More than a dozen Maplewoodians converged on Town Hall Wednesday to once again pointedly question the governing body about what residents deem a “lack of urgency” in improving pedestrian safety, in the wake of a child hit by a car and a woman allegedly assaulted in a road rage incident in the Hilton neighborhood.
Despite repeated assurances from Mayor Vic DeLuca that the township heard their concerns and was taking concrete steps to crack down on unsafe driving — including adding raised intersections and improved signage, and giving out tickets for traffic infractions — many remained unconvinced.
“The issue is cars don’t stop for pedestrians unless [the town makes] them stop,” said Eddie Bennett, a Hilton resident. Bennett said he would be presenting the town with a petition signed by more than 700 residents urging the town take action on traffic safety measures, including adding speed humps to certain intersections.
“This is a big problem…and it needs to be looked at,” said Bennett. “You’ve had years to figure it out.”
“It’s like the Wild, Wild West out there,” said longtime Hilton resident Eleanor Cahill, who called herself “jaded” by the lack of police response to her neighborhood. She pointed out that the township did a traffic study five years ago.
DeLuca said that in response to that study, the township had employed many traffic calming and enforcement measures, to varying degrees of success, and they were looking into other solutions.
Complaints about unsafe streets were by no means limited to Hilton residents. A woman who lives on Maplewood Avenue said there was “no police presence” on that street. DeLuca agreed pedestrian safety on that street is an issue and the TC is discussing it with the Maplewood Police Department.
“This is a problem of drivers around town,” he said, noting that residents of Valley Street, Elmwood Avenue, Parker Road among others have complained about dangerous conditions on their streets. A woman on Tuscan Road said she was concerned for the safety of her children when they crossed the street from Tuscan School, because of speeding drivers.
Elle Barnett, the woman involved in the “road rage” incident that left her with two black eyes and a concussion, said she is now scared to walk around in her own neighborhood. “I feel like our town does not care about…its people. I just want something done.”
“We are talking to the police about bumping up the priority of pedestrian safety,” said DeLuca, “and we will convey to the Chief this has to be a priority.”
The town will review the results of a traffic speed study it began earlier this week and would use that evidence, as well as information gleaned from the recent enhanced traffic details in the Hilton area to inform the next steps.
He reiterated that the township engineer has to approve traffic calming measures such as speed humps to limit the town’s legal liability. Residents who want speed humps or other measures on their street must submit a letter to the town with the signatures of at least 75% of residents, which will then initiate a traffic study, said DeLuca. The township’s Traffic Calming Policy can be found here.
The Mayor also pointed out limitations of speed humps: residents sometimes dislike them, they can disrupt traffic flow and they can have a ripple effect of funneling traffic onto surrounding streets. “It’s like Whack-a-Mole,” said Township Committeeman Marlon K. Brownlee.
Four-way stop signs, suggested by some residents, are also not a “panacea” because drivers are often confused by who has the right of way.
In response to a resident who asked why the petition was not enough to initiate a traffic study, DeLuca said, “I don’t disagree…that people are going too fast. People are ignoring lights, they ignore people in crosswalks, they drive too fast, they cut people off, they go around people. We notice all that.”
However, the town needs to follow its policy, which requires it to analyze data before it initiates traffic calming measures.
“Don’t make the data the enemy of the good,” said one man. “There was a child that was hit, Mr. Mayor.”
“I understand what you are saying and I agree with you,” said DeLuca.