LEONIA ─ Residential streets that routinely clog with cars heading to the George Washington Bridge will soon be off-limits to traffic during rush hour.
The borough, situated less than 2 miles from the world’s busiest bridge, plans to shut down dozens of side streets to nonresidents by January in an effort to mitigate spillover traffic from highways and discourage drivers from seeking shortcuts through Leonia.
“We’ve been working for years to try to eliminate the traffic, and unfortunately, there’s no way to eliminate it. The only way to work with it is to try to control it,” said Councilman Greg Makroulakis, liaison to the Police Department. “It’s come to the point where we have to do something drastic to ensure the safety of pedestrians and residents.”
Upward of 15,000 vehicles flood onto Fort Lee Road and its surrounding streets whenever the bridge backs up, according to traffic studies by the borough police. The cars are often steered to the borough, which has slightly more than 9,000 residents, by navigation apps.
The main thoroughfares, such as Fort Lee Road, Grand Avenue and Broad Avenue, would not be closed under the plan, which would keep some of the shortcuts open. But some access to the many residential streets that branch off from each would be shut off under the plan.
Makroulakis said traffic has been growing worse over the years, squeezing off narrow residential streets to emergency vehicles and straining the resources of the borough’s small police force.
It has also proved deadly. In 2014, during a 90-minute delay on the bridge, a Fort Lee woman was struck and dragged 71 feet by a school minibus while crossing a gridlocked Broad Avenue. The next two years brought seven more accidents involving pedestrians.
Police blamed the frequency of the collisions on the high volume of traffic streaming off the bridge.
The borough broke the pattern last year by installing an all-red-phase traffic signal at the intersection of Broad Avenue and Fort Lee Road, halting vehicle movement in all directions for 26 seconds every few minutes.
Chief Thomas Rowe reported this summer that Leonia has not had a single pedestrian-motor vehicle accident since. He could not be reached for comment Friday.
The department began implementing road closures on a temporary basis last year whenever traffic on the bridge screeched to a halt, Makroulakis said.
Before deciding to make the closures permanent, police spent a year counting traffic and studying streets that are regularly brought to a standstill. The selected streets are offshoots of busy thoroughfares and are spread throughout town to account for drivers reaching Leonia from all surrounding highways, Makroulakis said.
The road closures will be in effect nine hours a day, from 6 to 10 a.m. and 4 to 9 p.m., and apply to all individuals who do not live on the closed streets. Nonresidents who request access to a closed street will need to demonstrate why.