Leonia is right next to the George Washington Bridge, and when there was traffic, GPS devices would reroute people to the town of roughly 9,000 people. It was an easy shortcut. But for residents commuting to the city, like Alonna Whitehead’s husband, it was a traffic nightmare.
“It took him about an hour and 45 minutes because all of the residential streets were completely gridlocked. An hour and 45 minutes to get to the tolls of the bridge and we’re a mile away,” Whitehead said.
That’s until now.
“This is definitely unorthodox, but it’s also definitely working,” she said. “I was just stunned. It was like walking through a ghost town. After walking my girls to school, coming home, it was just shocking how different it was.”
Every day for the past few weeks, from 6 until 10 in the morning, and again from 4 to 9 o’clock at night, about 60 residential roads shut down to non-resident drivers. If you’re caught there’s a $200 fine.
“I kind of misunderstood it a little bit. I thought that they were blocking, they were trying to get people to completely not come through the town. When I realized later that they were just blocking residential streets only during rush hour, I was kind of OK with it,” said Whitehead.
But while some residents are happy about less traffic, businesses in town said that same confusion is happening with customers.
“Everybody is thinking of tickets, about $200, you know they don’t come here,” said Nancy Lim, the owner of Coffee Park.
Lim says since roads have closed, her business has dropped by about 30 percent. She says only residents come through her doors now.
Leonia Chief of Police Thomas Rowe was unavailable for comment, but when the shutdown began he explained the ban was the only way to take Leonia out of play from GPS devices.
“The way the traffic navigation apps work is if you close down 10 streets, the other 50 streets will be used by cut-through traffic, so it’s either all or nothing,” said Rowe.
But is it legal? A lawyer from Edgewater says it’s not and has filed a lawsuit. Leonia Police would not comment as a result of the pending litigation.