Editor's Note: This is the first article in a three-part series on Easton Avenue safety and traffic patterns.
SOMERSET, NJ - This year, Easton Avenue has been the site of a growing number of serious motor vehicle accidents.
In January, a Somerset woman was struck by car at the intersection of Easton Avenue and JFK Boulevard. Early August, a commercial water tank truck overturned while turning onto Easton Avenue from JFK Boulevard, causing a multi-car pileup. Later in August, a 19-year old pedestrian was struck by a car while crossing Easton Avenue near JFK Boulevard.
This pattern became increasingly apparent following the fatal two-car accident at the intersection of Easton Avenue and Culver Street on October 4th.
The question some Franklin Township residents are asking is simple: Why?
Local Law Enforcement on Easton Avenue
Lt. Philip Rizzo, Franklin Township Police Department information officer, called Easton Avenue “a safe roadway” and rejected the notion that there was something inherent about the corridor that lead to more crashes.
“For the past several years, if you average it out, we’ve seen about one accident a day on Easton Avenue,” said Lt. Rizzo, spokesperson for the Franklin Township Police Department. “But to qualify that, the vast majority of the accidents are lower speed, non-injury accidents created by volume.”
Lt. Rizzo went on to explain that rear-end collisions, side-swipe collisions, and deer-related accidents are common along the entire corridor.
“It's a heavily traveled road and it just has a lot of volume,” Lt. Rizzo told TAPinto. “Any time you put a lot of cars on a roadway you increase the likelihood that there could be a crash.”
He makes a fair point; Anyone who commutes to and from work on Easton Avenue during rush hour is likely to be all too familiar with both the traffic density and stop-and-go conditions.
To combat the dangers caused by the volume, the FTPD have even taken an enforcement campaign on Easton Avenue to keep drivers safe. Further, Lt. Rizzo suggests that drivers can improve the safety of the roadway by leaving a few minutes earlier, putting down their cell phones, and simply paying attention.
The motor-vehicle crash involving an overturned truck at the intersection of Easton Avenue and JFK Boulevard in July of this year is one example where abiding the law and remaining cautious would have prevented the crash; the driver of the truck, who fled the scene on foot, was later charged with a DWI, operating a vehicle while unlicensed, operating a vehicle while on the suspended list, among other charges.
But these campaigns and precautions don’t necessarily provide a solution for motor-vehicle crashes involving drivers who were making completely legal turns on and off of Easton Avenue.
“When it comes to the education through enforcement, that falls on us,” he said. “Since it’s a county road, improvements or changes to those types of [traffic] patterns would have been done in conjunction with Somerset County Roads Department … I believe that it's on our radar and it's something that they're paying attention to.”
Vincenzo Russo, Supervisor of the Somerset County Roads and Bridges Department, did not return phone calls or email for comment.
The Introduction of New Traffic Ordinances
Recent adjustments to local traffic ordinances serve as evidence that ensuring the safety of heavily traveled roadways cannot rest solely in the hands of drivers or law enforcement.
A new Ordinance has been proposed by the Franklin Township Council to prohibit left turns onto northbound Easton Avenue from eastbound Walnut Avenue, Culver Street, and Lakeside Road.
The ordinance, which amends Chapter 226 Section 22 of the Code of the Township of Franklin, will be introduced Oct. 23 and scheduled for a public hearing and adoption on Nov. 8.
The last time the Traffic Ordinance was amended to prohibit turns onto Easton Avenue was in 2008.
The locations included within the ordinance appear to be reactive, rather than proactive. It was a left turn from Culver Street onto Easton Avenue that lead to the fatal crash earlier this month, and a left turn from Lakeside Avenue onto Easton Avenue that caused the tragic death of a teenage motorcyclist from Franklin in June of 2013.
It should also be noted that these new turn prohibitions seem to round out an Ordinance adopted by the Somerset County Board of Chosen Freeholders in September.
On September 13th, the Freeholders held a public hearing on an Ordinance 18-807 prohibiting left turns from Northbound Easton Avenue onto westbound Walnut Avenue, Culver Street, and Lakeside Road. It was adopted at the conclusion of the meeting.
Ordinance 18-807 is not reflected in Franklin Township’s Code for Traffic Ordinance, and it is unclear whether the two governing bodies worked collaboratively on the effort.
Editor's Note: This article was updated to reflect TAPinto incorrectly reported ordinance 4255-18 was introduced at the Oct. 23 meeting and was scheduled for public hearing and final adoption on Nov. 8.
TAPinto Franklin Township is independently owned and operated by Malik A. Lyons FHS Class of 93’ Graduate.