A state judge has voided a local ordinance in Leonia that sought to bar non-residents from using certain roads as a rush hour traffic-reduction measure.
According to reports, Judge Peter Bariso of Hudson County Superior Court ruled Thursday that Leonia lacked authority to restrict access to certain streets that intersect with a state highway without permission from the state Department of Transportation. A portion of the roughly 60 streets covered by the ordinance intersect with Grand Avenue, also known as State Route 93.
Leonia designated dozens of its streets as residents-only in an attempt to deter drivers using local roads as a shortcut to the George Washington Bridge. In January, Leonia posted red signs warning nonresidents to stay off of roughly 60 secondary streets in the town, lest they face a $200 fine. The restrictions were in effect only at certain hours of the day. Residents of the town were issued yellow hanging tags for their cars, so police could differentiate between locals and outsiders.
But an attorney, Jacqueline Rosa, filed suit in January on her own behalf to overturn the ordinance. In March the Attorney General’s office wrote to Leonia, declaring the ordinance invalid because it lacked approval from the state Department of Transportation. And the DOT joined the suit, Rosa v. Borough of Leonia, in June.
The 1.6-square-mile town enacted the measure to fight traffic that takes detours on local streets while on the way to the bridge, which is less than two miles away. Streets named in the ordinance were declared closed to outsiders, or those without a final destination in Leonia, from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. to 9 pm. Leonia officials, in enacting the ordinance, said traffic navigation apps such as Waze were causing traffic congestion on secondary roads by directing drivers to seek shortcuts.
Bariso, in addition to declaring the ordinance invalid, ordered Leonia to take down signs restricting traffic on side streets and to notify Waze and other apps that restrictions on its secondary roads were no longer in effect, the reports said.
Leonia solicitor Brian Chewcaskie, of Gittleman, Muhlstock & Chewcaskie in Fort Lee, did not return a call about the ruling. But he is quoted in the reports as saying that Leonia would likely appeal he ruling, and would submit its ordinance for approval by the DOT. He also said the town would seek a stay allowing its signs to remain standing pending the appeal.
Rosa, who is with the Seigel Law Firm in Ridgewood, noted that her case accused the state of non-compliance with state regulations as well as violating the public’s constitutional rights to travel freely, but the ruiling only dealt with the former. She said any appeal by Leonia would be a “complete waste of time.” She said when she first filed suit, she was focusing on her own rights as a commuter, but she came to see the case was “about everybody’s rights to use these streets. I think if you’re starting to mess with people’s constitutional rights, it’s a dangerous game.”