SOUTH ORANGE, NJ — The intersection of South Wyoming and Lenox avenues was named “Nikhil’s Way” on June 11, honoring Nikhil Badlani on the 10th anniversary of his death in a car crash when a driver failed to stop at a stop sign at the corner in South Orange. In the decade since, Nikhil’s family, which lives in West Orange, started the Nikhil Badlani Foundation, raising thousands of dollars for traffic safety initiatives and helping to pass traffic laws.
“The reason that we can be here is because of the love and support that we’ve gotten,” Sangeeta Badlani, Nikhil’s mother, said at the event. “We hope that when people drive by here they’ll see Nikhil’s name and it will start a conversation.”
Assemblywoman Mila Jasey and Assemblyman John McKeon both attended the dedication, and both said the foundation has probably saved lives.
“I so respect how you’ve taken your pain and moved it to help people and prevent further death,” Jasey said. “I hope all of us will remember this day and stress how important it is to slow down. I thank you for your continued efforts to remind us.”
“Nikhil’s Law,” passed in 2015, requires the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission to include awareness questions on the driver’s test asking if new drivers are aware of the dangers of failing to follow the state’s motor vehicle traffic laws. The foundation’s youth advisory board is also working to help pass bill A1354/S1963 in the state Assembly and Senate; it would require 50 hours of mandated driving practice for new drivers, 10 of which would need to be completed after sundown.
“As important as you are to the community and to the state, in the 10 years since that day, there are people who don’t know your names whose lives you’ve saved,” McKeon said.
Friends of Nikhil’s were at the dedication as well, including students with whom he played the trumpet in band and others with whom he went to Gregory Elementary School. Catherine Brown, who went to Gregory with Nikhil, remembered him holding philosophical debates with Legos.
“He would use the Lego people and have debates like they were Aristotle,” she said in an interview at the event. “I was like, ‘What? Who is Aristotle, and who is this kid who knows Aristotle?’”
Brown lives in Philadelphia now but has come back to West Orange to visit and has been to several NBF events.
“It’s amazing to see people show up year after year,” she said. “It’s a testament to Nikhil, of course, but also to what his family has done.”
There is a large stop sign surrounded by blinking lights at the intersection now, near the sign with Nikhil’s name.
“I hope when people see it they learn about it,” Sunil Badlani, Nikhil’s father, said at the dedication. “There’s a big stop sign with lights, and that’s for all of the drivers and the walkers and runners and school children. Now, it’s Nikhil’s Way.”
Photos by Amanda Valentovic