An unorthodox attempt to reduce traffic in one New Jersey town is facing a challenge in court.
Leonia, which designated dozens of its streets as residents-only in an attempt to deter drivers seeking short cuts to the George Washington Bridge, has been challenged by self-represented attorney Jacqueline Rosa.
In January, the town’s police began issuing $200 tickets to nonresidents who drive on streets posted with red signs warning nonresidents to keep out. Residents of the town were issued yellow hanging tags for their cars, so police can differentiate between locals and outsiders. But Rosa says Leonia is “setting a dangerous precedent that any town that feels they have too much traffic can close off their roads to the public.”
Rosa’s suit, filed in Bergen County Superior Court on Jan. 30, says the ordinance violates her freedom to travel, is arbitrary and capricious, and is facially and presumptively invalid. She claims in the suit that Leonia’s failure to obtain approval from the state Department of Transportation before enacting the suit is grounds for it to be invalidated because many of the local streets intersect with state and federal highways.
The suit also claims that Leonia improperly restricted traffic on roads that travel through multiple municipalities and counties. The suit said the Leonia ordinance places an increased traffic burden on nearby New Jersey municipalities, including Fort Lee, Teaneck and Edgewater.
Rosa’s suit also claims that Leonia’s $200 fine for violation of its ordinance is invalid because it conflicts with the state’s fines of $100 for similar infractions under state law.
Town officials enacted the new law as a measure to cope with what they say is an increase in the number of motorists when venture onto secondary streets when prompted by global positioning systems as a way to beat heavy traffic on main roads.
Rosa says she’s spoken to numerous people who’ve been pulled over by police when patronizing local businesses or visiting family members in the town. Leonia’s ordinance means that people who are heading to doctor’s appointments or visiting one of the town’s many shops may be stopped and questioned by the police, she said.
“It’s not really about me and my commute. Personally I’m frustrated by it but it’s bigger than me,” Rosa said.
Rosa said she has not received a ticket in Leonia but she is not concerned about lack of standing, since standing rules for a prerogative writ action are very loose, requiring only a loose public interest, a standard she says she can meet.
Zeigler and Borough Solicitor Brian Chewcaskie did not return calls about the case.
The 1.6-square-mile town enacted the measure to fight traffic that takes detours on local streets while on the way to the George Washington Bridge, which is less than two miles away. Under the ordinance, roughly 70 streets are closed from 6 to 10 a.m. and 4 to 9 pm.
But Rosa, an Edgewater resident whose law office is in Ridgewood, New Jersey, travels through Leonia on her daily commute. Rosa said the ordinance impinges on drivers’ right to travel safely and freely and that the ordinance “is setting a dangerous precedent that any town that feels they have too much traffic can close off their roads to the public.”
Rosa’s suit said the street closings and tickets should be void because many of the closed streets intersect with state highways.