Leonia officials plan crackdown on out-of-town motorists

How did we ever survive without GPS apps? They can get you anywhere in the world. One of the nifty features on which motorists rely is the alternate route options. If say you’re headed to the George Washington Bridge, and the main approaches are clogged, the app can direct you to side street alternates. Pretty cool, unless you live in a nearby borough like Leonia, where, on most days, the overflow rush hour traffic looking to get around bridge traffic results in congested local streets. Residents, who have been dealing with this for years are fed up.

“Look at it. Look at how tight it is. See what’s happening, look. Cars trying to come down, and these trying to get out,” explained resident Albert Gonzalez as he maneuvered around a traffic jam.

Even during the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day, when traffic is not as heavy, he struggles to get around the borough. Chief Thomas Rowe says he’s been working on the problem for years.

“The way the GPS navigation apps work is when one street becomes full, it sends you to another street, then to another street and then another street,” he explained.

Traffic flows on to Grand Avenue, Irving Street and Fort Lee Road, among others. But the borough has initiated a crackdown in the hopes of finding a solution.

“The restrictions are: They’ll be nine hours a day, from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. to 9 p.m, seven days a week, when the roads will be closed to non-residents,” the chief said, adding, “the fine is going to be $200.”

The hope is that it’ll provide a stiff disincentive for wayward motorists. Reaction from frustrated locals is generally positive.

“When you pile another eight or ten thousand cars into this town within a two or three-hour period, whether it be a weekday morning, when my kids are trying to go to school up here, or even a Sunday night going across the bridge, this town and the neighboring towns are just frozen at a standstill,” said Michael Phelan, co-founder of New Jersey Commuters Action Network.

Phelan says his group has been trying to work with the Port Authority to try to get some help with only mixed results. He said he hopes the new policy, which takes effect Jan. 15, will do the trick. But while locals support the plan, the borough’s Facebook page has gotten some less than stellar reviews from motorists.

“For the people who live in this town, they understand it,” said the chief. “For the people who don’t live in this town, well, I’ve received some interesting messages. We have one posted on our Facebook page today. I would call it a threat and very vulgar. I’ve had another one, an email, where someone called me a moron. But they don’t live here and they don’t know what goes on here.”

The chief says the borough is working with navigation apps like Waze and Google Maps, so that when a street in Leonia gets closed, your app indicates that the street is closed, hopefully easing traffic there and making it possible for you to avoid a stiff fine.