Plans for Montclair’s first biking, walking path put off
By JAIMIE JULIA WINTERS
A plan to seek funding for what would have been Montclair’s first designated bike and walking path has been postponed.
On July 13, the Township Council discussed a resolution drafted by Councilman Peter Yacobellis that would have allowed Montclair to apply for a grant through the state Department of Transportation to create a “shared-use path” along Glenridge Avenue, connecting the Bay Street Station to just before Lackawanna Plaza. Council members had expected to vote on the resolution at a July 20 meeting, as the grant deadline is July 31.
But after a council member raised concerns that there hadn’t been enough time for community input, Yacobellis said he’ll be pulling the resolution.
“Rather than let a grant application deadline drive policy, I think it’s important to take some more time and work together and come up with a both a design and a timeline that has broad buy-in. I feel strongly that we need a better solution for people to get from downtown to the train station safely, and with some room to breathe,” Yacobellis told Montclair Local July 16.
Yacobellis had envisioned incorporating lighting, greenery and seating along the path. It also could have been the first component of a larger path along Glenridge Avenue, to Bloomfield Avenue, which in total Planner Janice Talley estimated would cost $2.3 million. Talley said officials hope to solicit more grants and developer donations to pay for the project.
The resolution that had been discussed July 13 described the path as 10 feet wide, located on the south side of Glenridge Avenue, separated from traffic by a curb and some landscaping, providing “safe mobility” for pedestrians, bicycles, skateboards, scooters and wheelchairs.
The township planned to seek a $430,000 grant.
The first phase of the path would have run along Glenridge Avenue from Bay Street to Grove Street. Part of that area — Glenridge Avenue between Pine and Grove Streets — is within a designated transit village and therefore eligible for the funding.
“We have a Master Plan, and we have a Safe Streets Plan and [an] ever-growing population,” Yacobellis had said at the July 13 council meeting. “At some point we need to have a serious discussion of circulation, with an ever-growing population, with people walking, bikers, people in wheelchairs and pushing strollers on streets that aren’t getting any wider. How do we make streets smarter and adapt to a growing population and changing behaviors with more people walking?”
The time is now to “test” the idea of shared-path planning, he said.
But Fourth Ward Councilman David Cummings said he felt residents of his ward should have a say in the plans before moving forward. He said he met with residents at Pine Ridge Apartments on Glenridge Avenue about the project.
“When the word ‘test’ is used, especially in the Fourth Ward, it leads to the conversation [about how] we always get the short end of the stick. So again I am not against going for the grant; I am against not talking to the residents before we pursue something like this,” Cummings said.
Cummings said he was also concerned that construction at Lackawanna Plaza — expected to eventually be redeveloped, though residents continue to fight an existing planning board approval, and a new owner says he anticipates coming up with new plans — could cause the path to be torn up.
He questioned why the council wouldn’t instead start work on a path at Glenridge and Bloomfield Avenue — the component Yacobellis envisioned for a future phase.
But Talley said in the phase envisioned so far and covered by the grant application, the path would only come up to one side of the Lackawanna Plaza property, on Grove Street, and shouldn’t be affected by future construction there.
Lackawanna owner David Placik said he is in favor of a pathway surrounding his project, ultimately extending the path past Lackawanna, Talley said.
In addition, the township has funds set aside through a Community Development Block Grant for a pathway on Glenridge between Bloomfield Avenue and Forest Street, she said.
A plus to starting with a path from Bay Street to Grove Street, along with it comply with the criteria for the Transit grant, would be that no on-street parking would be taken away, she said, adding that the grant application had to include the location of the shared-use path.
The township can apply next year for the same grant, Talley said.
And if the proposed Essex-Hudson Greenway — a nine-mile biking and hiking path from Bay Street Station in Montclair to Jersey City — is built, the path could bring visitors into the Montclair business district, Yacobellis said.
The greenway project would convert land along the unused Norfolk Southern railroad tracks on the old Boonton Line into a 100-foot-wide path that runs through eight towns. Local officials say if Gov. Phil Murphy doesn’t signal support for funding the project by this month, funds that could be used for the Greenway will be allocated to other projects.
New Jersey Bike & Walk and the Open Space institute have approached the state with a plan to borrow $65 million for the purchase and another $90 million for development through the New Jersey Infrastructure Bank, proposing that the loan be paid over the next 30 years, at a rate of $7 million a year from the Realty Transfer Fund, which sets aside a portion of money collected on property sales throughout the state.
Although the governor has said he is a proponent of the Greenway, a source within the Murphy administration said there are concerns about the constitutionality of funding the project by issuing debt without voter approval.
Jason Gleason, executive director of the Montclair Business Improvement District, said whether the Essex-Hudson Greenway comes to fruition, the Glenridge pathway would still connect a major transportation hub to Montclair’s downtown business area “while providing alternative transportation both walking and biking, alleviating a parking strain on our infrastructure, promoting good health and especially good business.”
Former planning board member Martin Schwartz, who had been an opponent of an extensive network of bike paths throughout his tenure, said he is in favor of a shared-use path on Glenridge Avenue.
"A modest bike lane project coming off the potential Hudson-Greenway corridor, if built, will be smart economics to encourage more local downtown tourism and to help bring new riding visitors into our township commercial areas,” he said. “However, the devil is in the detail here as to what this exactly looks like, how much space is really allocated, the extent of sidewalk and street modifications, the disruption and ultimate costs.”