Pedestrian safety board ponders possible roadway changes

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Photos by Sean Quinn
Above, Charles Brown, a senior research specialist at Rutgers University’s Alan M. Voorhees Transportation Center, addresses the pedestrian safety board. Below, members of the board meet Feb. 18 to flesh out ideas that could make the township’s roadways safer for drivers, cyclists and walkers.

WO-psab meeting2-WWEST ORANGE, NJ — The West Orange Pedestrian Safety Advisory Board met at the Turtle Back Zoo Education Center on Feb. 18 to discuss 35 ideas to make township roads safer and decide which of these should be included in an action plan that will eventually be put before the West Orange Township Council.

The ideas were all proposed from within the membership and partially inspired by suggestions made during last year’s public meeting. For each idea proposed, board members discussed its feasibility and the necessity of including it in the future plan. If the board mostly agreed the action deserved to be added, it moved to the next step in the process, which involves adding it to a chart that breaks down who will be responsible for it; when it should be accomplished; what barriers might hinder it; what resources can be used to get it done and how it will be communicated to the outside community.

In the end, the board members did not have time to get through all the ideas set forward, so one group volunteered to go through a whole separate list and then fill out the chart within the next two weeks. But they were nonetheless buoyed by the progress they made, with civil engineer and township parent Mike Dannemiller pointing out that the process would go a long way toward helping the board decide which actions to work toward first.

“This will help us set priorities,” Dannemiller said. “You’ll know which things are winners and what things are going to be a really heavy lift. Maybe it’s a heavy lift but it’s high priority, so it’s still going to make the list.”

The board will certainly have a lot of options to choose from, starting with the first idea it approved during the meeting: encouraging the township to adopt a “Vision Zero” plan, a concept emphasizing the need to make roads safer, no matter the cost, in order to ensure there are zero traffic fatalities in the future. Charles Brown, a senior research specialist at Rutgers University’s Alan M. Voorhees Transportation Center who led the idea-sorting process, informed the board members that, if adopted, West Orange would be the first town in New Jersey to approve such a plan. That seemed to impress members, who voted for it to be included in the action plan.

The board also liked the notion of making sure the Planning and Zoning boards enforce West Orange’s Complete Streets policy — a concept in which roadways are designed with pedestrians and bicyclists in mind, not just vehicles — for any proposed project that comes before them. That way, as Pleasant Valley Way Civic Association President Roz Moskovitz Bielski explained, future development can lead to safer conditions for pedestrians moving forward. For instance, Bielski said the developers of the planned LA Fitness and Cambria Suites on Rooney Circle could have been made to construct sidewalks as a condition of building.

Two measures for reducing speed limits were additionally considered by the board. The first, which called for a 25 mph speed limit for all municipal roads, was not decided on since township engineer Leonard Lepore pointed out that most — if not all — residential streets already have a 25 mph limit. Instead, the board members agreed that West Orange roads should be evaluated to see whether there are any local roads with a higher speed limit before voting to encourage such a change.

The other measure was to implement 25 mph speed limits in all township business districts. Lepore said not all of the township’s business districts have a 25 mph limit, with Pleasantdale being a notable example. But the engineer was not willing to take a definitive stance on whether a uniform speed limit would be possible.

“It’s probably doable,” Lepore said. “But I think it’s going to take a stretch to do it.”

Brown answered that a stretch was at least workable.

Of course, speed limits mean nothing without enforcement, which is why the board agreed that hiring additional officers for the West Orange Police Department’s Traffic Bureau would be a good idea. Currently, the bureau only has two officers covering the entire town.

In the meantime, the board approved a suggestion calling on the police to increase their enforcement of traffic laws, such as penalizing people who pass stopped school buses while also punishing bus drivers who speed and drive through stop signs. It also wanted the WOPD to issue tickets to bicyclists who break the law, though Officer Chris Jacksic pointed out that education through schools would be a better form of enforcement for bicyclists since most are minors who police will not ticket.

In fact, Lepore said educating the entire community on the consequences for violating traffic rules would be a beneficial way of encouraging people to abide by them.

“I think that’s a big deterrent,” Lepore said, pointing out that he was not aware that passing a stopped school bus comes with a five-point penalty until Jacksic mentioned it during the meeting. Lepore suggested placing more signage around schools.

Along with enforcement, the board acknowledged it should be on the same page with state and county lawmakers in order to make legislative changes. Thus, the board members voted in favor of encouraging government representatives from those levels to attend board meetings regularly. Brown also suggested that they form a subcommittee to analyze the way that inter-jurisdictional road issues are handled. The board will then know who to turn to for assistance instead of being given the runaround, something Edison Historical Park Superintendent Tom Ross said he has experienced in the past.

Councilman Jerry Guarino added that the ordinance he is crafting which, if passed, will change the speed limit on various sections of Pleasant Valley Way — a county road — depending on WOPD accident data and the presence of things such as schools or homes can serve as a model of municipal-county cooperation.

Other ideas the board liked included pursuing a no-right-on-red designation at dangerous intersections, installing pedestrian-level lighting in the darkest areas of town and investing in electronic signs that inform drivers how fast they are going. Dannemiller also brought up the possibility of obtaining a grant to commission a study examining vehicle circulation at each school.

In addition, Brown advised the board that it should apply to the New Jersey Department of Transportation’s Local Technical Assistance Program, which provides planning assistance to communities in order to develop a bicycle and pedestrian plan. He also encouraged the board to maintain its working relationship with Rutgers. Brown’s graduate class of civil engineering students created an award-winning Complete Streets plan for the township, which was not presented as of press time Feb. 23. Brown also suggested the board build partnerships with other local schools, such as Montclair State University and the New Jersey Institute of Technology, for further assistance with the project.