WEST ORANGE, NJ — The Essex County Board of Chosen Freeholders unanimously voted to reduce the speed limit on Pleasant Valley Way at its Dec. 19 meeting, following an ordinance that the West Orange Township Council adopted at its Oct. 16 meeting. The speed limit will be reduced to 25 miles per hour from 30 miles per hour in the vicinity of West Orange High School and Kelly Elementary School.
“With West Orange High School and Kelly Elementary school at the center of this corridor, the Board of Freeholders acted in accordance with the West Orange Town Council in an effort to protect county citizens from the dangers of high speed traffic accidents, while being in compliance with School Speed Zone limits,” a press release from the BCF on Dec. 21 said.
Freeholder President Brendan Gill said in the release that the board has taken note of accidents that have happened recently in Millburn, Montclair and on Pleasant Valley Way in West Orange, leading the board to prioritize transportation and pedestrian safety.
“Safety for citizens of Essex County has always been an item that hits close to home both for the board and for me personally,” Gill said in an email to the West Orange Chronicle on Jan. 7. “Personal friends of mine have been affected by the dangers of high speed traffic accidents. Anything that I can do, any measure that I can take to improve the safety of drivers and pedestrians is something that I will look into and support.”
Gill added that the board will look into other safety measures on the street, especially for students in the area.
“Everything is on the table when it comes to traffic safety,” he said. “We will certainly consider any measure that can improve safety on the roads. Student safety was absolutely something that was considered when the board passed the resolution supporting the ordinance passed by the West Orange Town Council.”
West Orange Mayor Robert Parisi credited the West Orange Pedestrian Safety Board with advocating for the speed limit change, in addition to residents who have expressed concerns about the area.
“In addition to residents frequently expressing concern about the speed on Pleasant Valley Way, as well as many other roads, the Pedestrian Safety Advisory Board has been advocating a reduced speed limit on Pleasant Valley Way for some time,” the mayor said in an email to the Chronicle on Jan. 4. “The county has routinely been supportive and has worked cooperatively with the township in helping to address any safety concerns on our roadways or within our neighborhoods.”
Councilman Jerry Guarino, council liaison to the PSAB, said lowering the speed limit on Pleasant Valley Way is something the board had been working toward for years, but was unable to change. Now though, Guarino said it will be easier for police to enforce traffic laws.
“This gives the police an easier ability to ticket people,” he said in a phone interview with the Chronicle on Jan. 2. “It will reduce crashes when the speed limit is slower.”
Guarino also said that the speed limit change makes it easier and safer for WOHS and Kelly students.
“We’ve worked with Safe Routes to encourage walking to school,” he said. “We’d rather that they walk to school because it reduces traffic, and also gets them to exercise.”
The school principals also welcome the change, saying that the students who walk to school will be exponentially safer.
“About half of the students take school buses to school. While many students are dropped off by car, still we have a fair number of students who walk to school,” Kelly Principal Joanne Pollara said in an email to the Chronicle on Jan. 4. “I am very pleased that the speed limit on Pleasant Valley Way is going to be reduced. Safety of our students is of utmost importance. We would love for all of our students to feel safer and more secure on their way to school. Being able to walk to school is a wonderful opportunity to talk with friends, to wonder and to notice the world around us. Hopefully, reducing the speed limit will provide added safety for our elementary students, parents and our novice drivers from the high school, and more of our students will be able to enjoy walking to and from school.”
WOHS Principal Hayden Moore said that while some high school students walk to and from school every day, they are also crossing the street to Kelly during school hours.
“I’m grateful that they understand the necessity,” Moore said West Orange’s and the county’s elected officials in a phone interview with the Chronicle on Jan. 4. “Our kids cross during the day as well for work study programs to work with the younger kids, so it’s not just before and after school.”