By DIEGO JESUS BARTESAGHI MENA
bartesaghi@montclairlocal.news

Hundreds of people have signed an online petition seeking a four-way stop sign at Wildwood Avenue and Park Street after a school bus was struck by an SUV there earlier this month.

As of Tuesday morning, 610 people had signed on to the Change.org petition, which calls the SUV-and-bus crash only “the most recent and disturbing traffic incident that has taken place” on the corner. Police say the SUV’s driver went through the Wildwood Avenue stop sign; there is no stop on the Park Street side of the intersection. No children were hurt, police say, though some adults were taken to local hospitals for minor injuries or pain.

Zoe Martineau, one of the neighbors who helped organize the petition, has lived on Wildwood Avenue for 18 months. Martineau said she has seen dozens of near-misses as well as a couple of crashes at the intersection.

“Last November, I think it was Nov. 20, in the evening, a car that was parked was hit by another car who went through the stop sign on Wildwood and it flipped over,” Martineau said. “Thankfully everyone was fine.” 

And Martineau said she heard about Zyon Brooks, a Montclair High School graduate who died when a car collided with his bicycle on Summit Avenue, around the corner from the Park and Wildwood intersection.

She said that incident and seeing this month’s bus crash prompted her to create the petition. 

Heather Zusman and Lauren Dinour, neighbors who live at the intersection and who also helped organize the petition, said they both have witnessed several accidents and near-misses.

Dinour said she doesn’t feel safe in her own neighborhood. She said the intersection has been a bus stop, for both DeCamp buses and various school buses for her three children, for years. 

“I know there have been pedestrian injuries and property damaged at this intersection due to reckless driving over the years,” Dinour said. “The most recent school bus accident has been the last straw for me. And even since that incident, I’ve seen a car almost hit a young boy riding his bike and two vehicles ride over the sidewalk at the corner where I was standing.” 

She said a four-way stop would prevent vehicles from speeding down Park Street and would give drivers the chance to stop and assess the intersection. 

Zusman said a four-way stop would also allow pedestrians and children to safely cross the intersection, and mitigate poor visibility. She noted Wildwood Avenue serves as a through street for busy Valley Road and Grove Street, often used by people heading to ACME Supermarket on Valley Road or uptown. And she said it’s frequently used by the Montclair Fire Department when responding to emergencies. 

“As a resident pedestrian who crosses Park Street almost every day, I can attest to the fact that a majority of drivers refuse to stop for me and my children when I am in the crosswalk pleading with the cars to stop so that we can safely cross the busy street,” Zusman said. 

Katya Wowk, the township’s communications director, said requests for a four-way stop can be sent to the township manager’s office. The manager then forwards the request to police for an initial review, and if they believe further review is warranted, the township’s engineers will perform the needed studies.

But Lt. Stephani Egnezzo, the Montclair Police Department’s traffic bureau commander, said before a four-way stop is considered at an intersection, there would have to be five crashes each year for three consecutive years. Montclair Local sent Wowk and Township Manager Timothy Stafford a message Tuesday seeking clarification on what guidance or rule establishes that minimum, and was awaiting a reply at press time.

But the Wildwood and Park intersection falls short of that threshold. Since 2018, there have been six crashes at the intersection in all — three this year, and one each for the preceding years, Egnezzo said.

Martineau said she, Dinour and Zusman have been researching the process and understand measurements of vehicular and pedestrian traffic would come into play. They’re awaiting some information from the township, but don’t expect that to be a problem.

“In all of our corners, we see how congested it was during COVID, and that was before the school bus pick up started and the commuter bus resumed service,” Martineau said. 

Martineau said the petition has received widespread support because “children have now been put in harm’s way.” 

Several people have commented on the petition, sharing stories about crashes and near-misses they have witnessed or been part of.

Councilman Peter Yacobellis has also signed, saying he wanted to show his support. In an email to Montclair Local, Yacobellis said that he and other colleagues have requested a formal traffic study of the intersection. He said such studies typically take several weeks, though he wasn’t sure if studies put on hold because of the pandemic had resumed; Montclair Local was seeking further clarification on that in its most recent message to Wowk and Stafford as well.

Martineau, Dinour and Zusman hope to meet with Mayor Sean Spiller once they’ve collected more data and the petition gets more signatures.  

“I don’t think any of our leaders want to waste any time and put anyone else in harm’s way. So, hopefully this process moves along as expeditiously as possible,” Martineau said. “I mean, no one wants to be responsible for another accident because of a delay of action.”