West Windsor residents turned out in droves at the August 6 Council meeting to support changes for pedestrian and vehicular safety along two main roads in the township. Fresh in everyone’s mind was a horrific accident that occurred two days before, directly in front of the municipal complex.
At around 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, August 4, a Mercedes sedan driven by 57-year-old Ajanta Baral of West Windsor approached the intersection of Clarksville and North Post roads. Police Chief Joe Pica said Baral failed to stop at a red light and proceeded through the intersection and into the northwest corner of the intersection, where her car hit 53-year-old Arnold Chen and his yellow Labrador before crashing into a utility pole.
“There were very serious leg injuries both to the man and the dog. The man is at Capital Health Regional Medical Center in Trenton while his dog was taken to NorthStar Vets in Allentown, and is in intensive care,” Chief Pica said.
Chen lives in the 200 block of North Post Road. Pica, aware that several residents came to the meeting to speak about the dangers of North Post Road and that intersection in particular, ruled out speed in the accident. He told Council that Baral was noticeably weaving in and out of her lane, and witnesses at the scene said she was affected by something. Blood tests were performed, but Chief Pica was hesitant to comment on her condition until the test results came back. The West Windsor Police and Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office are heading the investigation.
“I’m sure this woman is facing major motor vehicle violations and also criminal violations,” he said.
As residents say has often been the case, the first responders at the accident scene were those who live near the municipal complex.
Valerie Ramos of 298 North Post Road described her home as “the living room to every accident that has happened there in the last 18 years.” She expressed the pain of many years of hearing the sounds of cars crashing, saying three cars have landed in her front yard, feet from her front door. She also endured the loss of two family pets, killed by car accidents near her mailbox.
Ramos says Arnold Chen is her friend and a neighbor of 20 years. She told Council that despite living so close to Maurice Hawk Elementary School and High School South, she could have never allowed her two children to walk to and from school, and she would have to make special arrangements with the school bus to ensure a safe place for them to get on.
“I could not take a chance with my children at this intersection. Please do not wait for another tragedy to bring up an immediate review and remediate issues at this intersection — we have two schools on the block plus our library, senior center, and municipal building,” she said.
Judy D’Antuono of 310 North Post Road urged the township to curb car traffic near her home. D’Antuono responded to the August 4 accident, making the 45-minute drive to NorthStar Vets with the injured dog in her own car. Given the situation, she said, West Windsor’s former animal control officer could have assisted by transporting the dog to the emergency veterinarian quicker than she did.
D’Antuono said she has a 16-year-old daughter, who, like her mom, is petrified of turning into the driveway because of oncoming traffic.
“The thing that makes this so frustrating is that the lanes are wide enough — we already have a left turn on Clarksville. Paint some lines. That’s all we’re asking,” she said, before receiving a loud round of applause for her actions in response to the accident.
Michael Kasikoff of 281 North Post Road told Council they also need to look at the intersection of Clarksville Road and Everett Drive, where “there is an accident waiting to happen.”
“There is a new crosswalk there, but there’s no indication of it except for lines striped on the road. There’s no signage, and people speed up Clarksville to get to North Post, turn a corner and catch the train. Those people take no notice of people crossing the road at Everett Drive,” he said.
Kasikoff said he uses the crosswalk once a day, and at times he has almost been run down as drivers have shouted to him that he should not be on the street.
Brendan Werth, a 14-year-old who is soon to be a freshman at South, attended the meeting with his father Kelvin. Both father and son, residents of North Post Road, spoke about their fears of car traffic on their street. Kelvin Werth brought Council a diagram of his proposed solution, which would be a dedicated left-turn lane alongside a wider through lane. He also said left-turn arrows should be added to three intersections along North Post.
John Church of 11 Princeton Place commented that Werth’s design for the intersection was “right on.” Church suggested that Council pass a resolution to ask Mercer County to make changes similar to what was shown in the diagram. “Improvement is badly needed because people race to see who can get through the intersection first,” he said.
Sandra Shapiro of 15 Wycombe Way, a founding trustee of the West Windsor Bicycle and Pedestrian Alliance, said action must be taken. She noted that dangerous conditions persist today because no actions have been taken in the five years since the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission released a study on Clarksville Road.
“While the circumstances of the accident may have not had to do with speed or the intersection per se, we cannot wait for more accidents to occur before fixing this intersection. It should not cost much to implement the recommendations from the DVRPC study,” she said.
Shapiro read from the study’s findings, which suggested that North Post Road’s inconsistent lane configurations were a possible cause of accidents. She said the solution can be designating a left-turn lane at the intersection.
“To further calm traffic, the DVRPC study team suggests narrowing the wide, northbound departure lane with either striping or a planted medium island,” Shapiro said.
The study, which focused specifically on Clarksville Road from Meadow Road to North Post Road, is available online at www.wwpba.org/TamingTraffic.pdf