By Melanie Perez
(TEANECK) – A graduate computer engineering student was struck by a car on Jan. 25 in the same River Road crosswalk that claimed the life of recent FDU graduate Weiqi Wang on Nov. 21.
Daniel Clarke, an editor for The Equinox, was in the crosswalk on his bicycle on his way to his on-campus job in the Grants and Sponsored Projects Office in Becton Hall when he was struck at approximately 9 a.m., he said.
“I recall being pushed upwards rather than downwards,” Clarke told The Equinox, “allowing me to get off my bike in the air and land clear of both the bike and the vehicle.”
Clarke said a NJ Transit bus was stopped on the northbound side of River Road just south of the crosswalk to let passengers off, when he entered the crosswalk heading west toward the campus, and was struck immediately after clearing the bus.
Clarke said that because of the bus blocking his view, he never saw the car, and said that the driver told him after the accident that she never saw him either.
“Pedal cyclist failed to properly check that northbound lane was clear, which view was blocked by legally stopped bus, before riding across roadway,” Raymond Byrne, the responding officer, said in the police report.
The driver, Sandra Zayas of Ridgefield Park, immediately exited her vehicle and called the police, Clarke said. An ambulance took him to the hospital, where he remained for approximately two hours. He sustained multiple cuts and bruises. His bike and laptop computer were destroyed in the accident, a combined loss of some $1,700, Clarke said.
Both Clarke and Wang were hit in the morning – Wang at 6:55, Clarke at 9:00. Both drivers said they did not see the students in the crosswalk. Within the last five years, two other FDU students were struck in the same crosswalk while walking together. That driver also told police that she did not see the students.
Wang’s death was the catalyst for a campus-wide petition for safety enhancements to the River Road crosswalk, including relocating the bus stop, reducing the speed limit, and installing a flashing yellow caution light.
Dennis Rozestwinski, who was a classmate of Wang’s, started collecting signatures on the petition immediately following Wang’s death. He told The Equinox that he has collected more than 1,500 signatures to date, and has presented the petitions to the SGA, the Teaneck City Council and the Bergen County Freeholders in Hackensack.
In the weeks following Wang’s death, Rozestwinski said he gained the SGA’s approval and aid in opening promotional channels for the campaign on campus. Director of Student Life Jessica O’Brien sent informational emails to clubs and posted notices on Student Life social media accounts to make the SUB the major collecting hub for the petition.
Rozestwinski said that after his presentation to the Teaneck Council on Dec. 13, Councilmen Mark Schwartz and Alan Sohn voiced their support, and Deputy Mayor Elie Y. Katz put him in touch with City Manager William Broughton to collaborate on the project.
Within a week, Rozestwinski had a meeting with Sohn, who called for traffic safety changes across the whole Township. They discussed mechanisms that could be developed for the entirety of Bergen County to make pedestrian crossings safer, Rozestwinski said.
After the initial Freeholder’s meeting, Thomas Sullivan took the lead on the traffic changes on River Road, Rozestwinski said. He was assured that improvements could be expected as soon as couple of months, while the traffic light request is expected to take a little longer, Rozestwinski told The Equinox.
“I have met personally with Thomas Sullivan and his assistant,” he said. “They started the long process and promised to expedite it.”
The relocation of the bus stop at the River Road crosswalk is to be the first change, Rozestwinski said.
He was told that it would be relocated to a position 46 feet north of the crosswalk so that motorists will be able to distinguish pedestrians crossing the street from people using the bus stop.
“However this does not solve the vision obstruction danger created by the stopping busses,” said.
Rozestwinski said he attended the Bergen County Freeholders board meeting on Jan. 25, the same day Clarke was struck in the River Road crosswalk. He said that he repeated the petition requests for a traffic light, rapid-fire rectangular beacon (R.F.R.B.) signals, speed reduction, sheltered bus stops and increased visibility at night.
Rozestwinski said Sullivan told him that they are currently working on necessary traffic safety adjustments on River Road, and that Rozestwinski’s input and proposal would be passed on to the Planning & Engineering Department.
One of the greatest challenges with Clarke’s situation is that although cyclists use the River Road crosswalk to get to and from FDU, they do not have the same protections as pedestrians.
“The laws in NJ about auto collisions also seem to apply to collisions with cyclists, namely – my health insurance does not cover accidents with vehicles,” Clarke said. “Because of this, a biker is dependent on either his own auto insurance or the insurance of the other party in the accident. As I do not own auto insurance, my medical bills will be paid at the discretion of the other party’s auto insurance.”
Rozestwinski said it’s important that the FDU works together to solve the issue.
“In order to be successful with the initiative of safety improvements on River Road,” he said, “we have to stay united and persistent proceeding forward.”
Rozestwinski said the petition drive has been a learning experience for him.
“This petition campaign has helped in a way to identify gaps in currently available communication channels on our campus,” he said, ”and has emphasized the need for a more holistic platform which will allow the notifications to have a broader, more interconnected and immediate reach.”
Clarke, who is in the five-year program for a combined Electrical Engineering Bachelor’s and Computer Engineering Master’s, said that during his five years at FDU, he’d often remarked about the dangers of crossing River Road.
“With badly positioned bus stops, badly timed lights, and heavy traffic I welcome any change to the road that would help pedestrians and cyclists have a safe and guaranteed opportunity to cross River Road,” Clarke said. “Clearly more than a crosswalk and a law that requires vehicles to stop for pedestrians showing intent to cross the road are required on this road which has been plagued with accidents.”