FDU students push for safety upgrades to River Road

Christopher Lang, Staff Writer, @topherlang2, Published 7:41 p.m. ET Dec. 15, 2016 | The Record

TEANECK ― Students at Fairleigh Dickenson University have presented the township council and the Bergen County freeholders with a petition agitating for safety upgrades to River Road, the busy thoroughfare near the campus where a former graduate student was struck and killed by a car last month.

The petition bears the signatures of more than 1,500 signatures of FDU students, campus employees and Teaneck residents. It calls for the installation of a traffic light near the library, where Weiqi Wang, 27, was fatally injured on the morning of Nov. 21, and for the speed limit to be reduced to 25 mph from 35 mph, among other improvements.

“There have been a number of accidents in the location over the course of the past few years,” said Daniel Seraphin, an FDU student and one of the organizers of the petition drive. “This most recent [incident] is definitely very tragic to people who are very close to me and as well as the university.”

Wang was crossing River Road in a crosswalk to catch a bus when she was struck and killed by a Subaru Outback driven by Carlos Poole, 49, of New Milford.

Wang, who was from China, had recently finished her graduate studies at the university’s International School of Hospitality Management and was living in Teaneck.

Poole remained at the scene, authorities said, and cooperated. He was issued summonses for failure to yield to a pedestrian in a crosswalk, careless driving and driving with an obstructed view.

The incident sent a shockwave through the FDU community. Students held a memorial service and then embarked on an organized effort to lean on public officials to improve safety on the portion of River Road that faces the campus.

Addressing River Road

Police responded to eight pedestrian accidents and seven injuries on that seven-block stretch of River Road from 2011 to 2015. From 2008 to 2010, they responded to just three pedestrian accidents in which three people were injured.

The stretch does have blinking lights, traffic lights and signs warning motorists about the crosswalk near the campus library and bus stop. But the FDU students and township government believe more can be done to address safety.

Because River Road is a county thoroughfare, any safety upgrades must be approved by Bergen County.

Teaneck plans to conduct a traffic study that the township administration will send to the county with a formal letter recommending solutions.

“The action plan we decided on is to have the traffic division review that area and come up with several potential enhancements that can be done,” Deputy Mayor Elle Katz said. That review, Katz said, would also include other elements, such as signage.

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For their part, Seraphin and fellow FDU students Dennis Rozestwinski and Jude Ezeh presented a traffic management proposal to the council to address the problems they believe create safety issues.

Though he has no formal background in urban planning, Rozestwinski ― a graduate student in FDU’s International School of Hospitality Management ―  said he contacted experts at the Center for Advanced Infrastructure at Rutgers University for suggestions about how to make River Road safer.

Last month, Councilman Mark Schwartz suggested that a flashing light be installed near the crosswalk that connects the entrance to FDU’s campus with Phelps Park and an adjacent parking lot and bus stop. The light would flash yellow, but a pedestrian could change it to red before crossing.

“That spot on River Road has a number of unique characters and I think it’s one place where the tree canopy, as beautiful as it is, makes it darker, it obscures the light,” said Councilman Alan Sohn. “There are mechanisms that could be and should be used throughout the township. We shouldn’t have to wait for another tragedy somewhere else before we do something about it.”

This week, Schwartz, who lives near the scene of the accident, suggested that the township use the students’ petition to supplement any information it sends to the county.

“It’s more than just our request,” Schwartz said. “It’s a request from FDU and students and puts a lot more weight behind it and let’s hope this gets taken care of before, God forbid, anyone else is hurt.”