Traffic and parking were once again the concerns of the Montclair Council at its October 4 conference meeting, as Mayor Robert Jackson and the council members sat through presentations about improving pedestrian safety in the Upper Montclair District and on Grove Street and the lighting at the North Fullerton Avenue deck.
Township engineer Kim Craft said that the analysis of the pedestrian safety was necessitated by the considerable number of accidents involving pedestrians the project’s manager, traffic engineer Janet Sharkey, took the council through various steps on how the troublesome junction of Bellevue Avenue and Valley Road could be improved for pedestrians crossing the intersection. Among the options considered in her study were allowing pedestrians to cross in every direction with all traffic stopped, called the pedestrian scramble or the “Barnes dance” after traffic engineer Henry Barnes (1906-1968), prohibiting all left turns, banning all right turns on red lights, and an innovation called Leading Pedestrian Interval, or LPI – giving pedestrians a head start averaging five seconds before traffic is allowed to proceed.
Sharkey said that the benefits of LPI were that pedestrians were given priority to cross the streets, which would make walking easier. The drawbacks of the Barnes dance, she said, were that it would involve increased delays for motorists and longer lines of cars. Prohibiting left turns, she added, would re-route cars onto side streets and cause enforcement problems. She recommended that LPI, in tandem with eliminating right turns on red lights, would minimize the impact on motorists. Sharkey estimated that this would add five additional vehicles to the backup.
The councilors were not without their questions and comments. Councilor-at-Large Rich McMahon, a Valley Road resident, noted that northbound traffic on Valley Road can be backed up as far as Cooper Avenue and beyond, and southbound traffic is similarly backed up. Councilor McMahon said that he has had to sit through two red lights at Lorraine Avenue and three at Bellevue Avenue. Sharkey said the additional traffic would only be at peak hours and Saturdays, though Fourth Ward Councilor Renée Baskerville noted that any additional backups could cause problems for the fire station. She wondered if maybe there was anything that could be done to alleviate the backup in that area. Deputy Mayor/First Ward Councilor William Hurlock was also expressed concern about more of a backup on Valley Road, saying that restricting the right turns on red could cause more motorists to cut through at Northview Avenue. Sharkey did say that LPI and prohibition of right turns on red didn’t necessarily have to be done together, and that it could be one or the other.
For his part, Third Ward Councilor Sean Spiller said he’d be interested in a breakdown of how much traffic would be affected by “No Turn On Red” versus LPI. Sharkey said she’d be pleased to offer one. Craft, meanwhile, said she hoped to meet with the Upper Montclair Business Association and discuss the options for traffic calming and pedestrian safety at greater length.
Sharkey also proposed several options for trying to limit speed on Grove Street. Grove Street, which bears an average volume of 13,475 vehicles per day, has a speed limit of 35 miles an hour, but speeding continues to be an issue in its central corridor despite the decrease in cars over the speed limit since 2011. The county reduced lane widths in 2011 as a traffic-calming measure.
Among the ideas Sharkey looked at were raising the surface of the intersections and possibly including measures such as physical curb extensions and local traffic circles. She admitted that the county might not be warm to curb extensions and circles, but she did say that raised intersections were non-starters with the county, as well as a painted-measure option – designated bicycle paths. Sharkey said that the country was much more amenable to traffic calming devices as narrower lanes and exclusive lanes for left turns. She also recommended a standard speed limit of 30 mph for the other street. Mayor Jackson said that he wanted to avoid a “one size fits all” solution for any street in Montclair, and he said that the township should look at the problems individually.
Craft said it was apparent that the council wanted to talk about the issue some more, especially with regard to other streets and intersections and she said it would cost up to $60,000 to reach out to the pedestrian safety committee and for the engineering and design work to get them implanted. Constitution casts would be based on what the council wanted to do ultimately.
Also, Tina Iordamlis, the project administrator for the Montclair Parking Utility appeared with Gary Bell of PSE&G to advocate for new LED lighting at the North Fullerton deck. Iordamlis said that the reduced load from going from conventional to LED lighting would save the township 19.72 kilowatts of electricity per year and saves $24,000 annually with an annual $5,000 savings in maintenance. The project is expected to cost $88,800, 70 percent of which would be contributed by PSE&G. “If we do accept this project,” she said, “we’ll have a 36-month loan at zero percent interest to pay back 740.35, which will be included in our monthly bill, but our bill will be cut in half, due to our savings in our kilowatt savings per month.”
Bell told the council that once the LED fixtures were approved, they would be installed and under warranty for ten years, and PSE&G would replace any lights that fail. The lights are expected to keep 99 percent of their glow in the decade-long time frame. He said there would be a positive cash flow from Montclair’s savings, and he added that the work to install them could be done in three to four days. The council was warm to the proposal, and Acting Township Manager Tim Stafford said he could have a resolution on the matter prepared in time for the October 18 regular meeting.
The council did pass one particular resolution at this conference meeting – a resolution authorizing a contract with Professional Property Appraisers, Inc. to perform a township-wide tax revaluation.