NEW PROVIDENCE, NJ – The safety of existing pedestrian crosswalks came under intense scrutiny and heated debate among borough officials and concerned citizens at the Borough Council meeting Monday night.
The discussions were prompted by a December incident when a 13-year-old youngster, on his way to school, was “brushed” by a vehicle at a well-marked pedestrian crossing at the intersection of Springfield Avenue and Ridgeview Road. The crossing provides pedestrian access to the middle and high school and the Community Pool during the summer.
Only days earlier, a similar incident took place at the intersection of Central Avenue and South Street, Police Chief Anthony Buccelli said.
Buccelli sad that a far from perfect rushed traffic study revealed that on a rainy Friday 1,076 vehicles passed through the intersection from 7:30 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. There were 1,118 vehicles between 2:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. Seven youngsters used the crosswalk during the afternoon.
“The conditions were not ideal and we need to look at this closer and study further,” Buccelli said.
Council President Michael Gennaro asked if there weren’t some sort of devices like traffic cones that could be placed on the far right of the crosswalk that would prohibit cars with limited vision from passing a stopped vehicle on the right.
During the proceedings, Mayor J. Brook Hern and council members were vigorously united in agreement that some action was necessary but were divided on the appropriate solution.
Councilman Dr. Bob Robinson was strongly in favor of hiring an additional crossing guard to be placed at the dangerous intersection. That would cost about $7,000 a year, Buccelli responded.
The police chief suggested that if that were the course of action the council wished to pursue, he could have a more seasoned veteran stationed at the busy intersection and place a new hiree at a much less congested location.
Gennaro who heads the borough’s finance committee said he was seeking to increase police staffing with an increased emphasis on public safely. He said he was familiar with the Ridgeview problems having raised three children in the area.
However, the council president said that any solution should only be taken when considering the entire borough’s needs.
“We need to do this intelligently and we must not just react to comment but to additional studies, facts and available resources,” Gennaro sad.
Councilman Armand Galluccio noted that adding a crossing guard to a busy intersection wouldn’t make it safe all day or all year. “Each crosswalk is unique,” he added.
Visiting the Ridgeview intersection, Councilman Jim Madden said he observed six vehicles passing to the right of a car that had stopped for a pedestrian.
Councilman Gary Kapner said the Downtown Improvement District was looking at ways to slow traffic in the downtown area to improve traffic flow and safety.
Borrowing from Westfield, Councilman Robert Munoz touted that town’s positive experience with “Hawk” lights which, at a touch of a button can activate a red light at a pedestrian crossing, offering increased safety.
During the public comments section, Ann Gerrity representing the views of many Ridgeview area residents expressed confidence in the council’s support of their concerns. However, she cautioned, that during nicer weather than the pedestrian count study there was much greater crosswalk usage.
Resident Jeffrey Knight said the present solution was not working and insisted that public safety should be a prime borough importance. Knight criticized the crossing guard solution as a “band-aid” solution addressing 180 school days and ignoring the needs of 365 days.
Ira Krauss, a member of the Board of Education, applauded past council efforts for school safety and safe sidewalks to school but also noted increased attendance at borough schools. He noted that school enrollment increased by 88 students over the previous school year and more than 1,000 over 20 years ago.
By a split vote of 4-2, a rarity, the Borough Council approved a temporary crossing guard and approved additional funds for an expanded traffic and pedestrian study.
Council members approving the resolution were Madden, Galluccio, Kapner and Robinson. Opposed were Gennaro and Munoz.