The New Jersey Department of Transportation has launched a new project along a section of Route 129 in Trenton that will include the use of a first-in-the-nation system to regulate traffic lights to improve pedestrian safety.

Plans call for a number of improvements to be made at three signalized intersections on Route 129 at Lalor Street, Cass Street and Hamilton Avenue, an area where a dozen pedestrians have been killed and many more injured since 2000.

According to DOT Commissioner Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti, a Red Clearance Traffic Signal Extension system is being implemented that will detect vehicles approaching a pedestrian crossing.

“Basically, we let the red light stay a little longer, hopefully to allow pedestrians additional time to get across the street,” she said.

Smart predictive technology

Gutierrez-Scaccetti explained this smart, predictive technology detects the speed of a vehicle approaching an intersection and automatically adjusts traffic signal changes.

“That means instead of the light being green longer it’s going to be red longer, and that’s going to allow pedestrians hopefully a better amount of time.”

She said this type of technology is already being used at some intersections to begin to change a light from red to green when a vehicle approaches, but for this project on Route 129, “we see that traffic approaching, we know it’s approaching, let the light stay red just a little longer so pedestrians have enough time to get across.”

Gutierrez-Scaccetti stressed the goal is safety.

“Drivers may have to wait a few more seconds, but it literally is seconds, they’re not waiting minutes, they’re waiting seconds.

She noted enforcement by local police is also a piece of the safety puzzle.

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Other improvements also being made.

“We are putting some back plates on the signal heads, so the color of the light is clear to all motorists, and we are doing a red signal ahead mounted sign over the roadway. We have one on the ground but we’re hoping to put one overhead where we think people may see it better,” said Gutierrez-Scaccetti.

The commissioner said many motorists coming off of I-295 onto Route 129 are going fast, so it’s important that they get warned of the signal ahead.

She said additional traffic lights and a flashing pedestrian crossing sign, that will light up when people are walking in the crosswalk, will also be added.

Gutierrez-Scaccetti said this projects is about “making small changes we think will make a big difference.”

Watch where you're going

Gutierrez-Scaccetti noted while these improvements are being made, a safe travel education campaign will soon be launched to remind pedestrians they need to pay attention to what they are doing.

“We need folks who are walking and crossing the street to not be looking down at their phones but to be attentive to where they are,” said Gutierrez-Scaccetti. “I have literally seen people walk into a pole because they’re looking at their phone, reading a text and they have no idea that there’s a light pole in front of them and they just walk into it.”

She said the concept-development phase of a longer-term project is just beginning right now that may eventually involve structural changes to Route 129, including widened pedestrian islands.

David Matthau is a reporter for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at david.matthau@townsquaremedia.com

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