The Montclair Township Council is expected to consider a measure creating a working group that would study ways to at first reduce, and then eliminate, traffic-related deaths in the township within five years. 

The resolution, establishing a Vision Zero Task Force, is scheduled to be heard at the May 16 council meeting.

“We’re seeing year-over-year increases” in traffic-related injuries, said Councilor-at-Large Peter Yacobellis, one of the sponsors of the measure. There were 47 pedestrian strikes and 14 bicycle strikes in 2022, which was an increase over the previous year, he said. A pedestrian was struck and killed on Valley Road in January 2021, and there have been two other traffic-related deaths since 2017.

The five-year plan, which Yacobellis acknowledged is ambitious, seeks to eliminate all traffic-related and pedestrian and bicycle crashes by 2028. 

A Vision Zero Task Force is the first step in a process that enables a municipality to apply for funding from federal and state agencies, Yacobellis said. Creating a task force “signals that the town is serious about the work,” he said. “It’s a requirement in many grants that towns have a Vision Zero Task Force in place even to receive the money.”

The idea is to help people of all ages and abilities be safe when walking, riding a bicycle or a skateboard or crossing the street, he explained. Curb bump-out corners intentionally slow down traffic, Yacobellis said. And inserting small landscaping areas with native plantings at corners could decrease stormwater flooding while inviting pollinators to stop by.

The focus on street design as an aid to residents’ safety is part of the Complete Streets program, an initiative of New Jersey’s Department of Transportation, under the Commitment to Communities Initiative. Trenton’s program incorporates recommendations from the National Complete Streets Coalition. Montclair adopted a SAFE (Streets Are for Everyone) Complete Streets Implementation Plan in 2017, the proposed ordinance states.

The second step in the proposed task force’s mission is to come up with quick recommendations around “high-crash corridors or intersections,” he said. The task force, together with consultants and experts, will research where crashes have taken place over the past five to 10 years, and then “quickly deploying” ways to prevent these, he said.

The goal is twofold, he said. In the short term, the township would like to reduce traffic and pedestrian-related incidents in high-crash corridors. Then it will address the rest over time with a variety of options.

The result will be a new Complete Streets Plan, to be ready in 18 months from the start of this initiative, and an official Vision Zero Task Force report that is presented to the Township Council, he said. The report would state “these are the things that have to be done by the township in partnership with the county and the state to eliminate pedestrian and cycling strikes by the end of 2028,” Yacobellis said.

Nearby communities that have embraced the Complete Streets program include Jersey City and Hoboken.

Other council supporters of the proposal include Mayor Sean Spiller and Third Ward Councilor Lori Price Abrams. 

“There is nothing more important than making sure that we keep our residents safe in Montclair,” Spiller said in a statement. “As mayor, it is my goal to ensure that we do everything possible to minimize and eliminate injuries or worse, resulting from crashes.”

Price Abrams said Montclair’s concept is one that Trenton and Washington are interested in supporting. 

“We have an exciting opportunity to bring together stakeholders and line our intentions up with what we know the state and federal governments are looking to fund, to invest in a safer streetscape,” she said in a statement.

If the measure is adopted, members of the task force would be appointed over the summer, Yacobellis said.

The task force, if approved, would have up to 22 members from local and county governments, along with various community groups to allow for many voices to be heard, the resolution states.

Along with representatives from the Township Council, Essex County government and various township departments, residents from community groups including NJ Bike and Walk Coalition, the township’s People with Disabilities Committee, the civil rights commission, the senior community, and the student community will be seated on the task force, the measure states. The task force will also include members from the Neighborhood Advisory Network representing each of the four wards in the township, the resolution states.

Other supporters of the plan include Essex County Commissioner Brendan Gill, New Jersey Bike and Walk Coalition’s executive director, Debra Kagan, and Paul Mickiewicz, president of Bike and Walk Montclair.

Now is the time to move forward, Yacobellis said. 

“There seems to be an epidemic of distracted movement: driving, walking, bike riding,” he said. “People are distracted as they move. Every kid learns to look both ways, and how many of us are guilty of looking both ways and then looking down. We all have to be alert and participating.”