If you haven't heard, over the weekend two boys were hit and killed by an NJ TRANSIT train and another injured as he jumped off the trestle bridge to avoid getting hit (Read the informative and well written article from The Star-Ledger). This tragedy happened at where I 80, NJ 23 and US 46 all intersect. This interchange is locally know as the "Spaghetti Bowl" due to its seemingly endless and dizzying expanse of twisting, turning off-ramps and clover leaves. Unfortunately this interchange was built in an era when no consideration was given to the needs of pedestrians or bicyclists looking to travel between the surrounding neighborhoods. Even more unfortunate, at least one of the possible alternative crossings was given a major renovation within the past 15 years with nary a consideration given for anything other that the efficient flow of motor vehicle traffic.
View Location of Wayne double fatal NJ TRANSIT crash in a larger map
If you take a close look at the above map I prepared, you can see that there are no practical routes for miles around for non-motorized road users looking to travel north or south over both I 80 and US 46 anywhere near the NJ 23 corridor.
Every roadway nearby that crosses both highways requires running a gauntlet of "meat grinder," high-speed off and on-ramps. When faced with these "non-choices," the NJ TRANSIT rail corridor is probably in all reality the safest option even though it is illegal and wrought with its own hazards.
This reality has not been lost on a number of local area residents who commented on the above mentioned The Star-Ledger article:
Well for all of you who don’t understand. Yes it is dumb to be on tracks. If you know the area, that is the only direct route between the two towns, without crossing 2 major highways. (Rt.23&Rt.46). As a kid I grew up in this area, everyone knows it’s a commuter line and the chance of a train being on there at 9pm is almost unheard of. For these two boys their luck ran out. But now maybe the local gov. might put in a foot bridge for people instead of trying to dodge traffic or cross the rail road bridge. People are always seen trying to cross the highways right there. They do it so often that the grass on the side of the highway is worn out. R.I.P.Lorraine 895 says:
I totally agree that a foot bridge is needed, since the only other way to cross the highway is go walk down to McBride or Browertown roads, and they are nearly a mile apart (if not more) on the town streets. So not just teenagers, but anyone who wishes to cross RT 46 has two choices, the rail bridge or play 'dodge the cars" on RT 46.Finally videodummy says:
Prayers and condolences for the families. I know this area very well, and used these tracks to cross Rt.46 as a teen-ager. We knew it was wrong, but it the only way to get across the busy highway which is just as unforgiving.
This was not a case of "playing on the tracks after dark", these 3 boys were all with-in 10 minutes of their homes in a section where all three towns comes together. The only way to get from where they were to where they were going was to either play dodge the cars on the highway, or take the trestle over it. They were good kids put in a position of weighing right from wrong against the odds of being struck by car on the high-way.
Residents in the 3 adjoining towns have all pleaded for a walk-over bridge for many years to no avail. So many walk the tracks...many because they have jobs at the Willowbrook Mall and other retail establishments in the area, some because they have friends on the side of the highway. Just the fact that 1 boy was able to jump off the trestle and save himself from being run over or crushed by the train was a miracle. The fact that the DOT highway safety commission, and the town council boards continue to turn they're backs on this issue compounds the tragedy.