RARITAN, NJ – Following a pattern of incidents throughout the borough and a recent fatal pedestrian accident on Old York Road, several Raritan residents voiced their concerns regarding traffic safety.
Residents noted that this is a borough-wide problem that cannot be solved by adding safety precautions to select streets, though certain areas seem to be hot-spots for traffic safety issues.
“We’re in a position where we are in the middle of all these major highways,” Mayor Zachary Bray said. “People that are coming and going from surrounding towns to and from work, we seem to be the perfect cut through.”
Several Weiss Terrace residents, many with young children, said they do not feel safe when walking or exercising on their street. Often a detour route, the street is also a shortcut for workers in neighboring towns.
“I am begging for your help,” Marissa Marten-Sarao, a Weiss Terrace resident, told the council.
Marten-Sarao came to the council with concerns in March, she said. While parked on the street in front of her house, her SUV was hit by a distracted driver and was launched into a neighbor's yard.
Marten-Sarao grew up on Weiss Terrace, she said, and her parents complained about traffic and speeding. Now, with an infant daughter, Marten-Sarao has the same concerns.
She said she placed signs in her yard asking drivers to slow down, has met with the police and has raised concerns at borough council meetings.
Residents expressed their frustrations that traffic and safety concerns have seemed to be put on hold since the COVID-19 pandemic struck.
There are several problem areas throughout the borough, including the intersection on First Avenue and Johnson Drive surrounding construction of the Crossings at Raritan apartment complex. Residents from Coddington Street also raised concerns at the meeting.
A sub-committee of the planning board to improve walkability and bikeability throughout the borough documented a series of suggestions to improve crosswalks, signage, sidewalks and more.
Conducted in the summer of 2019, the plan was led by borough planner Angela Knowles and was given to the planning board for review in February.
Ridewise, a nonprofit organization dedicated to educating communities on safe and effective travel in Somerset County, provides free technical assistance to towns wanting to improve pedestrian and bicycle safety. With the help of Ridewise, Knowles and the subcommittee divided the town into four sections and conducted walkability audits of each area.
Through this, they were able to highlight sidewalk issues, crosswalk issues and outliers in safety on the streets. This included tripping hazards, obstructions on sidewalks, crosswalks in need of repainting and general traffic conditions.
The walkability audits were a small piece of a bigger planning effort, Knowles said. Supported by a grant from the Regional Center Partnership, the borough was working to update the circulation plan, a model used by city planners to manage traffic.
The recommendations that came out of the walkability audits conducted by the subcommittee, including traffic calming suggestions and some road design suggestions, went into the circulation plan.
The plan is another piece in a comprehensive master plan for the town, Knowles said.
Through funding by this grant, Weiss Terrace and Woodmere Street are in the process of being repaved.
A possibility of installing two speed humps on Weiss Terrace and one additional speed bump on Woodmere Street was discussed at the council meeting. One speed hump is already in the works on Woodmere Street near John F. Kennedy Primary School, Bray said.
Bray said he would like to make a decision on the speed humps by the council’s next meeting. They will not be installed until construction on the streets is complete. Councilman Mike Patente brought up the issue of traffic safety during the meeting prior to public comments.
Several residents have come to him to voice their concerns, Patente said, noting that he has witnessed incidents of speeding recently.
“I had brought it up at another council meeting and at that time, since they are doing some construction on those roads, it was decided that we would wait a little bit later after the construction was completed to do a study to see what kind of calming features we might need on the roads,” he said.
As the council discussed continuing a larger traffic study throughout the town, residents asked them to stop testing and take action.
“I feel the residents of Weiss Terrace are the study,” said Weiss Terrace resident Dionysia Schallenberger. “When the residents are begging for your help, you need to trust the residents and do what you have to do.”
But a comprehensive speed study of the town could be beneficial, said borough planner Knowles. When you place precautions against speeding, such as speed humps, on one street, it could cause heavier traffic on another.
“I know people want to see change happen, but you don't want to make change on one street when it’s going to impact another street,” she said.
A borough-wide study could show how changing one street could impact traffic throughout the borough.
The plan put together by the sub-committee will have a public hearing at the next planning board meeting. From there it can be approved and the suggestions can be implemented.
Bray, who said he runs five to six times a week down Old York Road, said he understands and sees the traffic issues too.
“I hope that people understand this is a matter that we take to heart, we live here too, and the council is not making a decision without any emotion,” Bray said. “There is certainly emotion behind it and it’s an important part of this equation.”