Walking the Black Horse Pike: Atlantic City to Egg Harbor

As MTR has reported extensively, Black Horse Pike (US-322/40) in Atlantic County, continues to be one of the most dangerous roads in the state of New Jersey. With little in the way of pedestrian infrastructure, fast moving automobile traffic and retail sites that lining the roadway, Black Horse Pike, is precisely the type of suburban  “arterial” road that tends to be particularly dangerous for non-drivers. Year after year, pedestrians are killed in alarming numbers while walking along or attempting to cross this roadway. In fact, due to the extremely high number of pedestrian fatalities, NJDOT Commissioner James Simpson has pledged to personally inspect Black Horse Pike in the coming days.

There is a significant residential population within walking distance of Black Horse Pike (particularly in Pleasantville and Egg Harbor Township). Ideally, these residents would be able to safely access area businesses and local bus stops on foot, but the pike’s current design presents them with a number of major obstacles. Wanting to better understand the conditions that these and other pedestrians face, I visited Black Horse Pike in Atlantic City, Pleasantville and Egg Harbor Township and documented what I discovered. The following photographs illustrate the hazards, inconveniences and the, quite frankly, shocking conditions that I encountered while walking the Black Horse Pike.

Atlantic City

Black Horse Pike (known briefly here as Albany Avenue) begins its westward crawl across the Garden State in Atlantic City. I began my journey on a fairly wide sidewalk about a mile from the boardwalk and casinos–almost instantly, the paved sidewalk ended.

Sidewalks start and end with no apparent rhyme or reason all along Black Horse Pike. Pedestrians on this section of roadway in Atlantic City are forced to walk on gravel and turf.

Continuing my westward trek, I encountered a crosswalk that was clearly added to the pike to make it safer for pedestrians to cross between local businesses on either side of the roadway. While this crossing is well-marked and has a pedestrian-activated walk signal, those who are unable to make it all the way across this wide stretch of road before the light turns red will be stuck in the middle of the roadway, with little clearance from passing vehicles:

Pedestrians who are unable to cross quickly are forced to wait in the center of the road, only inches away from speeding traffic.

Pleasantville

West of Atlantic City is Pleasantville. Pedestrian infrastructure here is extremely lacking. While school children, seniors and those with physical disabilities are probably most at risk, the conditions here are so deplorable that, even with extreme caution, it felt unsafe for me to walk here.

Sidewalks here are unpaved, narrow and dotted with obstructions like this post, making the pike difficult to walk along for even the most able-bodied individuals.

Reaching the intersection of Black Horse Pike and Route 9, I was shocked to see that there were no crosswalks. I crossed here with trepidation.

No sidewalks, no crosswalks, no pedestrian walk signals, two extremely wide roads with fast moving traffic and a school crossing zone. The intersection of Black Horse Pike and Route 9 is truly dangerous.

Yet again, a brief section of paved sidewalk ended in the grass.

Black Horse Pike in Pleasantville is clearly not accessible for those in wheelchairs or with limited mobility.

Even portions of the pike with sidewalks can be difficult and dangerous to walk on due to trash, debris and other obstructions.

This school crossing sign is clearly not serving its purpose and is a hazard to those utilizing the section of sidewalk.

Egg Harbor Township

Conditions on Black Horse Pike in Egg Harbor Township were similar to those elsewhere, but there are an even greater number of roadside businesses that have entrances designed to be accessed only by automobile. The vast number and size of area curb-cuts put pedestrians in constant danger of being hit by turning cars and trucks. Adjacent lands are underutilized and businesses are difficult to reach on foot.

Vast, empty parking lots and abandoned businesses are not uncommon along Black Horse Pike. These underutilized land parcels are almost exclusively automobile-oriented and create hostile and inconvenient conditions for pedestrians.

Some obstructions on the side of the road force pedestrians to step into the street to get around them.

Pedestrians must either crawl through the bushes or balance on one foot on uneven turf, next to 50 mph traffic, to get around this tree. This is fewer than 50 feet from an NJ Transit bus stop.

There are numerous bus stops along Black Horse Pike, but very few are placed beside paved sidewalks and even fewer have bus shelters to shield riders from the elements. Many seniors and those with limited mobility must negotiate uneven grass and gravel. New Jersey’s “Safe Routes to Transit” program provides funding to alleviate such conditions, but the 2012 Capital Plan would halve its funding.

It is extremely unsafe for anyone to reach this bus stop on foot. Once there, riders are exposed to the elements.

Ways to Fix the Pike

The section of Black Horse Pike covered in this walk.

My journey along Black Horse Pike in eastern Atlantic County really put into perspective the conditions that pedestrians who walk along this road face on a daily basis while traveling to work, school or to visit the doctor’s office. Nearly all sections of the roadway that I visited were unsafe; all were inconvenient and unpleasant. The scale of the needed improvements along the corridor is large, but re-designing Black Horse Pike and surrounding areas in a way that is beneficial for area businesses, pedestrians and other road users will produce widespread benefits.

As first steps, street trees and improved roadway striping should be added in areas that currently lack them. Continuous sidewalks that are protected from traffic, additional crosswalks and other features such as bike lanes and pedestrian median islands will also need to be installed.

However, to truly transform the Black Horse Pike corridor, there must be a broader overhaul aimed at producing a safe, attractive and prosperous regional boulevard. In order to accomplish this, the state Department of Transportation, area municipalities, advocates, and local stakeholder groups need to come together to create a plan that benefits all road users, as well as future business owners and residents. If local governments agree to encourage the development of walkable, mixed-use projects along the road, Black Horse Pike will become more economically viable, and area residents will find it safer and more convenient to reach area businesses on foot.

Walking along Black Horse Pike, one sees how previous piecemeal planning, design and roadway engineering decisions have produced an environment that is hostile to pedestrians and is becoming more and more unattractive to business owners. However, it is possible to turn this disjointed and outdated roadway into a modern, thriving thoroughfare. By doing so, the quality of life for area residents will be vastly improved, and, most importantly, lives will be saved.

Photos: Matthew Norris/TSTC.

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