Greater Pedestrian Safety Needed in Unity Square Neighborhood, Residents Say

Wendy Rodriguez was struck by a patrol car after she darted across Suydam Street on Feb. 21.

A New Brunswick girl was struck by a Middlesex County Sheriff's Office patrol car last month in a part of the city that residents say needs better pedestrian safety measures.

According to a police report from the New Brunswick Police Department, Wendy Rodriguez, 10, was waiting to cross at a crosswalk on Suydam Street at the intersection of Throop Avenue around 5 p.m. on Feb. 21.

Rodriguez told officers that a vehicle in the westbound lane of Suydam Street waived for her to cross the street, and she ran out into the road without seeing the patrol car, driven by Kevin Comiskey of the Middlesex County Sheriff's Office in the other lane, according to the report.

Rodriguez struck the side of the car, hitting her face against the driver's side mirror and getting her legs caught under the vehicle, according to the report.

Officers found her lying in the intersection with blood on her face, complaining of leg pain, according to the report.

She was taken to St. Peter's University Hospital for treatment of a broken leg.

According to the report, both Comiskey and a witness who was crossing at the same intersection claimed that Rodriguez ran suddenly out into the road.

The posted speed limit there is 25 MPH, and a "Stop for pedestrians" sign is displayed.

Neighborhood resident Evelyn Barrueto said the recent accident is the third pedestrian accident that she's heard of in the last two years.

Traffic in the area is particularly bad when schools let out, she said. In some instances, cars have been observed speeding past a crossing guard stationed outside nearby Lord Stirling School, she said.

Wendy's mother, Maribel, said her daughter is still home from school with her injury, and has been told that she will have to wear the cast for six weeks.

Their second-floor apartment is difficult for her to access with the cast, so she has been staying at the first-floor apartment of her babysitter, Maribel said.

Wendy was walking home from an after school program at the time of the accident, she said.

Jason Rowe, of Unity Square Partnership, said the issue of pedestrian safety in the neighborhood is particularly important, as many of the residents there do not have cars, necessitating a lot of daily walking. 

Additionally, there are four elementary schools in the area between Commercial Avenue and Livingston Avenue: Lord Stirling School, Livingston School, The Paul Robeson Community School Annex at Sacred Heart Church and Roosevelt School.

That amounts of a lot of children walking to and from their schools, he said.

Barrueto said that residents would like to see more signage in the area alerting drivers that they are in a school zone. Coordination between crossing guards and the city police force in helping to ease traffic in the area would be helpful as well, she said.

"Traffic safety and pedestrian friendliness have been a priority for the city," said city Planning Director Glenn Patterson.

In the Unity Square area by Suydam Street, the city has installed curb bumpouts to shorten the length that pedestrians must spend in the street, he said. Flashing crosswalks are also present at about five intersections in the second and third wards, and a radar sign has also been installed at Throop Avenue at Townsend Street, Patterson said.

Bike lanes are being put in around New Brunswick, including along a stretch of Remsen Avenue, barring the area between George Street and Sandford Street, he said.

Once a large construction project there is completed, the bike lanes will be extended the length of the avenue, Patterson said.

The city also adopted a "Complete Streets" policy this past May.

Parents in the Unity Square neighborhood have discussed holding a workshop to discuss Safe Routes to School, a program that advocates for the safety of children walking or biking to school, Barrueto said.

No charges were filed against Comiskey or Rodriguez on the report.

The Middlesex County Sheriff's Office did not return a request for comment.

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