Deadly Yom Kippur Crash Spurs Safety Push for Observant Jewish Pedestrians

How Can Orthodox Cross Without Pushing 'Walk' Button?

Dangerous Crossing: Orthodox Jews cross the intersection where Esther Ohayon was struck and killed on Yom Kippur. Pedestrians have only a few seconds to cross the wide street if they cannot push the ‘walk’ button on Shabbat or holidays.
bruce lipsky/florida times-union
Dangerous Crossing: Orthodox Jews cross the intersection where Esther Ohayon was struck and killed on Yom Kippur. Pedestrians have only a few seconds to cross the wide street if they cannot push the ‘walk’ button on Shabbat or holidays.

By Anne Cohen

Published September 30, 2013, issue of October 04, 2013.
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One option raised by Fisch is to construct a pedestrian bridge, similar to those at other intersections around Jacksonville.

Another is an automated pedestrian detection sensor system, initially developed in the United Kingdom and already in place in a number of American cities — including San Francisco, Tucson and Las Vegas — to accommodate slower pedestrians. This device senses when a pedestrian is waiting at a crosswalk, sending a signal to engage a “walk” sign and keep the light red for oncoming cars. In some cases, the system can determine whether or not a person needs more time to cross, altering the timer accordingly.

According to the pedestrian safety guide and countermeasure system put out by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration, the cost to install a pedestrian hybrid signal system ranges from $50,000 to $120,000, and costs roughly $4,000 a year to maintain.

In Tucson, Ariz., where over 100 such devices were installed, statistics showed a 70% reduction potential in pedestrian crossing crashes.

Tova Rosenbloom, senior lecturer in the department of management of Bar-Ilan University, who has studied the compliance of ultra-Orthodox Jews to traffic regulations, noted that similar sensor-based traffic devices have been installed at some intersections in Israel, with some success.

Of course, none of these solutions come without political pressure, especially given their cost.

In 2002, the Shaarey Zedek congregation in Valley Village, Calif. outside Los Angeles filed suit against the Metropolitan Transit Authority to halt the construction of a busway that would cross the community.

The congregation claimed the project would create a dangerous obstacle to residents needing to cross the street on their way to shul. Though the project eventually went through as planned, the congregation’s current rabbi said that behind-the-scenes negotiations with people in power have improved the walking conditions for pedestrians.

“It only can work if you have the relationship with the city government,” said Rabbi Jonathan Rosenberg of Shaarey Zedek. “If they don’t hear from us and we don’t have anyone to connect with, then they’ll do what we have to do and we’ll be ignored.”

Roughly three months ago, Fisch reached out to Republican U.S. Rep. Charles McBurney of Jacksonville, Fla., to push for a longer crossing interval at the intersection on Shabbat. His request went unanswered until after the fatal accident involving the Ohayons.

After the crash, McBurney met with Fisch last week. Representatives from both Etz Chaim and the neighboring Conservative Jacksonville Jewish Center, are scheduled to meet with Florida Department of Transportation and city officials on September 30.


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