Are bike lanes stalling SAFE Streets in Montclair?
BY JAIMIE JULIA WINTERS
Montclair’s plan to implement SAFE Complete Streets, which could result in bike paths in some areas of town, has again been sent back to committee for further study.
Planner Janice Talley told planning board members that by supporting the plan, they were in no way committing to bike routes on any street. The SAFE Streets implementation plan only provides a framework for pedestrian, bicyclist and vehicular safety options when a street is scheduled for repaving and therefore would be implemented over time, she said.
Since 2009, Montclair has had a Complete Streets Policy, which requires that future roadway improvement projects include safe accommodations for bicyclists, pedestrians, transit riders and the mobility-impaired.
In addition, Montclair’s 2015 Land Use and Circulation Element of the master plan recommends the town establish a network for both pedestrians and cyclists.
Currently there are no dedicated bike paths along streets in town, only sharrows (marked roadways for both cars and bicyclists to share the road), said Talley.
The township received a grant in 2016 to hire consultant NV5, and along with a steering committee, they were tasked with drafting a plan to implement SAFE Streets throughout Montclair. Through community meetings, outreach and a survey, the implementation plan was created. But that plan has remained stalled for over a year.
The plan includes a menu of infrastructure upgrade options such as bike lanes or sharrows, pedestrian islands, clearer crosswalks and improved countdown signals depending on the type of street and the volume of traffic. But at the April 29 planning board meeting, members focused mainly on the bike paths and their placement on streets they deemed unsafe, particularly Grove Street, as they did over a year ago when the implementation plan was first presented.
“All roads have bike access, but not all are safe. They need to be safer,” said member Daniel Gilmer, who was part of the subcommittee on the implementation plan. Other members who weighed in over the past few months were Carmel Loughman and Carole Willis.
Members agreed that a process would need to be put into the implementation plan requiring community input when streets are slated for improvements.
Board member Martin Schwartz said the same weight should not be given to bikes as is given to pedestrians and cars. More people walk than bike, he said.
“People are not taking their bikes to shop or pick up their kids,” he said. “How large is this biking community to substantiate these costs?”
WHAT DO PEOPLE WANT?
The 2016 survey in Montclair went out to 2,000 residents with 8.5 percent or 170 responding.
However, a regional survey garnered a larger response on the bike paths. A 2013 study by Alan M. Voorhees Transportation Center at Rutgers asked “How do people value different types of pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure?” In the study, they examined two areas — the Bloomfield and the Cherry Hill areas. About 21 percent of the 1,387 surveyed in the Bloomfield area — both bicyclists and non-bicyclists — said they would allocate at least 20 percent of their town’s roadway improvements to new bike paths. Respondents wanted bicycle paths that were off roadways and separated from traffic more than paths that shared roadways with cars. The improvement of existing sidewalks received the highest allocation among investments related to pedestrians. The items with the lowest allocation from the respondents were the addition and improvement of traffic signals.
BY THE NUMBERS
Pedestrian safety is not improving in Montclair. In 2018, 41 pedestrians were hit, including two who died as a result, according to police reports. In 2017, 42 pedestrians were hit, which is down slightly from 49 in 2016.
Sixteen bicyclists were involved in crashes last year, the reports reflect.
“The bicyclists are already there. How can we enhance safety for all users?” said Bike Walk Montclair President Debra Kagan.
But Loughman said that as much as the town wants to see safer streets for its pedestrians, she’s not so sure pedestrian and bikes go hand in hand.
One thing all members agreed upon was that bike routes could not lead to the loss of any parking along Montclair’s streets.
“Maybe Montclair is not the town for bike lanes,” Loughman said.
But Talley said the report had good concepts for pedestrian safety such as curb bump outs, which will calm traffic, and more visual crosswalks. Fifty-seven percent of the pedestrian crashes last year occurred while pedestrians were in crosswalks.
According to police reports in 2018, 26 of the bike/pedestrian-involved incidents occurred in one of the 12 areas identified by the committee. Those 12 areas, broken into three segments, in need of overall mobility improvements are:
- South Segment: Claremont Avenue, Valley Road, Walnut Street/Park Drive, Forest Street, Label Street, Depot Square; Elm Street; and Park Street, The Crescent, South Fullerton Avenue, Union Street
- Central Montclair: Grove Street, North Mountain Avenue, Park Street and Watchung Avenue.
- North Segment: Grove Street, Upper Mountain Avenue, Valley Road, Park Street and Bellevue Avenue.