Tragically this weekend a woman was killed and up to six injured while shopping for produce at a Farmer's Market in Hawthorne New Jersey. While overall coverage has been spotty, NJ.com has done a good job: see coverage HERE.
UPDATE: THE WOMAN KILLED IS IDENTIFIED AS 58 YEAR-OLD DONNA WINE. THE DRIVER HAS BEEN CHARGED WITH VEHICULAR HOMICIDE AND LEAVING THE SCENE, AND HAS BEEN IDENTIFIED AS 48 YEAR-OLD JAMES WOETZEL. THE INJURY REPORT HAS BEEN REDUCED TO TWO VICTIMS NOT INCLUDING MS. WINE
These preventable and predictable tragedies are repeated over and over because market promoters and participants and local officials assume that "This is how we always do this" is the same thing as "This is the safe way to do this." Despite all the evidence in the world that no speeding car has ever been stopped by a plastic sign or wooden sawhorse, visual barriers are still considered to be state of the art protection for pedestrians at "street closing" events.
This accidents comes almost exactly a year after the car drove around an inadequate barrier and careened down the Ocean Front Walk in Venice California, killing one and injuring more than a dozen, and five months after a speeding car in Austin Texas went through IDENTICAL barriers to those used in Hawthorne and killed four people and injured almost twenty attending the SXSW music festival. And there have been more deaths and injuries at many other Farmer's Markets and street fairs and festivals in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut over the last two years as well, all of which should have alerted officials and promoters in Hawthorne to take a look at the their traffic management plan and their safety plans. From the news reports, this seems to have fallen on deaf ears.
Of course, the Tragedy Poster Child for farmer's markets and street closures is the 2003 incident in Santa Monica California, where an elderly driver drove three blocks through a farmer's market and killed 10 people and injured 63 others. So horrible was this tragedy that the National Transportation Safety Board (which investigates commercial plane crashes, train derailments, and other mass casualty events) did a thorough investigation of the incident and concluded, in part, that had effective steel barriers been deployed instead of the flimsy wooden barricades and plastic signs used (and used in Austin, and used in Hawhorne) the vehicle would not have been able to gain entry to the event and therefore no able to kill and maim so many innocent folks.
Sarah Goodyear of Atlantic Cities wrote a great piece about the predictable and foreseeable mayhem in Austin last March -- she titled it "We're Shamefully Bad at Protecting Pedestrians at Events Like SXSW" (read it HERE) and that just strikes me as being so simply true that it should stop people in their tracks. Not just behind the curve, and not just neglectfully ignorant -- we should be ashamed at the lack of effort in an area where not only has the solution been pointed out by the NTSB, but there are constant and tragic reminders in the news of the consequences to people and communities who fail to take simple preventative steps to protect people.
I had a dentist for a long time who used to lecture me about flossing and getting regular cleanings. He used to tell me I only had to take care of the teeth that I wanted to keep. I guess it is true in cases like this -- you only have to protect the people that you want to keep alive.
Farmer's market promoters, city officials, loss and casualty companies, and police departments -- YOU ARE ON NOTICE. Vehicle incursion accidents are inevitable at events involving street closings for two reasons -- drivers can do really stupid things and crowds presume they are perfectly safe because they are in a crowd and they do not see any traffic coming at them. Given that tragedies are predictable and foreseeable, and given that there are so many examples of the failure of plastic signs and barricades to prevent them, FOLLOW THE NTSB RECOMMENDATIONS and require simple, effective and inexpensive steel barriers or bollards for all street closings, do it NOW, and get advice from a professional who can show you how to do it properly and in conformance with ADA requirements, traffic management planning, and basic perimeter security and safety procedures.
I have never been to Hawthorne New Jersey. For all I know, it is a really nice place to live, and folks really like it there. But I know that in the future, when I hear of Hawthorne, this failure to protect people will be the first thing I remember. One dead, six injured, and it didn't have to be this way.