SOUTH ORANGE, NJ — Pedestrian safety has remained a hot-button issue in the two towns for a long time now, with the towns struggling to implement measures that keep pedestrians and drivers safe without breaking the bank. One Lenox Avenue resident spoke out at the March 13 South Orange Board of Trustees meeting, criticizing the village for not doing enough to keep pedestrians on his street safe.
Resident Joe Weiler’s main complaint was his impression that the village talks a bigger game than it plays when it comes to pedestrian safety. He argued that, after 10 months of working with the village to improve safety on Lenox and South Orange avenues, the proposed safety methods have not been instituted and will not be instituted. And he wanted to know why.
“I was first told when I started working on that that we could get crosswalks across Wyoming,” Weiler said at the meeting, adding that he was told this would be a high priority and that the village would need to work with the county, which must approve all changes made to Wyoming Avenue. That crosswalk would have been placed at the intersection of West End Road and Wyoming Avenue. “I found out later, when (the crosswalks) weren’t done, that no request had ever been made to the county to get them painted.
“I got an email from (Trustee Jeff) DuBowy this past week saying the West End crosswalk had not been approved,” Weiler continued. “So, after all this work by a lot of people, a lot of time spent on this issue, I would like to know, because his email did not specify, who or what authority turned down that recommendation that had been approved by the traffic division, by the chief of police, by two members of this board sitting on the Public Service Committee. Where did the negative report come from?”
According to DuBowy, while numerous ideas were considered for slowing down traffic in that area, especially the two or three blocks of South Wyoming Avenue near South Mountain School, it was decided that a crosswalk in that area just would not work.
“When we looked at the West End crosswalk, we realized that there’s a bigger safety hazard there because of cars coming east on South Orange Avenue, making a right turn, or going south on Wyoming,” DeBowy said at the meeting, adding that this decision was vetted in the Public Safety Committee. “It is a very short stopping distance from South Orange Avenue to West End. So, anybody really wanting to cross there, they could walk that 100 (feet) — or 150 feet at most — to the light, which would be a much safer crossing, or the crosswalk that we’re putting in at Lenox, if they’re coming from farther south.”
Board members also pointed out that village officials have considered putting a crosswalk there before, but had refrained from doing so as they believe it would be more hazardous to have one than not.
“Apparently, this crosswalk has been discussed prior,” DuBowy said. “Numerous people just said, ‘It just doesn’t make sense from a safety perspective.’”
Village President Sheena Collum said that, due to past discussions about the issue, she was surprised it was being addressed again. Trustee Mark Rosner agreed.
“That was the same conclusion we reached almost 20 years ago,” Rosner said, agreeing “that the crosswalk on West End and South Wyoming was too dangerous.” “The head of the crossing guards was at that meeting back then and reached that conclusion as well, so I don’t know why anything would change — if anything, cars go faster today.”
Rosner added that, to increase safety, the village had implemented an all-red phase at the traffic light, leaving a period of time in which vehicular traffic from every direction is stopped to allow for a safer pedestrian crossing.
And according to DuBowy, while a crosswalk in that area is not feasible, the village has addressed several line-of-sight issues in the area to make crossings safer.
Collum additionally said that, before the village does anything to calm traffic, it has to consider the cost and the repercussions for doing so. For instance, speed bumps have been shown to impede emergency response and street cleanup following snowstorms, according to a report of traffic calming measures issued by the city of Hoboken. She added that merely conducting a road safety audit at one intersection can cost approximately $5,000 — actually implementing methods to attempt to correct issues can spiral into the hundreds of thousands of dollars, so the board must be sure it’s making the right move ahead of time.
“Every individual situation, while it’s very important, we have the responsibility of looking at the totality of prioritizing what limited resources we can apply to each,” Collum said, adding that the village prefers to “modify behavior before enforcing it.” She championed the positive effect comprehensive education programs can have on roadway safety.
Weiler also criticized the village’s enforcement in the area. According to Weiler, in response to an Open Public Records Act request he filed with the village, he learned that in the past year, zero speeding tickets had been issued on South Wyoming Avenue.
“This lack of enforcement is the kind of thing that brings this village’s residents to a furor,” Weiler said. “Enforcement is a significant and essential part of any solution and zero tickets on South Wyoming Avenue, a known hotspot for speeding, where there are lots and lots of kids and very little control, shows this village is not showing its dedication that it expresses to its residents.”
But DuBowy said he was not surprised that no tickets had been issued in that area, as the composition of the streets there makes it nearly impossible for South Orange police to catch speeders on South Wyoming.
“I don’t know how you would stage speeding enforcement there. Our officer would have to be, maybe, in Maplewood to catch up to somebody there,” DuBowy said. “I don’t know where you would sit with the radar to catch speeders over there.”
Collum took the opportunity to praise South Orange Police Chief Kyle Kroll and argue that South Orange is on point when it comes to enforcement.
“We’ve averaging over 800 summonses a month. If we looked at statistics from other communities based on the percentage and number of law enforcement officials that we have in South Orange and the level of enforcement, it’s actually crushing,” Collum said, adding that the police cannot be everywhere at once. “I think we all need to have an appreciation for the totality of work that law enforcement is doing at any given time.”
Weiler did have some positive things to say about the village — though he was hesitant to give too much praise.
“Now I do want to thank you. I understand that we are supposed to be getting a new electric, solar-powered, remotely-controlled, speed-limit sign that controls speed for kids,” Weiler said, before adding, “but we do worry about something like that when suddenly the crosswalk disappears.”