Volunteers, Police Take On Difficult Traffic Issues


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Suggestion by suggestion, the all-volunteer Neighborhood Traffic & Safety Committee and the Verona Police Department are working to combat one of Verona’s largest issues: traffic.

“Traffic is a big part of what Verona police do,” says Police Chief Christopher Kiernan, a member of the committee. In 2022, the VPD issued 3,853 motor vehicle summonses and 1,626 warnings. There are close to 600 accidents a year in the town. Many of the calls that the Verona police receive, as much as five out of the 10 top calls, are due to traffic-related issues.

The reason for traffic concerns lies in a number of factors, one of them being the layout of the town. “It is a town that people traverse to get to different areas in the county and out of the county,” Kiernan says, “so traffic is always a huge concern.” County roads, such Bloomfield and Fairview avenues, tend to have a large volume of traffic.

Matters on Bloomfield are not helped by the layout of that roadway. “There’s a lot of volume and a lot of gridlock, because it’s very difficult with the way our intersections are offset,” Kiernan says. These kinds of intersections worsen congestion issues.

Apart from the position of Verona in the county, there has been a general increase in traffic volume since the pandemic as well. More residents use delivery services since the pandemic and the perceived risk of going to public spaces; from groceries to just about any restaurant nearby, all can be delivered to the doorstep. More commercial drivers are being put on the roads and into residential areas. Housing developments like the Hilltop at Cedar Grove, which has nearly 500 condo townhouses, have also increased traffic volume.

With the amount of gridlock and congestion on streets such as Bloomfield, drivers may go on slower side streets to escape these issues; navigation apps may specifically redirect drivers onto side roads to shorten the driver’s route. This is especially problematic on county roads often traversed by non-residents. “You’re putting another person who’s not familiar with the township of Verona, who’s not familiar with the population on the roads,” says Steve Cruz, a retired Belleville police officer who is a member of the Neighborhood Traffic & Safety Committee.

Many of the roads in Verona are public roadways; as such, it is illegal to restrict access to these roads by non-residents. To make Verona roads safer for all, the Neighborhood Traffic & Safety Committee as well as the police department are committed to educating residents and non-residents alike and suggesting new improvements.

One potential area of improvement is in signage, suggested in a document compiled by the Neighborhood Traffic & Safety Committee, which set out short- and long-term crossing safety goals. Suggestions regarding signage include repainting crosswalks and updating older signage in front of schools. “Changing the signage, it’ll draw your attention no matter who you are,” Cruz says. The suggestions come as part of a desire for effective education on safety on and around the roads. “The traffic calming signs do make a difference in teaching others to focus on safety, and how it affects our kids and our community.”

However, change takes time, especially for any measures which may directly alter the flow of traffic or traffic patterns such as stop signs. The process begins with the identification of heavily traversed areas and concerns in those areas. Suggestions and information regarding a desired change must be presented to the township engineer, who then presents it to a traffic engineer who reviews the information and the recommendation presented. For the traffic engineer to believe the recommendation is warranted, there must be data to suggest that traffic in that issue is an area: statistics such as traffic volume and the number of accidents in that area are taken into consideration. With the approvals and reviews needed, the process can take time, and this length can be compounded by external factors. Grove Avenue is a county road, so the installation of a crossing beacon near F.N. Brown elementary school also needed county approval. Because of the pandemic and a shortage of beacons, it took over a year to get the device installed. (The Verona chapter of the Italian-American service organization UNICO donated $10,000 towards the beacon’s cost.)

In 2020, there were only 18 crossing guards employed by the township as a result of retirement—a source of frustration for Cruz, and a motivation for his joining the traffic committee. “I would watch families struggle to cross the street because there is no crossing guard there,” he said. “Cars weren’t stopping.”

While Verona police sought to expand the number of crossing guards, crossing posts were adjusted to be the most efficient for the numbers they had. “We tightened them to bring them closer to the schools,” Kiernan says. “We kept them around certain locations that were heavily crossed, other ones we just felt were a bit more dangerous than the others and we just wanted the assistance of a guard.” Since 2020, the number of crossing guards has expanded to 22, with a steady group of substitutes as well. “The number we are at now is good, but we’re always looking for more guards and we’re always reassessing what’s working, what isn’t; what’s needed, what’s not.”

Traffic remains an issue for the township, but gradually, the Neighborhood Traffic & Safety Committee is working to create safer roads for Verona.

“It’s not just about my kids or my neighborhood, but all the kids,” Cruz says. “Because at one time or another you all have to cross Grove Avenue.”

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