquariello may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.