On the same day the Chief of Police announced a crackdown on jaywalkers, Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich said the is also cracking down on drivers who fail to yield to pedestrians legally crossing the borough’s streets.
Fort Lee Police Chief Thomas O. Ripoli Thursday morning to urge drivers and pedestrians to remain vigilant and follow traffic laws or face $85 fines, saying the police have been ticketing jaywalkers lately.
But Sokolich said Thursday evening at the Fort Lee Mayor and Council’s regular meeting that drivers had better beware as well, saying, “There are decoy police that are out each and every day at most troubled intersections.”
“You’ve been hearing about efforts here in the Borough of Fort Lee to protect our pedestrians,” Sokolich said. “There have been injuries, and there have been deaths. And our Fort Lee Police Department has instituted an initiative to make sure that cars are stopping for pedestrians.”
He said his message to pedestrians is to be vigilant, conscious and to “make sure that you walk within the crosswalks, and you do it safely so we can avoid any injury and/or deaths.”
But Sokolich saved his strongest words for drivers, “whether you are from Fort Lee or not.”
“You are to yield to our pedestrians, and you are to obey those traffic laws,” Sokolich said. “Once somebody is on that pedestrian crosswalk, it is state law that you come to a full and complete stop; bottom line. And that person has to be completely off before you continue.”
Sokolich told Patch after Thursday's meeting that he recently watched one undercover police officer patrolling a crosswalk—walking back-and-forth across the street—that happens to be in front of his law office on Anderson Avenue.
“An actual undercover officer, notoriously and obviously, in regular, plain clothes—bright so people can see—would walk out into the middle of the crosswalk, and if a car didn’t stop, then he would raise his hand, and then at the next corner, the driver would be ticketed,” Sokolich said. “You cannot believe what people do here in Fort Lee, to the point that this guy is just a pedestrian, and cars are going within two feet of him. They deserve a ticket if that’s what they’re going to do.”
He also said pedestrians have to “be smart” and “use common sense” as well, getting across crosswalks in a timely manner and not using cell phones or other things that can distract them when they’re crossing the street, but that the idea that there's a “crackdown on jaywalkers” may be a bit misleading.
“I’ve indicated to the chief to use the utmost discretion, and only the most egregious of offenders will get jaywalking tickets,” Sokolich said. “If somebody is off the crosswalk with a cup of coffee, on the cell phone, completely inattentive of what is going on and requires a car to suddenly swerve, that person might get a ticket.”
During the meeting, Sokolich said he watched the officer outside his office for about three hours in part because he wanted to make sure “everyone was being treated fairly and respectfully.”
“And I’m proud to tell you that they were,” he said.