In the wake of a 7-year-old child being struck by a car in a crosswalk at Prospect Street last week, a group of angry and concerned residents voiced their frustration to the Maplewood Township Committee Tuesday night about what they see as the town’s lack of action against speeding and unsafe driving.
Neighbors near where the incident took place, on Prospect Street and Lexington Avenue in the Hilton section, spoke of witnessing numerous accidents and near-accidents over the years, and of cars and trucks disregarding speed limits and stop signs. Residents demanded that the town install more speed humps, crack down on speeding and other violations, and improve signage, among numerous other steps.
“It’s time to do something meaningful,” said Indiana Street resident Joshua Thomas.
Todd Warner, who lives near where the accident took place, presented a petition with more than 600 signatures asking the town to install speed humps and enforce traffic laws near the intersection. Warner said the raised crosswalk at the intersection was ineffective in reducing speeding. Referencing the police report that speed was not a factor, Warner said, “Speed always matters…. If cars are made to slow down they become more aware of their surroundings.”
The father of the second-grade Tuscan student who was struck told the governing body how devastating the accident was to his family, and took issue with “[in]accurate and insensitive” police accounts that he said gave the “impression the driver was not at fault” and that diminished the extent of his son’s injuries.
“I went to the hospital and I saw him,” said the father, his voice quavering and wiping away tears. “…and I can tell you it is serious to be a 7-year-old boy and hit by a vehicle.” He implored the Township Committee to “do everything in your power to take it seriously.”
“I want to apologize if you feel we misrepresented anything about the accident,” said Mayor Vic DeLuca. “That wasn’t our intention and I’m sorry you felt that way.”
The father said Police Chief Robert Cimino has since met with his wife to apologize for the wording of the release. (The driver was given a summons for failing to yield to a pedestrian.)
(The Village Green reached out to police last week for further clarification of the details of the release. On Monday, Capt. Dawn Williams responded by email: “There is nothing to indicate based on the investigation that a view obstruction contributed to the accident. Based on [the police] investigation, there is no evidence that the driver had not stopped at the stop sign prior to the collision.” She said the police investigation is currently complete.)
“If the town had listened to the people on Prospect years ago [when they asked for speed humps], we wouldn’t be having this discussion right now,” said Jacob Hensberry, a Boyden Avenue resident. “You have to start listening to the people who live in this neighborhood.”
Gail Villani, who lives on Lexington Avenue, said she didn’t see any extra police presence after the accident. “I’ve never seen anyone on our street get a speeding ticket,” she said angrily.
She continued, “You’re marketing this town as a place for people to come with their families so you need to do something about this. Either provide bussing for every student in the town, or make it safe for our children to walk to school.”
Among the issues that residents asked the town to look into: problem spots at Prospect Street between Harvard and Sommer (resident Mario Springer called this stretch “incredibly dangerous”) and the Burnett and Rutgers intersection, as well as speeding busses on Boyden Avenue and confusing signage on Franklin Street.
DeLuca said the town would review all of the issues residents brought up and investigate what the town could do moving forward. “I understand completely,” he said. “We [have] tried some things. They may not be working.”
But despite the town adding signage to many crosswalks, adding speed humps to some intersections, reducing the speed limit on Valley Street, and taking numerous other measures, too many drivers still disregard laws, DeLuca said.
“We don’t want more signage,” said resident Eleanor Cahill. “[Drivers] don’t listen to the stop signs.” DeLuca said the town needed there to be signs in order for police to enforce the laws.
DeLuca explained that as Prospect Street is a connector between Union and South Orange, installing speed humps would first require a feasibility study conducted by the town’s engineers. He urged residents to put together a letter with the signatures of at least 75% of residents on the affected street and submit it to the town. “This is best way to ensure there is some broad support on the block to move forward with this.”
(The town’s traffic calming policy can be found on the township website.)
“This was a very horrible accident, but we [have] a lot of people who are concerned about this,” DeLuca said. “I live there…. I cross those streets. I know people don’t stop. I yell at them too.”