By LINDA MOSS
In a narrow vote after much debate, the Township Council introduced an ordinance Tuesday night that will reduce the speed limit on Grove Street, where a pedestrian was struck and killed this summer, to 30 mph from 35 mph.
At the local governing body’s meeting the vote was 4-3 in favor of the ordinance, with Mayor Robert Jackson, Deputy Mayor Robin Schlager, at-Large Councilman Bob Russo and Fourth Ward Councilwoman Renee Baskerville in favor of the measure. First Ward Councilman Bill Hurlock, Third Ward Councilman Sean Spiller and at-large Councilman Rich McMahon voted against it.
“I’m doing what I believe in … but this is not going to solve the problem unless we enforce it and we put a lot of signage up,” Russo said.
If the resolution is approved by the council on its second reading, it will then be sent to Essex County officials for their sign-off, since Grove Street is a county road. At the council meeting Acting Township Manager Tim Stafford said that in his experience, when a municipality passes such as ordinance it is usually approved by county officials.
Council members agree that there is no one silver-bullet solution to making Grove Street safer, that it will take a combination of efforts, including stepped-up enforcement, pedestrian-safety education and traffic-calming measures. But the group divided about whether lowering the speed limit is a step that will really make drivers slow down. Those in favor of the 30 mph said at least it’s an immediate action that can be taken in advance of other measures.
“Time is of the essence … Maybe it won’t work, maybe it won’t help things,” Schlager said. “But it’s something we can do now, where we can get signs up in the next four weeks. And I really feel like it’s something that we should do, we should try.”
She agreed that Spiller, McMahon and Hurlock had made some valid points in opposition to the speed-limit reduction on Grove Street.
“My concern overall with this is I am not convinced that changing a signed speed limit is going to affect outcomes in terms of people changing behavior … what has been shown to work is that people, drivers need to feel like the street is more narrow,” Spiller said. “They need to feel that they need to go slower. They need to have things placed — like street bump-outs, other tools — things that have been shown to lower people’s speed.”
He added that poor lighting on Grove Street has to be addressed, adding that he’s convinced that the energy-efficient lights that PSE&G installed in town are dimmer than their predecessors.
“I would absolutely agree that lighting on that street is key,” Spiller said. “All of us who have driven down there … we know how dark it is and how difficult it is to see someone crossing.”
But Spiller said he met with PSE&G officials last year about the lighting of Montclair’s streets, and changing or adding lights is a time-consuming effort that the township would have to foot the bill for.
At its Oct. 3 meeting the council heard roughly two dozen residents plead for a speed reduction on Grove Street. Several of those who spoke had been hit and injured in accidents while crossing Grove Street, and several mentioned the June death of Mary DeFilippis, a 70-year-old resident who sustained fatal injuries on that roadway.
At this week’s meeting McMahon cited statistics that indicated that more enforcement of traffic laws was addressing some of the safety issues on Grove Street. He said that at this time last year there were 38 accidents on Grove, compared to only 25 this year. And 26 traffic summonses were issued for Grove Street last year, with that doubling to 55 this year, according to McMahon.
Hurlock made reference to a report that recommended that the Grove Street speed limit be dropped. But one paragraph in that study said, “however, a reduction in speed limit alone may not result in significantly reduced vehicle speeds,” adding that “a combination of engineering, enforcement and education” are also part of the mix, according to Hurlock.
Before Tuesday’s vote Baskerville asked the council to amend the ordinance to also include reducing the speed limit on Valley Road to 30 mph, which she said was better than addressing issues of pedestrian safety and speeding in a “very piecemeal” manner around the township. But several council members said they didn’t have any data on traffic issues on Valley Road to address it now, and wanted to keep the proposed ordinance remain strictly focused on Grove Street.