Parking and traffic were two issues that just won’t go away for the Montclair Township Council. Mayor Robert Jackson and the councilors unanimously passed a resolution at their October 18 meeting accepting the responsibility to maintain the extended curb line and perform snow removal for the new bumpouts being installed at Orange Road, High Street and Irving Street. Although passage of the resolution – part of a consent agenda of items to be passed without debate – was a foregone conclusion, several residents used the public comment phase of the meeting to urge the council to pass it. They cited the dangers of crossing the street and either they or their children and dogs having too many near misses with motorists. The Orange/High/Irving issue, though, led to activists asking the council to go further elsewhere in town.
Pedestrians Safety Issues in Upper Montclair and on Grove Street
Alex Kent, chair of the Montclair Pedestrian Safety Committee, said that her group’s efforts haven’t been effective in achieving positive results. She said that 40 pedestrians have been hit in Montclair every year since 2003, at least one fatality every year, with 36 pedestrians having been hit so far in 2016. She zeroed in on the Upper Montclair business district and Grove Street as areas in need of improvement. Given the large amount of car crashes at the Bellevue Avenue and Loraine Avenue intersections in recent months, Kent proposed eliminating right turns on red lights on weekends at both intersections and giving pedestrians a six-second head start with a “WALK” light that goes on before the green light for motorists.
Kent said that there have been 439 car crashes last four years, with 138 crashes on Elm Street, causing numerous pedestrian injuries, and she recommended lowering the speed limit to 30 miles an hour and painting a median two feet wide as a buffer zone for opposing traffic.
Cindy Steiner, executive director of the New Jersey Bike and Walk Coalition, said New Jersey has had the second highest number of pedestrian and cyclist fatalities as a percentage of all road deaths (after New York) since 2007, with 26 pedestrians killed on Essex County streets in 2015, and she urged the council to keep the issue within its scope. She endorsed Kent’s proposals, and she said a greater emphasis ought to be placed on pedestrians in Upper Montclair who are part of the fabric of the community, as opposed to motorists who are passing through. Laura Torchio of Bike & Walk Montclair also took to the podium, saying that streets are where people come together, and that making the Upper Montclair business district and Grove Street safer and more pedestrian-friendly would benefit the environment, but added that motorists should be recognized as part of the landscape and that the issue should be treated as pitting motorists against pedestrians and cyclists.
As fate would have it, the council considered four first-reading ordinances involving traffic and parking. The first such ordinance established a 25-mph speed limit on all of Bloomfield Avenue in Montclair with an exception for a 35-mph speed from Prospect Avenue to the border with Verona. Fourth Ward Councilor Renée Baskerville said that allowing that exception for that block would make the area dangerous. Acting Township Manager Tim Stafford said that the purposed of the ordinance was to codify the 25-mph speed limit and existing exceptions, and he added that if the township wanted to consider rescinding any exceptions. Councilor-at-Large Robert Russo, who lives on that block, asked if the 35-mph speed limit there was something the county wanted. He preferred to see the ordinance pulled and consider a reduction to 25 miles an hour.
“So, in essence, a ‘no’ vote to this would reduce the speed limit at the section,” Stafford said.
A resolution reducing a speed limit on a county road would be forwarded to the county for review by the county engineer’s office. Township Attorney Ira Karasick said that such a resolution would likely be accepted by the county, and the council decided to withdraw the ordinance and likely re-introduce it without the exception. Another first-reading ordinance was passed codifying the speed limit on Valley Road at 25 mph except for 30 mph from Bloomfield Avenue to Bellevue Avenue and from Laurel Place to the Essex-Passaic border, with Councilor Russo casting the only dissenting vote; the council did unanimously pass a first-reading ordinance codifying the speed limit on Bloomfield Avenue between Lloyd Road and Upper Mountain Avenue at 20 mph for trucks and buses only and codifying the 25-mph speed limit on Upper Mountain Avenue except for a 30-mph limit from Laurel Place to Watchung Avenue and a 35-mph limit from Watchung Avenue to Bloomfield Avenue.
College Avenue Residents Want To Be Able to Park and Play
Deputy Mayor William Hurlock, in his capacity as First Ward Councilor, invited College Avenue residents to speak on behalf of a first-reading ordinance that would restrict parking on that avenue and on Amherst Place and Hamilton Terrace to permit-holding residents from Monday to Thursday, 8:00 A.M. to 10 P.M., and from Friday to Sunday, 8:00 A.M. to 6:00 P.M, with exceptions for 30-minute parking on school days. The residents were unhappy with people attending events at nearby Montclair State University parking their cars on these three streets to avoid paying for parking on campus, making it impossible to park on their own streets and preventing their children from playing in the streets. Councilor-at-Large Rich McMahon said that this was tantamount to privatizing the streets in question, and that it should be addressed more judiciously through the parking study. Laura Torchio said that the Traffic Parking and Advisory Committee had recommended this ordinance for the time being. Dr. Baskerville, however, said that it would encourage people in similar situations throughout town, was afraid that once the town restricted parking on a street to its residents, residents of other streets would follow suit. The ordinance passed 5-1, with Councilor McMahon voting no, saying it was “premature,” and Dr. Baskerville abstaining.
The council also passed on second reading an ordinance prohibiting parking on the eastern side of North Willow Street East from Glenridge Avenue north for 61 feet. Mayor Jackson said that this was an example of how the township takes making streets safer seriously.
Musical Chairs for Councilors?
A last-minute contretemps erupted at the meeting’s end when Councilor McMahon proposed that the councilors resume their traditional seating arrangement at meetings with the mayor in the center, at-large councilors seated at either side of the center, and the ward councilors seated in numerical order from the far left of the dais. Dr. Baskerville stridently objected, saying that the traditional Fourth Ward seat was in a dimly lit part of the room with the air system blowing nearby; she said that the latter condition had had an adverse impact on her health. Councilor McMahon said that Dr. Baskerville’s situation could be dealt with later, and she bristled at his statement. Councilor Russo, now seated in Dr. Baskerville’s former chair, calmed things down by proposing that the three of them form a committee to work out a favorable seating arrangement, and the council gave the idea its approval.