No Safe Option for Jersey Teens Killed on Railroad Tracks

Who pays the price for our car-centric transportation system? The short answer is we all do. But no one as much as the elderly, the poor, people with disabilities and children.

It’s clear that the well-being of teenagers wasn’t at the forefront of anyone’s mind when the “spaghetti bowl” intersection of I-80, NJ-23 and US 36 in Wayne, New Jersey was designed.

Alan Mendez and Nicholas Sabina were killed on a railroad trestle over the weekend by a commuter train. A third boy suffered injuries when he jumped off the bridge as the train approached. Unfortunately, these boys just didn’t have a better option for crossing this maze of highways, says Andy B. on his WalkBikeJersey blog:

Two teenage New Jersey boys were killed on this railroad bridge over the weekend. This illegal passage, sadly, was the safest way for them to cross the highway. Photo: Star-Ledger

This interchange was built in an era when no consideration was given to the needs of pedestrians or bicyclists looking to travel between the surrounding neighborhoods. Even more unfortunate, at least one of the possible alternative crossings was given a major renovation within the past 15 years with nary a consideration given for anything other that the efficient flow of motor vehicle traffic.

There are no practical routes for miles around for non-motorized road users looking to travel north or south over both I 80 and US 46 anywhere near the NJ 23 corridor. Every roadway nearby that crosses both highways requires running a gauntlet of “meat grinder,” high-speed off and on-ramps. When faced with these “non-choices, the NJ TRANSIT rail corridor is probably in all reality the safest option even though it is illegal and wrought with its own hazards.

According to the New Jersey Star-Ledger, the train tracks are a popular thoroughfare for area teens. Said one commenter:

If you know the area, that is the only direct route between the two towns, without crossing 2 major highways. (Rt.23&Rt.46). As a kid I grew up in this area, everyone knows it’s a commuter line and the chance of a train being on there at 9pm is almost unheard of. For these two boys their luck ran out. But now maybe the local gov. might put in a foot bridge for people instead of trying to dodge traffic or cross the rail road bridge.

And another:

I know this area very well, and used these tracks to cross Rt.46 as a teenager. We knew it was wrong, but it was the only way to get across the busy highway which is just as unforgiving.

According to the Star-Ledger, another teenager was killed in Garfield by a transit train Monday. The article featured teens vowing to never walk on the train lines again. But unless they have a safe alternative, more needless deaths seem certain.

Elsewhere on the Network today: WABA Quick Release reviews Washington DC’s proposed Assault of Bicyclists Prevention Act. Cap’n Transit outlines the ten U.S. communities where transit is a sort of luxury good, i.e. the average income of a transit rider is higher than that of car owners. And Portland Transport rebuts a local opponent of transit expansion.