By LINDA MOSS
The township is taking steps to improve pedestrian safety, including hiring more police officers, employing radar and even mounting a public-information campaign to educate drivers and those crossing local streets.
That was the message at Thursday night’s First Ward meeting, hosted by Councilman Bill Hurlock and attended by more than 40 people at the Bellevue Avenue Branch of the Montclair Public Library.
At the meeting Montclair Police Officer Travis Davis described several actions that his department is taking in the wake of public concern about what some claim are the township’s dangerous roads and the need for more enforcement of speed limits and other traffic laws.
At the last First Ward meeting that Davis said he attended, the police department’s traffic bureau was “bare-boned,” adding, “We had one officer that worked inside, and another officer that was outside.”
But the department has beefed up its traffic bureau, adding an additional officer starting on Monday, and has also received grant money to pay for overtime, from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m., for officers on traffic details, according to Davis. There are even officers now patrolling on motorcycles, he said.
In addition, patrol units have been directed to conduct radar in areas that are considered problematic or dangerous, according to Davis.
“So we heard your complaints,” he said. “We’re addressing them. Unfortunately, we’re restricted by our personnel and budgetary constraints.”
But Davis assured residents that “we have been out there enforcing.”
Assistant Township Manager Brian Scantlebury was also at the meeting, and he said the municipality is working on a pedestrian-safety education campaign. He said that this week he spoke to Katya Wowk, the township director of communications, and Lt. Stephanie Egnezzo, the police Traffic Bureau commander, about devising public-service announcements.
“What you will be seeing soon is PSAs being done regarding traffic and pedestrian safety,” Scantlebury said. “And they’re [Wowk and Egnezzo] going to be meeting next week to come up with concepts that you will see on Channel 34, which you will see on social media, etc. So it should be reinforced and that’s what these PSAs are designed to do, to reinforce pedestrian and traffic safety.”
The comments came as the Township Council is scheduled to vote next week on a resolution that would reduce the speed limit on Grove Street to 30 mph from 35 mph. Pedestrian safety has been top of mind since Montclair resident Mary DeFilippis, 70, was struck by a vehicle and sustained fatal injuries June 7 while crossing Grove Street at its intersection with Chester Road.
Hurlock and at-Large Councilman Rich McMahon, who was also at the meetig, agreed that it would be too expensive to put flashing lights or new street lamps at every crosswalk along Grove Street, suggestions that some residents made at a recent council meeting.
“We do not have the money in this town to put a blinking yellow light at every crosswalk and have PSE&G come in and put bigger lights or more lights at every crosswalk,” Hurlock said.
The main safety issue is that often when a car stops for a pedestrian in a crosswalk, the vehicle behind it will pass on the right, endangering the pedestrian, according to McMahon. At the council meeting where reducing the Grove Street speed limit was discussed, half of the 24 residents who spoke cited that as a problem, not speeding, he said.
“It’s not that we don’t realize there’s a problem,” Hurlock said. “The bigger issue is how to fix it and what exactly is the cause of the problem … I wish there was a quick fix, believe me.”
On Thursday one resident maintained that under New Jersey law, drivers must stop at “perceived crosswalks,” namely at any “T” or four-way intersection for pedestrians, not just at crosswalks or traffic lights.
But Travis disagreed.
“We as law enforcement officers do not have any authority to issue anyone a summons for not stopping for someone if they’re not in a crosswalk,” the officer said. “That’s considered to be jay-walking.”
Travis said that a crosswalk must be marked and designated by lines.
“It’s a big problem in this town, and as much as we would like to be omnipresent at every crosswalk in town, it’s something that’s not really feasible,” he said, adding that people have to be more respectful of one another, whether they are behind the wheel or a pedestrian.
Hurlock voiced his support for the proposed Driver and Pedestrian Mutual Responsibility Act, which aims “to balance the responsibility between drivers and pedestrians when pedestrians cross a roadway.” That legislation would roll back parts of a 2010 law regarding liability in such instances.
The proposed legislation is opposed by some safety groups, and was dubbed the“Get-out-of-the-way-or-get-hit” act by the New Jersey Bike & Walk Coalition.
At the meeting Ilmar Vanderer, a member of trustee of the Montclair Public Library and former president of the Friends of the Bellevue Library, briefed residents about a referendum question that will be on the ballot Nov. 7. If passed, it would permit the state to sell $125 million in bonds to raise capital to distribute later on as grants to municipal and county libraries statewide for construction improvement, renovations and new technology, according to Vanderer.
As a library trustee, Vanderer said he wasn’t allowed tell residents how to vote on the bond referendum. But he pointed out the Montclair library could use the money.
“The library is in the midst currently of a strategic-planning process where we have been soliciting feedback and input from the community,” Vanderer said.
“Just last week we had a forum where people came and expressed their ideas, what they’d like to see, how they’d like to see us transform the space to serve various constituencies here in town,” he said. “And we live in a very diverse town where there are a lot of different constituencies, from seniors to millennials, everybody different. We want to make the library a space for everybody, for all of those constituencies, and these types of funds would help us to do that.”
If the referendum passes it would create a matching-grant process, where libraries would apply for a grant and then have to raise private funds that would be matched 50-50 by the state, according to Vanderer.
Hurlock said he planned to vote “yes” on the referendum, adding that grant money the Montclair library received could be used to make the Bellevue Avenue branch compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA.
“It would, and that is a huge part of the goal, is ADA compliancy for this library, including an elevator and a lot of other modifications which would make it disabled accessible and ADA compliant,” Vanderer said.
The plan for main library on South Fullerton Avenue “is to transform the interior into very innovative and exciting spaces for different groups to use,” he said.
At the meeting Kathleen Bennett, chair of the Montclair Historic Preservation Commission, did a brief presentation on the restoration being done at the Bellevue Avenue library branch building, including work on its windows.