Letters to editor: Nov. 27, 2019
Following in my mother’s footsteps
In response to the Nov. 21 article on affordable housing (“Is Montclair doing enough?”, page 1):
My late mother Mrs. Mary Ann Clermont was one of the core founding members of HOMECorp.
I remember in the early 1980s I was in elementary school at Northeast, you know, up by Applegate Farms, and my mother was working at the Y on Glenridge Avenue front desk, and I remember her marching in a parade and everyone had HOMECorp T-shirts.
When I was in high school she told me how people were coming to her and others in the community telling them the problems they were having paying rent and buying groceries. This was going on from the time I was in grade school — she knew I could understand better as an older teen. In the meantime, I babysat for a few key HOMECorp founders while they attended meetings to fight for fair and affordable housing, more housing and better housing and some were doing health-related advocacy. She had an array of friends all across town and other townships having moved to Montclair from Bergen County by way of the South.
She shared with me how they started putting together this organization HOMECorp that would help people and make more housing available that Montclairians and new Montclairians could afford so people could raise their families here in our beautiful community. She received a lot of support here through the schools and the extremely caring educators who worked with her to help me because I needed gifted and talented services that Montclair was known for offering that didn’t exist anywhere else in public schools that she knew of. The schools here were also a major reason she knew she had to raise me here and felt the same should be for all families with all that Montclair has to offer. The integration, the diversity — the village concept and the importance of family and back then the education. She saw so many people with so much to offer here and she and her HomeCorp friends all had these ideals in common. With all that Montclair has, no one here should struggle or give up their quality of life. She cared about that for everyone in our community. She didn’t see color but she saw in color and acknowledged that differences exist but she wanted equality for everyone.
It is my mother’s legacy and with that sentiment it was one of my mother’s most important dying wishes that I would do my part for all of the people in the Montclair community with regards to fair housing.
I am honored to work with people like my mother who cared and I want to be like her – to help people in the community where she raised me and work with people who have a history in this town of truly caring and doing something about the issues here. I owe this to so many of them, their grandkids and great grandkids, nieces, nephews and their friends.
The author is president the Tenants Organization of Montclair.
Planning board statement on SAFE Streets incorrect
The statement from Planning Board members Martin Schwartz and Carmel Loughman in response to Bike&Walk Montclair’s recent statement in support of the Montclair SAFE Plan at the Town Council meeting contains several inaccurate and misleading claims.
First, Bike&Walk Montclair has never been part of a “proposed push to insert bike lanes throughout the township.” We do want to help make bicycling and walking safer and more accessible, we are not planning a takeover of the town’s streets as they seem to imply.
Second, as we have explained to the Planning Board on more than one occasion, as has Janice Talley, our Town Planner, the Montclair SAFE Plan does not dictate any specific infrastructure solutions, including bike lanes. It merely gives the township a list of proven options for future infrastructure development.
Third, Bike&Walk Montclair is a small nonprofit advocacy group. It has never been our responsibility to make changes in the SAFE plan. We do not have to “submit more data” to “make our case.” The SAFE Plan, was funded by NJDOT and drawn up by independent street design consultants NV5 and a 22 person Steering Committee with representatives from our government and local advocacy organizations including Bike&Walk Montclair and makes the case very well, by showing how the township’s streets can be made safer.
I did share with the Board examples of complete streets implementation plans that were successful in reducing crashes including extensive biking networks in nearby Passaic County, not a major city and not a milder climate. I shared that research with Janice Talley by email and she said she’d share it with the subcommittee. It was the Master Plan Subcommittee that was supposed to review the SAFE plan a second time but the subcommittee has not met since last April. This has indeed meant a long delay, whether intentional or not.
Finally, Bike&Walk Montclair is not trying to get the town to adopt a new policy, because the Township already has an infrastructure policy, called Complete Streets, adopted by the Township Council in 2009. So we are unclear what the policy differences Schwartz and Loughman refer to in their response. If they disagree with the town’s Complete Streets policy, their argument is with the Township Council, not Bike&Walk Montclair.
The author is the president of Bike&Walk Montclair.
Montclair is doing enough on affordable housing
The answer to the question posed on page 1 of your Nov. 21 edition, “Is Montclair doing enough?”, is yes. The market should be allowed to speak for itself.
A basic tenet of macro economics is “as prices go down, demand goes up and supply goes down.” If the market is left alone, equilibrium will occur and the natural price will be revealed. If prices are kept artificially low or subsidized, usually by government action, demand almost always outpaces supply. That’s why the sub-headline, “Demand outpacing supply in town with a history of providing,” makes perfect sense.
My question is: Where will the supply of affordable come from? Is it the already overburdened property taxpayers who will be paying the bill?
What I’m thankful for
Among those people that I’m thankful for this week I’ll include Representatives Donald Payne Jr., Mikie Sherrill and the eight other New Jerseyans in Congress who voted that it’s not OK for the president to demand favors from a foreign government in the form of dirt to malign his likely U.S. political opponent in the next election, and that we must investigate and consider impeachment. I’ll add to that list our former Governor Christine Todd Whitman, who honorably, almost alone among major figures in the Republican Party, spoke up for the investigation.
I’ll be thinking as well of the dedicated and courageous federal civil servants like Fiona Hill and Lt. Colonel Alexander Vindman, who both defied intimidation and vilification from the White House to testify about what they knew of the Ukraine plot.
Most of the social and economic benefits of being an American that we celebrate this week stem from the fact that our country is a democracy and not a presidential dictatorship or a monarchy.
I hope and pray that we’ll all rise to the test in the coming weeks and months to take action to defend and preserve our democratic form of government.
The author is co-chair of BlueWaveNJ’s healthcare committee.
Streets are dangerous
“People drive too fast!”
“Why aren't there more cops?"
“Is everybody on the road crazy?”
We hear this all the time and for good reason; our streets are unnecessarily dangerous.
Every year we see dozens of crashes involving someone walking or biking. Some think it’s just bad luck, others shout for more police or signage. Given those choices most call for more police/signage. But unfortunately that is rarely effective. Take this year for example where so far we have had 55 bike/ped crashes. That is more than half of all crashes in both 2017 and 2018 combined, despite running two townwide safety campaigns and doubling the amount of traffic tickets issued last year.
Enforcement and education are not enough; our streets are dangerous by design.
The designs of our streets were largely created during the postwar era. Since then they have become so familiar to us that most of us do not even notice them. Back then engineers primarily focused on moving cars, so public spaces were redesigned to work best for cars. But as cars grew in popularity, even more public space was remade for them. In some places this changed the core identity of neighborhoods, and not for the better.
This transformation from places made for people to places made for cars went on for years. Neighborhoods became unwalkable with features like giant store-front parking and streets so wide they are nearly impassable but for the young and agile.
Then as most engineers continued to design for cars, some started to question WHO streets are for. They came up with new, safer street designs, many of which focused on one simple idea: reduce the width of travel lanes and people will drive more cautiously.
The idea of designing streets for people and not just for cars has grown slowly over time, but this movement is now widely accepted by the majority of leading traffic professionals. This is for good reason, it has been proven to be the most effective way of improving safety.
In 2016 Montclair received a grant from the New Jersey Department of Transportation to create a plan to apply these concepts here. Professional engineers were teamed up with representatives from our community to research our streets. The product they created was the Montclair S.A.F.E. (Streets Are For Everyone) Plan which was to be adopted into the town Master Plan where it would be used as a guide for future street designs.
Instead the council passed it along to the planning board who questioned not just the validity of the plan but concepts leading traffic professionals profess in which it is based. They requested it be revised to their understanding of traffic safety and stated that they would reconvene later to discuss.
Today the planning board continues to wait for their revisions. They claim they need to see “proof of wider user demand to substantiate the long term anticipated costs.” But that is like requesting to see proof of people swimming across a river before considering building a bridge.
Instead let's focus on the cost of what NOT redesigning our streets will incur. The SAFE plan is just waiting to be adopted and will provide us with options which we can apply to our streets to make them more equitable, environmentally responsive, physically and mentally healthier and SAFER for all users.
Above all we should learn from our past planning mistakes that brought us here. Designing our neighborhoods from places for people to places for cars has made our town less safe and less livable. This is especially important today as development booms. If we continue to design our streets during this boom for cars, there could only be one outcome: more cars will flood our streets and once again change the core identity of our neighborhood, and not for the better.
I implore the leadership in our town to adopt the Montclair SAFE plan and take the first step toward the future to ensure our Streets Are For Everyone!
The author is a board member of Bike&Walk Montclair.