BURLINGTON CITY – The memorial made up of American flags, flowers and stuffed animals surrounding the utility pole on the corner of Route 130 and East Federal Street is a constant reminder of the highway’s dangers to pedestrians.
A year ago, Burlington City student Antwan L. Timbers Jr., 17, was struck and killed by a passing motorist on that corner.
Recently, the New Jersey Department of Transportation implemented changes to traffic patterns on Route 130 in Burlington City. They have narrowed the highway from three lanes to two – something they call a “road diet” – in hopes of getting drivers to slow down.
NJDOT said in a news release the new traffic pattern was made in an effort to improve pedestrian safety and was part of a repaving project that was recently completed along the 130 corridor.
It says the idea of the “road diet is to reduce vehicle speeds through the area and improve pedestrian crossing safety.”
“Safety is the top priority for the New Jersey Department of Transportation, whether you are a driver, bicyclist, or pedestrian,” NJDOT Commissioner Richard T. Hammer said in a statement.
“Reducing Route 130 from three lanes in each direction to two lanes in Burlington City will help slow traffic down and create a buffer between vehicles and pedestrians, particularly students walking to Burlington High School.”
Before the changes, Route 130 had three lanes in both directions in Burlington City, although it narrowed to two lanes just miles down the road in Burlington Township.
The state restriped the road to reduce it to two lanes in each direction with an 11-foot to 12-foot left shoulder that serves as a buffer between vehicles and pedestrians walking on the sideway parallel to traffic.
There are more changes to come, including installing larger “School Speed Limit 25 mph” signs, with additional “No Turn on Red” signs placed at the intersections of Wood Street, High Street, and Jacksonville Road.
Both Burlington City High School and Wilbur Watts Intermediate School are near the busy highway. The school zone, which is about a half-mile long, essentially starts at Wood Street and runs to East Federal Street/Jacksonville Road.
“As you know, Route 130 is one of New Jersey’s most dangerous roads, so anything we can do to calm speeds down will be beneficial for drivers and pedestrians alike,” said Assemblyman Troy Singleton, D-Burlington.
NJDOT says its analysis shows “a reduction in lanes should result in lower speeds, without adversely affecting the existing traffic capacity.”
Residents don’t think that’s the case. Some say it’ll make traffic worse and others say they didn’t get proper notification about the changes.
“I don’t like it,” said Burlington City resident Richard Rauch, a retired sheriff’s officer. “There was no notice, no nothing. I found out about it last weekend over Good Friday. I looked on Burlington City’s Facebook page to find out about it after seeing it, just to find out more about it. I guess it sounds good in theory, but in practicality, it doesn’t look like it’s working.”
Said resident Doug Bass: “I don’t like it. I grew up here and still live here. This highway has been three lanes in both directions since I can remember. I think it’s going to cause a lot more congestion.”
An April 2016 study by the Tri-State Transportation Campaign said Route 130 in Burlington County is the state’s most dangerous road for walking, with 11 pedestrians killed by a vehicle between 2012 and 2014.
In the tragic incident with Timbers last May, the teen was heading home from a nearby store early in the morning when he was struck. He and a friend were in the grassy area off the roadway near the sidewalk when a car driven by Ricardo J. Patterson III left the roadway and struck Timbers, police said. Timbers was pronounced dead at the scene.
Patterson was initially charged with reckless driving and driving under the influence, and in February was charged with second-degree death by auto and faces up to 10 years in prison.
Soon after Timbers’ death, Burlington City High School students started a campaign called “25 Saves Lives,” calling for a full-day reduction in the speed limit in the school zone along Route 130. Then in October, state Sen. Diane Allen, R-Burlington, visited the high school and signed a package of three bills she sponsored to address speeding in school zones to better protect pedestrians.
Allen unveiled legislation called “Antwan’s Law,” which would allow counties and municipalities to establish permanently reduced speed limits on roads adjacent to a school. The package includes bills that would mandate that the state create a full-day, 25-mph speed limit on Route 130 near Burlington City High School and Wilbur Watts Intermediate School and would also greatly raise penalties for drivers who speed in school zones.
The law was approved by the Senate Transportation Committee on Jan. 9 and awaits a vote by the full Senate.
“Route 130 is the state’s most dangerous road for pedestrians year after year,” Allen said in a statement. “… Improving pedestrian safety along Route 130 has long been a priority of mine, and I’m honored to work with BCHS students on ‘Antwan’s Law’ and their #25SavesLives campaign. We don’t want to see any more of our children, friends or neighbors fall victim to this dangerous highway.”