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Wrong-Way Drivers Plague Seaside Heights’ One-Way Streets, But Officials Pledge Help

A sign on a one-way street in Seaside Heights, N.J., July 2023. (Photo: Shorebeat)

A sign on a one-way street in Seaside Heights, N.J., July 2023. (Photo: Shorebeat)

It’s a complaint that pops up every so often on Ocean County’s northern barrier island – wrong way drivers on one way streets. It can lead to serious crashes on Route 35, but in Seaside Heights, which is dominated by one-way streets in the east and west directions, distracted drivers going the wrong way has become a bigger nuisance than in years past.

The causes are up for debate. The top theory is that drivers are distracted by electronic devices and are not paying attention to “Do Not Enter” or “One Way” signs. Others feel the current signs are not large enough. Some even feel that some streets are too wide and “look like” they’d be multi-lane when they aren’t. Regardless of the reason – and there’s no shortage of opinions – officials say more drivers seem to be turning the wrong way and they are doing it at higher and higher speeds.

“Part of the complaint is that people are just not paying attention,” said Borough Administrator Christopher Vaz after a meeting of the borough council on Wednesday. “A lot of streets have signs, but there are folks texting and not paying attention. Just coming here, I made the turn onto Sheridan [Avenue] and there was a car in the middle of the road coming right at me. I eventually realized he had no idea he was doing anything wrong and got out of the way. The big issue this season has been the excessive speed while they’re doing it.”

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Borough officials have found themselves limited in their ability to implement any town-wide solution because a large number of the streets in Seaside Heights are county-owned, and do not fall under local jurisdiction. That means local officials can’t unilaterally make changes to signage, striping or signals.

What Can Be Done?

There are several streets that are, however, under municipal jurisdiction.

“On the north end of town, Hancock, Fremont, Carteret and Sampson are borough-owned,” said Vaz. “If there is a problem with traffic on those roads, there would be an opportunity for the governing body to do a pilot program.”

A sign on a one-way street in Seaside Heights, N.J., July 2023. (Photo: Shorebeat)

A sign on a one-way street in Seaside Heights, N.J., July 2023. (Photo: Shorebeat)

Residents suggested a few potential solutions at Wednesday’s meeting, including painting large swaths of red on the roadway where streets open up to the “wrong” direction, increasing or enlarging signage, or installing rumble strips to slow drivers down when they attempt a wrong-way turn and catch their attention – or at least slow them down.

Vaz said the council is looking to initiate a pilot program with speed humps or rumble strips on its own roads. In addition to the aforementioned streets in the northern section of town, Barnegat, Dupont, Lincoln, Franklin, Webster and Blaine avenues, plus Bay Terrace and Bayside Terrace are municipally-owned. The remainder are county-owned.

“I noticed there are some streets where, at the base by Ocean Terrace, there are turning lanes,” said resident Joanne Richardson. “We were thinking adding some more of these could serve as a deterrent. It’s not just that they’re coming up and down the wrong way, they’re going fast.”

Richardson was the resident who suggested adding red markings on the roadway to advise drivers of a wrong-way turn, as it is something that has been implemented in Hoboken, Hudson County. Local officials are open to the idea, as well as a few others, but must work with the county in order to put a comprehensive strategy into place, rather than setting up each street with its own precautions.

Mayor Anthony Vaz said he has a meeting scheduled with one of the Ocean County commissioners next week where he intends to raise the issue.

“I’m going to bring a number of thoughts concerning that, and other things, to their attention,” he said.

Relief on Central Avenue

One area that will be significantly improved – and could stop some wrong-way turns before they occur – is a pending redesign of Central Avenue.

“We especially have a speeding problem on Central Avenue, and we have a grant of $1.8 million to to re-design Central Avenue,” said Christopher Vaz, the administrator. ” We laid out our plan, and it has something in it called a ‘road diet.’ Basically, it’s traffic calming.”

In addition to a slew of aesthetic improvements, the redesign of the roadway will address a frequent issue of two lanes splitting into four when traffic enters town from Route 35 in Ortley Beach. The width of the roadway encourages higher speeds, and drivers may miss “one way” signs if they are going too fast or if the signs are too far outside their field of vision when traveling straight.

The “road diet” would help the situation by converting the four lanes into three lanes – one in each direction, plus a turning lane. The turning lanes can be designed with medians curved in a particular direction so making wrong-way turns would be functionally impossible for drivers.

“When you see something like that, you have to slow down because it’s not wide open anymore,” said Vaz. “In Avon-by-the-Sea, they have these on their part of Route 71, and when I was driving there recently it made sense – it hit me that this was what it was all about.”

“Central Avenue will look very different than how it looks today next summer, plus it will be more lit up,” he added.

A sign on a one-way street in Seaside Heights, N.J., July 2023. (Photo: Shorebeat)

A sign on a one-way street in Seaside Heights, N.J., July 2023. (Photo: Shorebeat)

Other measures like increased or new signage and mapping out roads with colors on the surface would have to receive county approval, and Vaz said previous proposals to add colors to the roadways has never been looked upon favorably.

“I have all kinds of ideas for colors – green for bicycle paths, different colors at the intersections,” said Vaz. “I thought it would look nice and make sense, but we have to go with what the experts recommend.”

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