WEST ORANGE, NJ — Information and legislation were the key themes at the newly formed West Orange Pedestrian Safety Advisory Board’s inaugural meeting Monday, Nov. 16, at the Turtle Back Zoo Education Center.
The purpose of the board is to recommend safety measures to the Township Council for further review.
The group of 12 attendees included Township Council President Jerry Guarino, Pleasant Valley Way Civic Association president Roz Moskovitz Bielski and principal engineer Mike Dannemiller. They made it clear that there is a particular need to gather data and figures in order to make significant and lasting changes in the way pedestrian safety is addressed in town.
The advisory board’s creation is thanks to the Pleasant Valley Way Traffic and Safety Commission, a group that was formed to address roadway safety concerns on Pleasant Valley Way, a county-controlled road that is one of the main thoroughfares through West Orange. Some concerns about the roadway are its poor lighting, relatively high speed limit and the prevalence of pedestrians on the street, which houses schools, houses of worship and stores. The purpose of the group grew, however, and the focus is now on improving pedestrian safety throughout West Orange, not just Pleasant Valley Way.
The advisory board will be formulating its suggestions based on the observations of the safety commission, feedback the group received at the Oct. 15 public meeting in West Orange High School’s Tarnoff Cafeteria, and the data presented by Charles Brown’s civil engineering class from Rutgers University’s Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy.
The class, mentored by Brown, a senior research specialist at Rutgers’ Alan M. Voorhees Transportation Center, conducted a traffic audit of West Orange streets; the resulting information is set to be presented at the end of the academic semester to the advisory board.
The advisory board has agreed that traffic and safety data from both the county and the township are critical in putting together thorough recommendations to present to the Township Council.
Dannemiller raised the question of how to access the information that the township already has, as this will be crucial in determining where the issues lie.
“Where is the speed-box data?” Dannemiller asked. “We have perceptions of the problems, but we need county data and we need West Orange data.”
In particular, the group wants to know where speed boxes are already located, and what specific data is being pulled from them.
Advisory board members also brought up a suggestion that had been mentioned several times at safety commission meetings: decreasing the speed limit on major roadways in town such as Eagle Rock Avenue and Pleasant Valley Way, as well as roads near schools, like Hubert Avenue to Westmond Drive.
“The whole idea is to bring the facets of ‘Complete Streets’ into an ordinance,” Guarino said. “I want the police department to give me specific information so I can put together an ordinance to reduce the speed limit on Pleasant Valley Way.”
“Complete Streets,” are streets designed and operated to ensure safety for all users, whether they are pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists or transit riders of all ages and abilities, according to Smart Growth America, a national organization working to promote roadway safety. Roadways designed as such facilitate easy street-crossing, walking to shops and bicycling, and ideally help buses to run on time and make it safe for people to walk to and from train stations.
Another important topic of discussion was proper the method to police any new ordinances that are created.
“We have to be realistic about what we’re asking for,” one meeting attendee said. “What’s the current manpower of the police department, and could the chief in the future assign men to do just the traffic detail? We also have to be clear about how many men we think will be needed.”
Sangeeta Badlani of the Nikhil Badlani Foundation had a different outlook on what should change in West Orange: the town’s pedestrian safety culture.
“The culture in West Orange regarding safe driving and pedestrian safety is not enforced here,” Badlani said. “We need to have the police department enforcing the law more, and the drivers in town need to have a different attitude about pedestrian safety here.”
Roz Moskovitz Bielski pointed out that in towns like Maplewood and South Orange, there is a culture of pedestrian safety that permeates and is clearly enforced within their law enforcement. Interestingly, issues concerning pedestrian safety have been front and center in Maplewood in the past few months, following an accident in which a 7-year-old was hit in a crosswalk and an incident that left a pedestrian hospitalized after she was beaten by an angry motorist. South Orange has been working to increase pedestrian safety through police stings a couple of times each year to catch motorists who do not stop for pedestrians in crosswalks.
Bielski also pointed out that there are areas in West Orange that have schools that don’t even have a school zone designation, including Seton Hall Preparatory School and Golda Och Academy, creating a traffic issue.
“I know they aren’t part of the West Orange School District, but they are still schools with students,” she said. “How can we get changes made on county roads to ensure that there is pedestrian safety over there as well?”
The advisory board also plans to look into possible grant funding to help defray the costs of hiring additional employees to create a traffic bureau if this idea is eventually approved.
Recommendations from the advisory board will be presented to the West Orange Township Council before going to the mayor and finally to the Essex County Freeholders.
“Good engineering fosters good driving,” Dannemiller said.