MAPLEWOOD, NJ — Maplewood residents have hit their breaking point with the township’s unsafe roadways. Residents addressed their concerns to the Maplewood Township Committee for more than an hour at the Nov. 4 meeting, asking for speed humps, increased police presence and stricter enforcement of road rules. Though most comments were directed at Prospect Street and the roadways around it, comments were also made regarding overall traffic safety in the township.
Seeing the many residents and remembering the many speakers who addressed roadway safety at the Oct. 20 committee meeting, Mayor Vic DeLuca addressed those gathered prior to public comment. He informed them that, since the last meeting, the intersection of Prospect Street and Hilton Avenue had been raised. Additionally, he said, the Department of Public Works was looking into increasing or displaying some signage more prominently, specifically the signs leading out of St. Joseph’s Church.
DeLuca also explained that the county had repaired the pedestrian walk button at the corner of Springfield Avenue and Prospect Street that very morning, following public complaint; he explained that the county is contracted with Maplewood to fix all walk signals.
Additionally, from Oct. 21 through 23, DeLuca said that increased police presence yielded many tickets for infractions such as failure to wear a seat belt, not having an insurance card, and speeding. He added that the town is considering sporadically putting up the speed signs that tell drivers how quickly they were traveling, as that in itself can deter speeding.
DeLuca told residents that the town is currently gathering data to determine whether another raised intersection should be placed at Lexington Avenue and Prospect Street. He said, however, that before that can be done, the township engineer, who is also the traffic engineer, has to certify the decision. The mayor said he hopes the new data will justify the addition of a second raised intersection.
“The reason we need to make sure we’re meeting a standard is because any time you put an obstruction in the road, there is always the possibility of someone hitting that, or someone having damage to their car,” DeLuca said at the meeting. “In any event, they end us suing the town, so we just have to make sure that we have the proper information so that if these tickets are challenged or if there’s some kind of event there, we have the backup so we can justify the decision.”
Since the Nov. 4 meeting, DeLuca told the News-Record that the township has decided to install two hard rubber speed humps on Prospect Street — one between Revere and Lexington and the other between Lexington and Franklin. The rubber humps, which will be affixed to the asphalt, are expected to be delivered and installed by the DPW sometime in the next two weeks.
“The hard rubber humps will allow us to gauge the impact of speed humps on Prospect. We have collected pre-hump data on speed and vehicle counts and we will collect post-hump data for comparison purposes. We also will determine if there is migration of traffic from Prospect to other residential streets in the neighborhood,” DeLuca told the News-Record in a Nov. 9 email. “One we get data, we will meet with residents to discuss the findings and make a determination on permanent speed humps. The rubber speed humps will stay in place until the determination is made.”
In addition to the many fender-benders that occur on Maplewood streets, the recent push to protect pedestrians was spurred by two recent incidents. On Oct. 16, a 7-year-old boy was struck while crossing the street at Prospect Street and Lexington Avenue with his mother. The boy was transported to the hospital and released shortly after, with only minor injuries. Police determined that speed was not a factor in the crash and the driver was charged only with hitting someone in the crosswalk.
The second incident occurred on Oct. 27, when a woman was nearly hit by a car while walking in the crosswalk at Prospect Street and Hilton Avenue. An argument ensued during which the driver allegedly exited her car and proceeded to beat the pedestrian about the head with a closed fist. The pedestrian was transported to the hospital with a concussion.
In fact, the alleged victim in the crosswalk beating, Elle Barnett, addressed the committee Nov. 4, breaking into tears as she spoke.
“My bruises have gone away, but my emotional bruises have not,” Barnett said, describing to the committee how less than an hour after the intersection at Prospect and Hilton was raised, she was nearly run down and then beaten while crossing the street there.
“A woman drives her car straight through while I’m in the middle of the crosswalk — not almost off the crosswalk, not just starting into the crosswalk, but dead in the center,” Barnett said. “She grazed me. I bring it to her attention: ‘Hey, I’m in the middle of the crosswalk; it’s the law you stop.’
“She pulls over to the side in front of St. Joseph’s Church, gets out of the car. I am able to take a quick picture because I’m thinking she is just going to yell at me and I’m going to take her license plate to complain that she goes through the crosswalk when people are in the middle of it,” Barnett said, unable to stop her tears. “She proceeds to beat me with closed fists, straight to my head. I have a concussion. I’m scared to walk around my own neighborhood and I’m scared that I don’t have a right for the law to protect me. I’m afraid that the crosswalks here mean nothing.”
Barnett’s husband, Anthony, also spoke, telling the committee: “I’m not afraid to go outside — I’m angry.”
Prospect neighbor Eleanor Cahill, who witnessed the assault, told the committee: “I am shaken to the core because I had to witness the pommeling of this young woman.”
Prospect Street resident Todd Warner suggested to the committee that they look into crosswalk signs that feature the typical stop sign emblem and have the words “for pedestrians” added. Although this is not a stop sign, Warner believes it can work like one to ensure drivers know they are required by law to stop for pedestrians at crosswalks.
Warner’s husband, Edward Bennett, also spoke at the meeting, advocating for speed humps and a four-way stop at the Prospect-Lexington intersection.
“Speed isn’t the issue — cars don’t stop for pedestrians unless you make them stop,” Bennett said.
Bennett had also started a petition at Change.org demanding speed humps and more action to solve the unsafe traffic conditions created for pedestrians on Prospect. Bennett also questioned why DeLuca, who lives in the neighborhood, has not yet effected change.
“Yesterday, I was the first person to aid a mother slumped over her child after he had been struck by a minivan as he, his mother and two siblings were in a crosswalk. He was facedown and unconscious when I arrived. His mother turned him over and he was bleeding from the mouth and nose, and his legs were scraped and bloody. He came to and started crying, shaking and asking, ‘Is this real? What’s happening? Is this real?’” Bennett wrote on Change.org the day after the child was hit the car.
“This is a call to action for all Maplewood residents,” Bennett added. “I am asking you to sign this petition to let the township and police chief know that what they have done is not enough. We are tired of excuses and we want to see more police presence during the times children walk to and from school, stricter penalties for drivers who are caught ignoring pedestrians in crosswalks and immediate action on Prospect — between Springfield and Concord — where this child lives and was struck. More crosswalks or failed ‘raised intersections’ will not suffice. We want stopping measures including speed humps and/or stop signs.”
The petition now has more than 700 signatures as of press time Nov. 10.
Lexington Avenue resident Gayle Villani thanked the township and the Maplewood police for their increased presence following the last committee meeting, but bemoaned the fact that, after a week, she stopped seeing police presence and all the problems returned. She said she is more afraid to be a pedestrian in Maplewood than in New York City.
Rutgers Street resident Melissa Wahlers told the committee she is afraid to let her children and her dog play in her front yard due to speeding and other unsafe driving practices, saying that even when she is driving on her own street at the speed limit, she encounters aggression from other drivers who tailgate and honk.
“I love Maplewood; I do not love the fact that I can’t let my kids play in the front yard,” Wahlers said.
Lexington Avenue resident Matthew Vargo also spoke to the difficulties for the drivers who follow the rules when they are surrounded by drivers who do not. Vargo said that a few days prior he had seen a minivan stop at a crosswalk to let a pedestrian cross and the minivan was nearly rear-ended by a truck whose driver did not notice until the last moment that the minivan had stopped.
As resident after resident asked the committee why speed humps are still not in place, DeLuca explained the complex process involved with installing a speed hump. He explained that not only does the township committee have to decide to install a speed hump, but the township engineer must certify it, and 75 percent of residents on the block need to support the addition. DeLuca said that, in the past, they have heard complaints from residents who do not like speed humps near their homes as they believe they lower property values. DeLuca stressed that this was not the committee’s opinion, but something they have heard from residents.
Maplewood Avenue resident Lynn Kushmerick pointed out that, while energies have been focused on Prospect in the past weeks, the problem is not limited to the Hilton area.
“This is not just an issue in one part of the township; to walk anywhere in Maplewood is an adventure,” she said wryly. “Why are there no policemen on Maplewood Avenue ever?”
In response, DeLuca told Kushmerick that the committee and police are aware of the problem and have been working to fix it. But DeLuca reminded residents that the police have many tasks in addition to traffic calming, such as preventing and solving robberies.
“We’re balancing all those issues and it doesn’t mean this isn’t an important issue, but we have to allocate resources and we’re working with the police chief to allocate resources to do this,” DeLuca said.
In response to residents’ requests for four-way stops, DeLuca said the township would look into it and would even consult with South Orange, which has a few, to see how they are working out.
“We’ve been informed by the police chief that four-way stops are not the panacea that everyone thinks they are because there are no formal rules for four-way stops,” DeLuca said.