New Jersey

New Jersey Borough Solves Its Traffic Problem By Banning Commuters

Except on one thoroughfare, nonresidents will need to demonstrate a reason for being on the town's roads.


George Washington bridge, approach from the New Jersey side.
Daniel Schwen/Wikimedia Commons

The New Jersey borough of Leonia has a novel solution to for its traffic problems: Ban outsiders from using its roads.

Come January, the borough government will prohibit all nonresidents from driving on Leonia's roads—save one thoroughfare—from 6–10 a.m. and 4–9 p.m., including on Saturdays and Sundays. (There are also two state-maintained roads in Leonia that don't fall under the borough's jurisdiction and thus aren't subject to the new ordinance.) People who live or work in Leonia will get a sticker to let police know their vehicles are allowed in the town.

That irks Dan Eldridge, a nonresident who nonetheless frequents the borough and will be affected by the new law.

"My gut reaction was just another example of outrageous government overreach. Using a hammer when what you really need is a scalpel," says Eldridge, who is often in Leonia to see his girlfriend. Come January, such visits will come with a risk of a traffic stop and interrogation from Leonia law enforcement.

Walling off the town to through-traffic presents some pretty startling civil liberties implications. The new ordinance says any nonresidents found driving on the borough's streets during prohibited hours will have to be ready to "demonstrate or document a need to access a residence on the street." Any nonresidents stopped by police will have to explain their reason for being in the town, and what business or resident they plan on visiting while there, or risk fines and court summons.

The ordinance does not describe what counts at a "need" or what kind of demonstration or documentation will be required of travelers to proceed on Leonia's roads unmolested.

Mayor Judah Zeigler says extra law enforcement personnel will be on hand to "aggressively enforce the new laws." This, Zeigler says in an email to Leonia residents, will allow "the word to get out that Leonia is no longer to be considered the cut through for the entire eastern part of New Jersey!"

Zeigler has not responded to a request for comment.

Given Leonia's location at the New Jersey entrance of the George Washington Bridge—which connects the state to Manhattan Island—the town sees its fair share of commuters making use of local roads. That has left a lot of residents frustrated, and looking for solutions to the borough's traffic problem.

Eldridge sympathizes, but he says the new restrictions go too far: "Closing off the entire borough with the exception of one main artery for these times seven days a week seems to me to be overkill."

Traffic congestion can certainly be a serious problem. There just might be solutions that do not involve turning local law enforcement into border guards or requiring drivers to carry papers describing their need to be on particular road.