Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Spans Get Cleared but Not Their Walks

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Spans Get Cleared but Not Their Walks

Article excerpt

If you had a 10-point driver-hardship scale, you might have used it to rate your grueling commute a 7 or an 8 after last week's snowstorm. But if you were Deepak Patel or Kiana Byrd, you'd probably need a new scale.

For each of them, the commute across the Broadway bridge from their homes in Paterson to Elmwood Park rated an 11 - maybe even a 12. Even though their trip is relatively short, it's one of the most perilous.

"They don't clean the sidewalk!" complained Deepak who tried stumbling across packed snow at least a foot high on the bridge all last week before succumbing to the inevitable: "I had to walk in the street."

Unlike the roadway, which was plowed, both the eastbound and westbound sidewalks on the bridge were not, leaving foot soldiers like him and Kiana to either slip and slide on ice-packed walkways or take their chances in the street as cars sailed by.

"It's very tough," said Kiana after huffing and puffing her way across the span for a Friday shopping trip. "It used to be easier when I had a car, but no more."

Deepak, who works in an Elmwood Park liquor store, told the same story.

"This bridge is my only way to get to work," he said.

Walking to work, play or the shop across town has always been tough for New Jersey pedestrians. And lately it has been getting tougher.

Pedestrians accounted for nearly 30 percent of all the 1,723 traffic deaths recorded statewide from 2014 to 2016. These deaths had been declining on average since 176 people were killed this way in 2002 - 23 in Bergen County along and many of them in winter.

Responding to similar increases nationwide, some states including New Jersey have adopted federal Complete Streets standards that require future road improvements to take pedestrians into account as well as motorists. This change in thinking marked a breakthrough in road engineering that had favored automobile traffic over foot traffic for more than 80 years.

But change comes slowly. The Complete Streets philosophy has little to say about maintenance.

Short-staffed road crews for municipalities, counties and the state Department of Transportation can barely handle New Jersey's more than 8,000 miles of roadway after a snowstorm.

Indeed, jurisdictions are confusing. The Broadway bridge, for example, links two towns and two counties - Bergen and Passaic - each with its own road crews. And Route 4, a state highway, begins there in Elmwood Park.

Each government agency has well-defined agreements governing which of them is responsible for maintaining slices of a roadway and the streets and footbridges that span them, as well as adjacent bus stops, crosswalks, stairways, sidewalks and parking spots.

In other words: It's complicated.

In an effort to find who was responsible for sweeping snow from the Broadway bridge, Deepak called both towns, both counties and the state DOT. …

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