By ERIN ROLL
Montclair is launching a campaign to stop bullying behind the wheel.
The Montclair Pedestrian Safety Committee is partnering with the township and the police to crack down on aggressive driving. The campaign received permission from the mayor’s office to proceed this month.
The committee has started a social media campaign and is hoping to raise enough money to print out posters and post them around Montclair, including near intersections that are believed to be trouble spots for pedestrians, such as around Watchung Plaza and Bloomfield Avenue, said Jacqueline Mroz, the committee’s acting chair.
The posters, designed by committee member Becky Weaver, include slogans such as “Don’t Be a Bully Behind the Wheel,” “Share the Road,” and “It Starts With You.” One poster outlines a list of ways in which someone could be an aggressive driver, such as not stopping for a pedestrian in a crosswalk, speeding, tailgating or passing a school bus that is stopped with its red flashing lights on.
Already this year, Montclair has seen 36 pedestrian crashes, said Lt. Stephanie Egnezzo, who directs the police traffic bureau. Just last Thursday, Oct. 24, a pedestrian was struck and injured at the intersection of Grove and Claremont streets.
In 2018, Montclair saw 41 pedestrian strikes, two of which resulted in fatalities, one on Grove Street and one on Bloomfield Avenue. In 2017, there were 42 pedestrian strikes, including one fatality on Grove Street. In 2016, there were 49.
In 2017, Mary DeFilippis died from being struck by a vehicle while she was walking on Grove Street near Chester Road. DeFilippis’s death prompted the township to ask the county to lower the speed limit on Grove Street from 35 miles per hour to 30. However, Mroz estimated that there are only two speed limit signs on the street. She has reached out to Community Services Director Steve Wood to see if additional signage can be erected.
Grove Street is a high traffic through street running from one side of town to another, Mroz said.
Some improvements are expected to be coming soon, she said. The Grove Street/Watchung Avenue intersection is to be included in a county engineering project that covers the entire Bloomfield Avenue corridor. The project, which is expected to raise pedestrian safety, is expected to take about a year and a half.
A year ago, the Montclair Police Department began conducting safety patrols following school buses on their way to the schools in the morning. In seven months, the police issued 175 tickets to drivers that passed school buses.
Anita Geffinger, who is a member of the pedestrian safety committee, was struck and injured by a car on Watchung Plaza this summer. Geffinger broke her leg in three places in the accident, Mroz said.
Mroz’s husband, a cyclist, is routinely yelled at by driver telling him to get out of the street, Mroz said. In addition, committee members who are runners have also reported being yelled at: “People are aggressive,” she said.
The pedestrian safety committee launched an informal survey asking residents to share where they, as pedestrians, have experienced near-misses with vehicles. So far residents have reported near misses on Alexander Avenue, Bloomfield Avenue, Watchung Plaza, the intersection of Montclair Avenue and Chestnut Street, Valley Road and Lorraine Avenue, and two locations along Walnut Street. As of last week, the survey has received 18 responses. The committee is forwarding the information to the police as it is received.