The safety of shoppers around the area of 88th Street and Tonnelle Avenue came into question after a recent report that a large number of accidents have occurred within a roughly two-year period. The spike in accidents could be partially linked to the new Walmart, which opened in January 2010. Ongoing construction has also caused congestion, but is intended to widen the street and alleviate problems in the future.
A story on NJ.com recently cited 191 vehicular accidents along Tonnelle Avenue between 88th and 89th streets in the time period of Jan. 20, 2010 to this past Sept. 30.
Residents involved with the North Bergen Concerned Citizens Group are currently battling a proposed liquor store in the area. Members of the group have attended Alcohol and Beverage Commission meetings to combat the planned development, arguing that it will cause an increase in traffic and pollution in an already busy area.
“We’d be fools to stand here and say there wouldn’t be more accidents with a mall here.” – North Bergen Township Administrator Chris Pianese
The traffic and accident-prone area is further exacerbated by the difficulty drivers have entering and exiting the shopping complex that houses the Walmart, GameStop, and other retail locations. According to North Bergen Township Administrator Chris Pianese, the construction will add a turn signal and other changes.
During last week’s Board of Commissioners meeting, a resident living nearby the affected area brought up the issue. According to the resident, people living near the congested road have trouble leaving their houses.
“The turning lane should have been there before it [Walmart] opened,” said Mayor Nicholas Sacco at the meeting. “I have nothing to do with the construction except to argue with them [the state], which I’ve been doing for years.”
During the meeting, Police Chief William Galvin considered sending the traffic bureau to monitor the area after a resident’s concerns that street signs were being ignored.
Pianese mentioned that the north and southbound sides of Tonnelle Avenue will have a dedicated left turn signal and lane with the capacity to hold over a dozen cars.
“We feel that a lot of that construction has contributed to some of the confusion and problems down there,” said Pianese, adding that the town was told that the project will be completed sometime between April and July of this year.
Pianese also said that the town has to rely on the state to complete the construction.
“It’s a state project,” said Pianese. “Our goal was to have that left hand turn lane in when the mall opened.”
According to Pianese, the state is at the “mercy” of the utility companies.
“The utility work needs to be done before they can [complete] the left hand turn,” said Pianese. “It’s kind of a domino effect.”
“Once that’s over,” continued Pianese, “we feel that the [widened] roadway will alleviate a lot of these problems.”
Pianese does not think the liquor store would cause more problems. He said the store would be located in a small lot isolated from the giant parking lot the Walmart and other retailers.
“You’re talking about a stand-alone one-block lot,” said Pianese. “[It is] nothing to the extent of any magnitude.”
More retailers, more accidents
Pianese addressed the recent report of a high level of accidents in the area.
“That [information] can be easily skewed based on what area they look at,” said Pianese. “It’s completely bogus and makes no sense at all.”
Pianese said many of the reported accidents occurred on private property – such as the Walmart parking lot – which included fender benders and one-car accidents.
“These have nothing to do with Tonnelle Avenue,” said Pianese, who maintained that the number of accidents along Tonnelle Avenue for the same timeframe, roughly three per month, was actually average for an urban setting.
Pianese also indicated that the number of accidents has increased over the years due to the presence of retailers, but that this is always going to happen with development.
“We’d be fools to stand here and say there wouldn’t be more accidents with a mall here instead of a vacant piece of property,” said Pianese.
“Of course it’s a busy area,” he added, “because of what’s there in terms of the number of cars trying to get in the mall.”
Stephen LaMarca may be reached at email@example.com.