Editorial: Safe in Saugus

It doesn’t sound like much money in the grand scheme of tax dollar spending, but the $3,300 in federal pedestrian and bicycle money Saugus received might just save someone’s life.

The money will allow Saugus Police to work additional overtime and to purchase bicycle helmets for distribution to local riders, and take steps to improve pedestrian crosswalk safety.

The timing of the grant award, more than its size, is what makes the $3,300 an important asset for Saugus public safety. Hot weather is here and school is almost out. Those two facts translate into heightened risk for accidents, including fatal ones, in much the same way summer has the potential to translate into drownings.

Teaching people to swim and educating them about water risks are two of the ways to avoid drownings. Making sure bicyclists and walkers are safe are two ways to avoid tragedies that kill people of all ages.

Statistics referenced by Saugus Town Manager Scott Crabtree tell a grim story: In Massachusetts in 2016, 20 percent of all traffic fatalities were pedestrians. Traffic-related pedestrian deaths are at a 30-year high and 2016 saw the highest number of bicycle fatalities in 25 years.

Kids are walking to and from ballfields and playgrounds during the summer. They play in the street, dash into traffic, and ride bikes with or without helmets. Fatalities always prompt neighbors and elected officials to point to the site of a deadly crash or collision and pronounce the location a long-time threat.

But Saugus is committed to taking a proactive, heads-up approach to public safety. By studying information on accidents and listening to residents talk about traffic and pedestrian safety concerns, they plan to identify crosswalks, intersections, and roadways where police enforcement can translate into improved public safety.

Pedestrian and bicycle safety enforcement is a two-way street, especially where children are concerned. Drivers must be warned — ticketed if necessary — to keep them off mobile devices and obeying speed limits. There is a mental adjustment drivers must make with the end of the school year and the start of a summer and its attendant pedestrian and bicycle hazards.

Children presumably learn pedestrian and bike safety at home with cautionary messages reinforced in the classroom. Kids absorb and retain information easier than adults, but they need to be reminded at the start of the summer, in no uncertain terms, about the real dangers involved in riding a bike and crossing streets.

In a perfect world, kids play in suburban streets at will and are insulated from harm. Every street includes a bike lane and drivers and bicyclists roll and motor on a level playing field of respect and awareness. The perfect world is a fantasy and Saugus, to its credit, is taking strong steps to protect pedestrians and bicyclists in the imperfect world.

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