Traffic on Fairview Avenue by Verona High School is, by almost any measure, a problem. At any time of day or night, the road is a steady stream of cars, often going well above the speed limit. Many students and staffers park their cars on the road and, for some, that has proved costly. Last year, a staff car was sideswiped and, just a week after that, the superintendent’s car was totaled. A student’s car was t-boned as he turned from Franklin Street towards VHS.
For the Board of Education, the most logical solution seemed to be installing a traffic light at the corner of Fairview and Sampson Drive, where the main VHS parking lot is located. But Fairview is a county road, so the BOE had to request a traffic study from Essex County to get one. And at its November 10 meeting, the BOE reported the findings of that study: No traffic light for VHS.
“We still have a problem,” said a visibly frustrated Rui Dionisio, Verona’s public schools superintendent. “We don’t have a solution, but we need one.”
“We have a hard time understanding how this is acceptable,” he added. Dionisio also announced that, just before the BOE meeting started that night, a staff member’s car was the subject of another hit-and-run on Fairview: Its door was taken off by a southbound driver. The staffer, who was putting things into his car at the time of the accident, was thankfully uninjured, Dionisio noted.
As bad as the traffic is now on Fairview, it is going to get worse: Earlier this year, Cedar Grove had to concede defeat in its 20-year-long effort to block a huge residential development just north of the Verona Pool. Developer K. Hovnanian is going to build 460 townhouses on the site of the former Essex County Hospital Center. Though some Cedar Grove residents still want to put up a fight, the county has begun demolition of the remaining buildings at the former psychiatric hospital. In addition to slowing car flow, a traffic light could also be another deterrent to cars turning east onto Sampson, which has been one-way west-bound for more than a decade.
Dionisio isn’t the only one frustrated by the county’s traffic light decision. Cathy Jackson, the mother of a VHS student, communicated her concerns to County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo Jr. and to Verona’s town government. “I am extremely disappointed that Essex County does not see the safety issue on Fairview Avenue,” she said. “It seems an obvious and necessary safety measure given the number of students, traffic flow and development of the Hilltop. I am curious why they felt it was necessary.”
That remains, for now, an unanswered question. Essex County has not responded to MyVeronaNJ.com’s emails and phone messages for this story. While Fairview and Sampson is not a four-way intersection, the county has put up traffic lights at similar crossings, like the pedestrian-activated light on Lakeside Avenue near Morningside Road and on Cherry Lane in West Orange by the county’s new playground at the former Orange reservoir.
Jackson’s appeal to the town did result in the Verona Police Department stationing an electronic sign alerting drivers that they were entering a school zone. At Monday night’s Town Council meeting, Interim Town Manager Mitchell Stern said that the town is still trying to work with the county to get the light. And VHS is stepping up its efforts to get students and staff to park elsewhere. Principal Joshua Cogdill sent an email two weeks ago recommending that students park on Sampson, even though it means a longer walk to the high school’s front door.
“… crossing Fairview Ave.,” he wrote, “appears to be dangerous due to the heavy traffic volume.”
What an unfortunate decision on the county’s part. Does Verona have the power to assign and budget for police assistance in the morning and at school dismissal as Montclair does on Bloomfield Avenue where the Kimberly Academy lets out?
That’s a good question Laura and we’ll try to get you an answer.
I have 2 suggestions that I wish would be considered by the Council and Board of Ed. The first is to change the one way on Sampson to go from Fairview to Grove. That results in most vehicles making right turns instead if left turns on to and off of Sampson which lowers the chance of traffic accidents. The second is to change the no parking on Fairview to the southbound lane instead of the northbound so no one would need to cross Fairview to begin with.