Montclair’s traffic study for Lackawanna Plaza raises questions
One of the major concerns Montclair residents have raised about the proposed plan to redevelop Lackawanna Plaza is what effect the residential-office-retail center would have on traffic in the surrounding neighborhood. And a public meeting last week to review a traffic study commissioned by the township indicated that there is no simple answer.
In the meeting at the Municipal Building on Thursday, Feb. 9, Joseph Fischinger, director of traffic engineering for Bright View Engineering, walked a group of residents and public officials through data collected and analyzed by the company. The study looks at what the current traffic situation is and forecasts what the conditions would be in the future if the redevelopment plan for Lackawanna Plaza is implemented and if it is not.
The study, conducted using small digital cameras at 15 intersections around Lackawanna Plaza, covers the time periods of 7 to 9 a.m. and 2 to 6 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 5, and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 7, Fischinger said. The data collected from the cameras allows the traffic engineer to study the movements of vehicles through the various intersections.
That information is combined with information about traffic signals and other conditions, and a computer program calculates the average delay for each movement at an intersection, he said. Each movement at each intersection is given a letter grade (A-F) depending on how much time it takes.
The current traffic situation in the area is generally within the acceptable limits, but there are some issues with intersections on Bloomfield, Claremont and Glenridge avenues, Fischinger said.
Looking at what he called a “no build” (no Lackawanna Plaza redevelopment) situation in 2026, Fischinger said, “as one would expect we’re just increasing the volumes; things start to get a little bit worse.”
Then, using a complex set of calculations and assuming that no changes are made to the roadways, the “full build” times are estimated for 2026. “What we see is pretty much as one would expect,” he said. “Everything gets a little bit more delay, a little bit worse. And the intersections that were operating on the border line or were operating poorly before are the ones that tend to get worse, predominantly some of Bloomfield Avenue.”
Next, Bright View looked at what could be done to mitigate the traffic issues. Among the options are lengthening left-turn lanes, removing some on-street parking spaces, widening the streets, optimizing the location of driveways for Lackawanna Plaza and adjusting the timing of traffic lights.
“So with the mitigation in place, we don’t solve all the delays,” Fischinger said. “There are still delays at Bloomfield and Grove. There are still delays at Willow. There are still going to be some delays on Grove Street. But we’re back to where we started. We’re not at failing levels of service anymore.”
Questions were raised about whether the times the traffic study was conducted corresponded properly to peak traffic conditions.
David Greenbaum, a resident, pointed out that the 2 to 6 p.m. time period didn’t cover the full evening rush. Fischinger replied that the council has authorized extending the study to gather data until 8 p.m. for the evening peak.
Fourth Ward Councilor David Cummings said he had asked for the extension because trains are coming in well after 6 p.m. and they affect the traffic. “It’s not really reflective of the important times when traffic is deep,” Cummings said of the study, which is posted on the Montclair Township website.
“The reason to go after 6 p.m. is because anybody who works on some corporate campus somewhere, driving back to Montclair, you’re probably not getting back to Montclair before 6 p.m.,” Councilor-at-Large Peter Yacobellis said.
Greenbaum added that he thought Friday and Saturday evenings should be studied.
“You have a unique traffic pattern that takes place when people are coming in for movies and restaurants, where you have a lot of people who are not focusing on throughput,” he said. “They’re focusing on parking. So what’s happening is you’re getting people circling around, and that creates a whole unique traffic pattern, where their behavior is entirely different than people going from point A to point B.”
Greenbaum also questioned the time of year the traffic study was conducted, suggesting that early January is “probably the least traffic time of the year.”
“If we’re going to make decisions based on this, we have to recognize that that is a statistically inappropriate reference point for us to make intelligent decisions,” he said.
Laila Maher, a resident, said that the study was conducted during winter break for local colleges and at the time of Orthodox Christmas, when traffic is much lower than usual.
“It’s not accurate,” Maher said of the study. “It can’t be accurate at all.”
She acknowledged that Bright View conducted the study under a deadline established by the council.
“I am completely flummoxed at how anyone thinks that … you’re going to add 1,200 people to this little location and it’s not going to completely affect the traffic in town,” she said.
Cummings emphasized that the additional information the council is seeking is important. “I do think this shows that there is an impact,” he said. “And so therefore, it does require some more conversations.”
The developer needs to be made aware of the need for traffic changes, he said, adding: “He needs to see you talking about replacing traffic lights, and I think that is something that should not be coming on the township.”
Yacobellis noted that traffic problems already exist in the neighborhood and need attention. “We have an obligation to discern and be careful about discerning what are the problems today that have to be solved, what are the problems that would exist with a no-build, that we would have to solve anyway,” he said.