Safer routes to school: Southfield Road improvements

Four members of the Extraordinary Engineers robotics team use one of the improved crossings on Southfield Road.

West Windsor recently made two dangerous crossings between Grover Middle School and Village Elementary School safer, and a group of 9th graders couldn’t be happier.

As middle schoolers, their First Lego League team (Extraordinary Engineers), with some advice from the West Windsor Bicycle and Pedestrian Alliance and Greater Mercer TMA’s Safe Routes to School program, had offered township officials a plan to boost safety at two crosswalks on Southfield Road. They were motivated by friends who told them about the challenges of walking and biking to school as well as a 12-year-old boy who was hit by a motorist in 2017 while biking to summer camp at Grover.

What the students suggested

This team of 7th and 8th graders created their project for FLL’s 2019 competition, where they had to create a way to improve their community under the “city shaper” theme.

Their plan called for installing pressure plates as well as motion detectors that would sense a person’s presence and activate flashing lights so that traffic would stop and a person could cross the street safely. They also included a voice box to assist the disabled and visually impaired; it would announce when it is safe to cross the road and keep beeping while the crossing signal is on. With this well-rounded solution, they took first place in New Jersey’s state Lego championship in the category of innovative project solutions.

The students then had two meetings with the township engineering department and were set to meet with Mayor Marathe when COVID turned the world upside down.

What was done

The township already had plans for improvements, prompted by school officials who flagged how people struggled to cross the road and then funded by a 2018 grant application.

Its solution is a lower-tech version of the students’ idea: solar-powered rapid-flashing lights above a yellow pedestrian crossing sign that are activated by the touch of a button, similar to those near the train stations and other spots around town. They were installed at Southfield and Village Road East as well as at Southfield and New Village Road as part of the Southfield Road resurfacing project in August.

Please stop when the lights are flashing and let people on foot, in wheelchairs, on scooters or bicycles cross the street – and thank you to all those who already do.

The WWBPA thanks the township for these important changes. We have advocated for improvements to intersections by these and other schools, and we are pleased that some of our recommendations have been implemented.

Many thanks as well to the entire FLL team for advocating for safer crossings: Abhinav Anand, Akanksha Radadia, Anica Desai, Arya Bhangale, Parth Mhaske, Rishan Nalwar, Vansh Chimaladinne and Yutika Amin.

Do you or your family use these new lights? Tell us about your experience. And what other intersections in town should have them? Email your suggestions to [email protected].

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