Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Taming a Rte. 4 Crossing

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Taming a Rte. 4 Crossing

Article excerpt

The heart-stopping game of chicken that rail commuters have been playing for more than a decade as they walk across Route 4 in Elmwood Park, near the Fair Lawn border, appears to finally be nearing its end.

Instead of praying cars will stop for blinking strobe signals at East 55th Street, walkers will soon be aided as they cross the busy highway -- also known as Broadway -- with the kind of traffic- control device that local officials have been requesting all along: a traffic light.

"The discussion over this issue has gone on long enough," explained New Jersey Transportation Commissioner Jamie Fox, who ordered installation of the light at a crowded meeting early this month with state Department of Transportation engineers, legislators, local businessmen and politicians from both boroughs.

The light is expected to be erected in late April.

For Fox, who returned to his former post as transportation chief last year, the decision was an example of the deal-making skill that led Governor Christie, a Republican, to appoint him to his old job. As a former Democratic operative, the commissioner is the administration's driving force behind a move to build bipartisan support for replenishing the bankrupt Transportation Trust Fund.

"I think what finally started to turn things around was the time I accosted him at the holiday party in the governor's Drumthwacket mansion, where I explained all the delays," said state Assemblyman Robert Gordon, a Fair Lawn Democrat.

"It turned out that Nellie Pou had also talked to him," Gordon added, referring to a fellow Senate Democrat from Paterson whose district covers Elmwood Park.

Fox's order surprised some commuters.

"I thought it would never happen," said Carlo Orrico when he heard the news. "I could get across the road in my 20s, but I always worried about much older people."

The Montclair man, who once commuted regularly on the Main and Bergen rail lines through Fair Lawn, had dubbed the intersection "the walk of death."

But in strict engineering terms, it proved hard to make a convincing argument to DOT engineers for a traffic light that could easily cost $250,000 to $500,000. Already burdened with lights at nearly half its intersections, Broadway is hardly the most dangerous in New Jersey's 36,000-mile catalog of public roads. Despite the "walk of death" nickname and all the anecdotes about close calls, crash records show mostly fender-benders and no fatalities.

Statewide, however, pedestrian deaths are the only major cate- gory of traffic carnage that hasn't declined much in the last few years.

DOT engineers preferred other options.

First, the speed limit was reduced from 40 to 35 mph, the crosswalk was repainted, and a pedestrian crossing sign with flashing lights was installed. By simply pressing a button, pedestrians could activate the lights, which theoretically warned motorists to stop in compliance with a pedestrian-crossing law that took effect in 2010. …

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