Montclair Residents Afraid To Cross Grove Street Voice Concerns at Council Meeting

the Montclair Township Council

In one of the longest meetings of the Montclair Township Council in recent memory – nearly four hours – as many as 30 residents spoke out at the council’s October 3 conference meeting about the dangerous conditions for pedestrians on Grove Street.  The biggest concerns involved residents who lived on side streets to the east of Grove Street; one resident after another complained about how motorists made it difficult to cross.  One of the biggest issues was the problem of children having to cross Grove Street to their assigned school bus stops.  Heavy traffic on Grove Street has made it dangerous enough for adults to cross without children being at greater peril.

The public comment came in light of the council’s plan to consider enacting a 30-mph speed limit on both Grove Street and Valley Road, which is slated to come up at the council’s October 24 meeting.  Erin Krupa, a mathematics professor at Montclair State University, said the speed limit on Grove Street should be reduced, if to at least make it easier for children to cross.  Debra Kaplan said there were many close calls involving children, and she added that more enforcement of the law was necessary.   Abraham Dickerson, a resident of Oxford Street, said it was all good and fine to lower the speed limit to 30 miles an hour but also suggested that traffic fines be doubled for motorists in violation during peak times at rush hour. Resident Robert Rich called for an even lower speed limit on Grove Street – 25 mph instead of 30mph – coupled aggressive ticketing to send an effective message to motorists.

David Peebler, an Oxford Street resident who was severely injured crossing Grove Street in December 2016, showed pictorial examples of how vehicles are improperly parked or stopped at the intersection of the two streets to show how difficult it is to see cars or pedestrians from behind and how difficult it is for pedestrians to see moving cars.  He said the 30-mph speed limit would make little difference unless enforcement was stepped up.  A Glen Ridge resident whose husband was hit by a motorist said he had been in traction and “in unimaginable pain,” requiring surgery and months of physical therapy. Her husband was a freelancer who has been unable to work and has no disability insurance.  She said the person who hit her husband is the state deputy attorney general for public safety.

Montclair resident David Peebler (standing) shows other residents pictures of Oxford Street and Grove Street at the October 3 Montclair Township Council conference meeting.

Mayor Robert Jackson and the council sympathized with the residents and acknowledged in no uncertain terms the need to address the problem.  The mayor also concurred with Peebler that the improperly stopped or parked cars at Grove and Oxford Streets posed a safety problem.  Others weighed in.  Councilor-at-Large Robert Russo not only endorsed more enforcement of speed limits but proposed additional signage, like the signage installed on Park Street in the early 90s, to remind motorists of the law.  Deputy Mayor / Second Ward Councilor Robin Schlager said she would like to see a 25-mph speed limit throughout the town, and Fourth Ward Councilor Renée Baskerville said all such ideas be considered as part of a holistic approach to traffic calming.  However, Councilor-at-Large Rich McMahon cautioned against doing something for its own sake, noting that pedestrian accidents on Grove Street were caused primarily by motorists going around cars stopped for pedestrians, not by speeding.

Lackawanna Plaza Redevelopment Plan Goes Back To Drawing Board

Also, at the conference meeting, the Economic Development Committee reiterated for the entire council its recommendations to the Planning Board about the redevelopment of Lackawanna Plaza.  The committee stressed the main points in redeveloping the area that they and the board agreed on the most – preserving the historic elements of the old railway terminal, open green space in front of the current Pig & Prince restaurant,  and lowering the number of apartment units from 350 to 280.  The committee differed with the Planning Board on some elements, such as preserving sightlines toward the site – some of them might inevitably be lost in whatever plan is adopted – and the board’s recommendation of workforce housing would be an issue for the council to decide.  Mayor Jackson said there should be more conversations with the board, and that it can produce a better plan for Lackawanna Plaza to address any outstanding issues involved.  Deputy Mayor Schlager, the council’s liaison to the Planning Board, said the Planning Board would appreciate the plan going back to it for further review.

One appreciative member of the public was James Cotter, a Cloverhill Place resident who has been active in ensuring that redevelopment of the nearby Lackawanna Plaza area doesn’t disturb his street.  Cotte was encouraged by the proposed reduction of residential units and the inclusion of open green space, and he hoped that access to the property would be unavailable from Glenridge Avenue in order to prevent extra traffic in the nearby residential neighborhoods.  Cotter also approved the idea of a new grocery in the place of the old Pathmark building on the west parcel rather than a new one on the east parcel, and he acknowledged that finding the proper supermarket tenant and providing the space would not happen overnight.

However, Cotter was frustrated by the lack of progress in the construction of the MC Hotel and feared that the Lackawanna Plaza area may be developed at a glacial pace once it’s started.  Mayor Jackson said that while the same developer, Pinnacle, was involved in the major projects in town, it was not the major player.  Brookfield is the major player in Seymour Street project, while Hampshire is the driving force behind the hotel and Lackawanna Plaza.  He did concur with Cotter over the slow pace of construction of the MC Hotel, saying he was concerned about it and explaining the problems with the water table and the company providing the steel – though, he added, the operation management has improved.  While the mayor found the pace of construction embarrassing, he hoped the resolution of the steel issue would spur it along – and made it clear that capital and resources were not problems.

“I would be very concerned if the entity that we’re both talking about were doing the actual construction,” Mayor Jackson said in an apparent reference to Pinnacle, “but that’s not the case.”

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  1. Have always recommended for many years on Baristanet that the speed limit on Grove Street be reduced to 25 mph. Furthermore all pedestrian crossing on Grove Street should have the flashing red warning light devices which have been installed in other parts of town, especially now that our daylight hours are getting shorter.

  2. I know this will not be a popular opinion to express, but although there clearly is a real pedestrian safety problem on Grove Street, reducing the speed limit to 30 MPH is not the answer. The speed limit on another north-south arterial street, Harrison Avenue is 25 MPH, never obeyed, and rarely enforced. A lower speed limit is a feel-good measure, not a solution.

    We can do two things immediately and inexpensively to improve pedestrian safety on Grove Street. First, we should paint “continental crosswalks”–the kind with the thick diagonal lines, not just two parallel lines–on all intersections with heavy pedestrian traffic. Second, we should flatly (and with yellow curbs) prohibit parking a few feet on either side of those intersections to ensure that drivers can see pedestrians trying to cross. Then, if we’re willing to spend some money, a third necessary step is improved lighting at those intersections.

  3. I believe in residential zones driver compliance is lower at t-intersections regardless of markings. Grove Street has mostly t-intersections. I think many drivers think/rationalize a simple parallel striped crosswalk means they some right of way privileges over pedestrians. No crosswalk at an intersection means, well, no crosswalk – so the law doesn’t apply. The beacons seem to say yes, we are serious here and are not giving you any excuses for ignorance. But, do they train drivers that the converse is true?

    Yes, Grove Street has issues, but your recommendations are not reassuring to me. Upper Mountain Ave (Township) is 35mph. The t-intersection at Bellevue is one of the most dangerous to me. It has a ladder crosswalk and the standard parking prohibition 30′ from the intersection that you recommend. The left turn lane has decreased congestion, but at the expense of further degrading the already problematic sight lines caused by parked cars. The obvious improvement here (especially as it is now undergoing repaving) is to move the median strip back to the middle of the roadway for a 100’-150’ stretch from the intersection and prohibit parking.

    I don’t think the 30mph suggestion for Grove Street will help much without more enforcement. Bottom line is there is no real need for a 35mph speed limit anywhere in town. At least I haven’t heard a good justification. It would make things simpler for drivers in Montclair. You can drive, depending on the street, 25 or 30 mph. Those are your choices.

    And I think we just have to stop playing around and suck it up and put a traffic light at Oxford & Grove.

  4. The problem, Frank, is that “traffic calming” has two parts: efficiently moving traffic on “arterial” streets that you designate as such, and then slowing down traffic elsewhere to improve the residential character and drive more cars to the arterial streets. You can’t slow down traffic everywhere because you can’t enforce everywhere. There have to be arterial streets that move well, but of course no one wants “their” street to be an arterial.

    In Montclair, we have many north-south streets that potentially could qualify as arteries. The two that everyone agrees have to be arteries are Upper Mountain and Grove. That means they should be 35 MPH, but it also means we have an obligation to promote pedestrian safety.

    I fully agree with you that we should perform traffic counts at every problem intersection, including Oxford, and see if any of them meet the federal warrants for traffic signals. If they do, the County (whose road it is) should install them. And I’m certainly not against other mechanisms to improve pedestrian safety that are intersection-specific. All I’m saying is that slowing down traffic “everywhere” means slowing it down nowhere, and slowing down Grove specifically is not the answer (at least in my book). You could put a police car on every other corner and still not get half-decent compliance with a 25 or 30 MPH speed limit on Grove.

  5. Define efficient.

    This is going to be longwinded and mean, so stop reading if you’re not into it.

    Grove Street is residential. 80% of Montclair is residential. I live on Upper Mountain and can absolutely guarantee Mr Hurlock, Mr Russo & Mr McMahon that on any given weekday, peak hours, 90% of all cars will not stop for pedestrian in a ladder crosswalk. In my lifetime, and as supportive of our police on patrol as I am, I have never, ever in 60 years, seen a traffic stop (except on Bloomfield Av) for failure to yield/stop for a pedestrian. I have seen some seriously weird and unusual stuff over that time, but never that. Seriously, we may, township-wide, have 2 dozen a year at most?

    And you think that can be improved by what? Down to 80%? Yipee.

    – Park Street should be a major N/S arterial. Why isn’t it? It’s not because of geography. Certainly not even close to roadway capacity? Certainly not traffic lights and God knows it is not because of higher enforcement.

    – You say going from 35 to 30 mph is a panacea. So, let’s go to 40 mph from 35 mph. At least pedestrians would seriously get the message that vehicle rule and they need to be on the defensive. Now, we are pretending there is some “share the road” nirvana that is within our grasp if we paint some curbs and fill in some crosswalks. The fact is the injuries & fatalities will continue to go up. It is a given.

    – The majority of residents voted for greater development for tax stabilization purposes, but put a stake in the ground to protect the quality of life in residential neighborhoods. Now {insert child’s name} is old enough to cross the street and 1st & 2nd Ward people are freaking out that growth in other neighborhoods actually affects traffic in their neighborhood. You don’t see 3rd & 4th Warders freaking out, do you. They get it.

    In all seriousness, we want to be like Brooklyn and we all need to grow up and accept that traffic will be like Brooklyn. I read on a daily basis how bicyclists and pedestrians are mowed down and nothing changes. Well, we now have our new normal. The Township is growing…and people need to get used to it or move.

  6. re: traffic counts

    I agree with you agreeing with me. I think it is a priority to manage the public’s expectations. We need to explain to the public that a an average daily roadway volume of 6,000 vehicles will typically result in 1 fatality and 4 pedestrian-involved accidents annually. 12,000 vehicles daily will result in 2 deaths and 8 injured, etc, etc.

    Yes, it is a little disconcerting that Grove St (35 mph)is trending ahead of Bloomfield Ave (25 mph) this year, but I’m sure this is a short-term blip and both will return to their historical levels.

  7. The average, actual peak AM & PM speeds on Grove Street between Watchung & Chestnut is 31 mph.
    The range is 24-34 mph. The roadway design can handle 40 mph with exceptions. And my point is….?

  8. Many of the N/S arteries could be made a bit safer without touching speed limits. There are some really simple solutions. I can name a few in my area, since I’m most familiar with trying to walk and ride my bike regularly in Upper Montclair.

    The crosswalks that have the flashing lights on the pedestrian signs are an improvement in areas in which they have been added on Valley, near King’s and Acme.

    The four way stop at Lorraine and Park is a good example of a spot near a school that forces drivers to stop somewhere on Park north of the Bellevue Avenue light.

    Drivers tend to speed up when there is a long stretch of road without any stops. Upper Mountain at Laurel Place could certainly use a stop – there is a train station, a park, a pool and a playground around a very blind corner. A block away, on Valley, Keil’s is a major stop for buses. These are obvious spots for a stop since they are very long stretches of arteries between the Upper Montclair Business District and Normal Avenue which currently don’t require drivers to stop or slow down. Unless they happen to be going slowly enough to see and stop for a pedestrian. Unlike lights, or changing speed limits, they should have little impact upon traffic on major arteries, other than to calm things a bit.

  9. A few further thoughts:

    1) Frank, what you are calling a “ladder” crosswalk and what I’m calling a “continental” crosswalk are two different things. A continental crosswalk has more lines and is more prominent. Ideally, they’re painted with Thermoplastic and glass beads are used to make the lines reflective. They really do make a difference in terms of drivers understanding that there’s a crosswalk and a need to look for pedestrians. If we have money to install the flashing light signs on top of more prominent crosswalks at major intersections, great. They certainly help, too.

    2) By law, 35 MPH is the maximum speed limit for a residential-area arterial street with only one travel lane in each direction. Only wider streets and those in commercial areas can have faster speed limits.

    3) You’re 100% right that Montclair is primarily residential. That’s what makes true “traffic calming” in Montclair so hard. Traffic calming requires picking arterial streets, and because every candidate street in Montclair is also residential, somebody’s ox has to get gored. Grove and Upper Mountain are obvious choices, and Park has arterial characteristics, too (and is the route for multiple buses).

    4) You’re also 100% right that enforcement in our town is abysmal. I’m sensitive to this because I walk my daughter to school on many mornings and no one stops to let us cross Harrison. I think some consistent enforcement may scare some of our neighbors straight, and I’d like to see it.

    I have strong opinions about this, I know, but that’s only because I learned this stuff at the feet of one of the best traffic engineers the U.S. has ever seen when I worked in the Philadelphia Streets Department. (He was later tragically shot and killed in a workplace violence incident, but that’s another story.)

  10. Thank you Jeff. From your campaign and past posts here, I know you are very knowledgable in this area and respect your viewpoints – even the unpopular ones.

    I see now the difference in crosswalks and, yes, I would readily agree with you on their increased effectiveness.

    The part I don’t understand is what is the impact on the roadway changing the posted limit to 30mph? Is it that big a deal to roadway capacity, etc?

    I understand and accept the existing arterials. I not quite sure how it helps the 35 mph argument as the County portion of Upper Mountain, from Mtn Terr to Little Falls is 30 mph. I believe all the other shorter arterials are 25-30 mph.

    The other part I really don’t understand is Ms Kent’s proposal to paint a 3′ median down the center to narrow the drive lanes. I do understand people believe it is effective, but what I see is a waste (no active use) of 10% of the premium roadway space. I would feel better if we could utilize that space for roadway surface signage (e.g. speed limit & stop for pedestrian reminders). Is that bad design or practice?

  11. “Traffic calming requires picking arterial streets, and because every candidate street in Montclair is also residential, somebody’s ox has to get gored. Grove and Upper Mountain are obvious choices,…”

    Well, someone has to tell Bike/Walk Montclair that the 2 major arterials, the 2 the Township has supported 100% as arterials, and most accept, that it is lunacy to make either a bicycling corridor. That is my biggest issue with this organization. They are advocating putting riders at unnecessary risk.

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