Light installed on George Street causes traffic
Rutgers students tend to be affected by traffic, especially during rush hour. A new light at by the Student Activities Center (SAC) on College Avenue Campus has not helped quell students' confusion.
The new light by the SAC was installed by Middlesex County as part of a set of new municipal lights, said Jack Molenaar, director of Rutgers Department of Transportation Services (RUDOTS).
“This is part of (a) project that they’re doing, it’s going to connect Cook/Douglass to College Avenue,” he said. “(George Street) is a county lane (by the SAC).”
The county has jurisdiction over George Street in the College Avenue Campus area, as well as through part of Douglass, he said.
The road belongs to New Brunswick in the business district and is briefly a state road further down. At no point does RUDOTS have control over it.
This holds true for every road on the College Avenue campus, he said. Because most of that campus is in New Brunswick, the city has jurisdiction, though RUDOTS controls most of the roads on Busch, Livingston, Cook and Douglass.
The new light on George Street is known as a “High-Intensity Activated crossWalK beacon,” Molenaar said. This HAWK signal is used for pedestrian crossing areas rather than intersections used primarily by vehicles.
It was installed along with the new bicycle lanes that have also been installed on the road, he said.
“I knew about the bicycle lanes and (the HAWK beacon) might have been on the plans but (those do not need) my approval,” he said.
RUDOTS has been working with Middlesex County’s Department of Transportation (MCDOT) to ensure the traffic situation in the area remains clear.
Traffic has been severe on George Street since the beginning of the semester.
“The timing wasn’t right at the beginning but (MCDOT has) adjusted it,” Molenaar said. “They built in a delay ... so that as (the light) goes back it does not automatically start blinking (again).”
Rush hour was especially bad during the beginning of the semester, said Hoonan Sun, a School of Arts and Sciences first-year student. Between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m., traffic still tends to be an issue.
He said he does not know for sure what the traffic is like during the morning, when he is not on campus, but expects rush hour to be rough then as well.
Changing the timing of the light should help alleviate some of the traffic issues, Molenaar said.
Beyond the timing, there is little that can be done to ease traffic along George Street, he said. During rush hour especially, traffic down the road slows, reflecting the situation on Route 18. There are not many options to fix this issue.
The light was a bad idea due to its proximity to the bus stop, and it only made a rough situation worse, given how poorly cars already treat buses, said Melissa Andrews, a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore.
While RUDOTS and MCDOT will continue to monitor the street, there are no firm plans to change traffic patterns at this time, Molenaar said.
One concept that RUDOT is working on is creating a bridge over the road for pedestrians, he said. This would bypass the cars entirely, preventing any interaction between vehicles and people.
“If you look at the (University Physical Master Plan), we show (that we will) change the bus stops,” he said. “We also show a pedestrian bridge over George Street.”
An alternative to creating a new bridge would be to create a tunnel instead, he said. This would fulfill the same purpose.
While construction of the bridge or tunnel would impact traffic, it is too soon to determine how it would do so, he said.
People do not necessarily use the crosswalk at the right time anyway, Sun said. The fact that there is another crosswalk right next to one with a light does not help the situation either.
Though the HAWK beacon looks different from most traffic lights in New Jersey, it is still simple to understand, Molenaar said.
A yellow light, blinking or stable, means the same as a yellow light on an ordinary signal — the driver should slow down, he said.
A solid red light similarly means the driver needs to stop and wait.
A blinking red light is treated as a stop sign, he said.
Andrews said she did not know that, and had thought the blinking indicated the light would soon change.
Sun said the light should have a sign indicating how it works.
“That’s the thing where people do not understand,” Molenaar said. “You can proceed with caution after the stop (as) it’s treated as a stop sign.”
Drivers must stop at the light but can go as soon as it is clear to do so, he said.
MCDOT may put up a sign explaining how the beacon works, he said. They are still analyzing the effects of the light.
“People are not used to a blinking red (light),” he said. “It is something that’s being used more and more often.”
This is similar to how New Jersey drivers did not understand roundabouts when they first entered the state, he said.
What helps is most people who use the road will be a regular presence on the street, he said. They will quickly adapt to the light, which will help them navigate it.
“I don’t think that this light is helpful at all,” Andrews said. “It clogs up traffic (and helps) cars cut off the buses at the stop.”