Rush-hour shortcut through little NJ town could cost you big
LEONIA — If you’re heading into or out of New York via the George Washington Bridge and you go through this borough, you could be in for a $200 shock.
Borough officials adopted an ordinance last month that, starting Monday, bans people who don't live in the borough from driving through side streets during the morning and afternoon rush hours.
Between the hours of 6 and 10 a.m. and 4 and 9 p.m., police are now able to issue $200 fines to drivers who don’t have yellow “resident” tags displayed on their rearview mirrors.
It's not a total ban, however. Out-of-town drivers can continue to drive on the borough's three main roadways: Broad and Grand avenue and Fort Lee Road.
The new rule was adopted because there are frequent traffic nightmares in the area resulting from big back-ups at the busiest bridge in the world.
A bridge jam can cause Fort Lee Road, which normally gets about 4,000 cars a day, to get up to 12,000 vehicles in one day. And when that happens, helpful navigation apps take drivers deep into the borough's narrow, winding neighborhoods, officials complaint.
Some drivers are expressing outrage, accusing Leonia of behaving in a discriminatory, illegal manner. But Michael Darcy, the executive director of the New Jersey League of Municipalities, doesn’t see it that way.
“We’ve looked into it and it seems to be just part of the normal police powers to control traffic within the streets to maintain a safe environment.”
He says it's not different from towns banning truck traffic through certain neighborhoods.
Leonia — a 1.5-square-mile town of 9,100 residents — went down this path because navigation app detours were causing traffic jams that didn't allow residents to get out of their own driveways.
Mayor Judah Zeigler said the driving factor behind the ordinance is "not to overflow our coffers with new revenue" from tickets.
In fact, he says police are prepared to give out plenty of warnings this week. Zeigler said the borough sent out about 4,000 tags to residents.
"We're not looking to turn Leonia into a gated community," he said. "People can still drive through Leonia 24/7, staying on our main roads."
Zeigler says the borough's ordinance is protected by a 1977 Supreme Court ruling that held that municipalities can regulate the traffic on streets that they own or maintain as long as they don't discriminate among residents and as long as the regulation serves a public purpose.
Darcy said the new ordinance “is not only a good idea, it seems to have been a vitally important idea for them to do” because of public safety.
“Heaven forbid you have a house fire and everybody is all backed up, you can’t get your fire engines through."
He also said the issue goes beyond just safety.
“Even just the fact that residents couldn’t get out of their driveways in order to get to the grocery store, get to a doctor’s appointment, take their children to school. These are local streets that we’re talking about. The residents certainly have a right to come and go from their homes without having their local streets backed up.”
Zeigler said he would not recommend that other communities follow his borough's lead.
"We have a very unique need," he said, pointing out that the borough is about 20 minutes from Midtown Manhattan and in the crossroads of Route 80, Route 95, the New Jersey Turnpike and the bridge — a situation that has been made worse by driving apps.
"People ave hurled quite a few accusations," he said. "I'm surprised by some of the really unpleasant, negative comments that I have gotten from people. But what I don't get from those people are suggestions."
Adam Hochron contributed to this report.
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