WESTFIELD, NJ — Directing traffic was a practice many of the municipality’s crossing guards had performed for as long as anyone could remember. Then they learned that to do so is illegal.
The resulting changes in Westfield have that come following the municipality’s hiring the firm All City Management Services to run its crossing guard program led to traffic backups, particularly in the area of Westfield High School during pickup and drop off times — something officials have plans to fix.
“We recognized that the sheer volume of cars on the road during school drop-off and pickup hours inherently causes congestion,” said Police Chief Christopher Battiloro in a statement released by the town late on Friday. “With the strict implementation of the law prohibiting crossing guards from directing traffic, some improvements need to be made to help manage traffic in the most heavily affected areas.”
The town hired ACMS because police officers were filling in for crossing guards, something that was taking the officers away from more pressing law enforcement duties, officials said. ACMS then advised of the liability that allowing crossing guards to direct traffic could cause.
“There are very few states where crossing guards are statutorily authorized to direct traffic,” said Patricia Pohl, vice president of operations for the crossing guard company. “Where that happens, we remain involved but police departments are required to train the crossing guards to direct traffic.”
The resulting changes, Battiloro said, will include the following:
Left-hand turns will be prohibited at Rahway Avenue and Dorian Road and traffic will only be permitted to turn right from Grove Street onto Rahway Avenue during school crossing times, he said. The Town Council is anticipated to introduce a local law Tuesday that would lead to enacting the new traffic controls, he said.
Beginning this week, Battiloro said, authorities will reduce the number open crosswalks at the following intersections from four to two: Grove Street and Rahway Avenue; Rahway Avenue and Dorian Road; Westfield Avenue and Park Street; and Clark Street and Dudley Avenue.
“We will continue to assess other areas of congestion and seek out additional solution,” he said. “These may include the addition of a second crossing guard in some intersections as well as changes in road striping and signage.”
ACMS has also recruited additional guards who will be joining the existing crossing guards in the program. More than 75% of guards remained with Westfield who were a part of the police department’s crossing guard program, officials said.
Battiloro also detailed the following actions that the crossing guards will take:
- The guards at busy posts will wait for larger groups of students to gather rather than cross small groups, thus creating fewer traffic disruptions.
- Police will continue to be present at some busier intersections to enforce traffic and parking laws that when violated increase traffic congestion.
- Residents have been asked to carpool more, leave more travel time and consider alternate routes and drop-off points.
Pohl, who traveled from California to aid with the transition, said that resident cooperation is key.
“Part of the solution lies within the citizens of the town of Westfield,” she said. “Come 10 minutes earlier. Stay half a block away. Make the turn when you get there.”
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