For several months, drivers in Fort Lee travelling down Central Road and making a right turn onto Main Street have encountered, just before the intersection, a temporary, variable message sign that says, alternately, “Watch For Pedestrians,” “Obey All Traffic Laws,” and finally, “No Turn On Red.”
That sign and the reason for it being at the intersection was the subject of an off-agenda discussion at the Fort Lee Mayor and Council executive session Thursday that concluded with borough officials deciding they would take another look at whether it’s really needed.
“Two people have stopped me in the last three days asking me why is it ‘no turn on red’ because that light is awfully long,” said Councilman Joseph Cervieri. “They sit there for minutes at a time.”
But the issue went beyond simply having to obey that particular traffic law recently, when on at least one occasion, county police set up a stop just around the corner on Main Street and started pulling drivers one-by-one into the municipal parking lot across from In Napoli and ticketing them for turning right on red.
Borough Administrator Peggy Thomas said she, along with Councilman Harvey Sohmer, spoke with the Fort Lee Police Department after learning about the apparent crackdown.
“[Fort Lee police] told us that they’ve called the county and told the county to back off on that,” Thomas said. “But the chief felt there was a lot of pedestrian crossing down there because of [the restaurants across from the parking lot]. That’s why he asked that they put down that sign.”
In response to an increase in motor vehicle accidents involving pedestrians in the borough, Fort Lee Police Chief Thomas O. Ripoli recently issued a statement to residents urging them to take proper safety precautions.
Sohmer said he was at the intersection where few cars turn—except for those coming off of Central Road—in December with a Capt. Bendul of the Fort Lee Police Department to evaluate the timing of the light.
“We timed it, and the light wasn’t that long,” Sohmer said. “I think he said it was a two-minute light.”
But Cervieri noted that Central Road meets Main Street just west of the point where Main becomes one-way. Aside from those coming from Central Road, only the relatively few drivers turning onto Main Street off tiny Bigler Street just yards away, or those turning left from the one-way Federspiel Street across Main from Central Road go through the usually quiet intersection.
“Basically, [Main Street] is a one-way street, coming from east to west, and there’s nobody coming up there,” Cervieri said.
He suggested that the sign should simply read, “Beware of Pedestrians Crossing,” or that the borough could “create a pedestrian walkway; maybe light it.”
Sohmer agreed that the borough should perhaps “revisit that with the captain or someone from the traffic division to see what we can do.”
Added Fort Lee Mayor Mark Soklich, “We’ve got to do something.”
The Mayor and Council agreed to address the issue on Friday or over the weekend.