BY JAIMIE JULIA WINTERS
In spite of the developer contending that allowing for left-hand turns in and out of the Lackawanna Plaza supermarket parking lot from Grove Street is the “safest” plan for both motorists and pedestrians, the council said no to the maneuver.
On April 23, the council voted 5 to 2 in favor of prohibiting left-hand turns on Grove Street between Bloomfield and Glenridge avenues, with councilmen Bill Hurlock and Rich McMahon voting against it.
Plans call for a new entrance about 25 feet from the intersection with Bloomfield Avenue on county-owned Grove Street, with restriping for four lanes in both directions, with two being dedicated left-hand lanes and two being through lanes.
Concerned that developers Pinnacle and Hampshire Cos. will approach the county for approval to allow motorists going northbound on Grove Street to make a left-hand turn into the lot, Councilwoman Renée Baskerville put forth the ordinance in February. She wanted it on the record that Montclair is not in favor of such maneuvers on the street due to pedestrian safety.
In March, the planning board voted down a prohibition on the left-hand turns and pushed it back to the council to decide.
Brian Stolar of Pinnacle Cos, one of the project’s developers, told the council that creating a no-left-hand turn ban would only work with enforcement and could create dangerous conditions.
“People will not follow it and the last thing we want to see is an unpredictable condition,” he said, adding the new driveway would add a traffic-calming measure to the busy street.
He also doubted that pedestrians would use the Grove Street access when others are being offered, including the restored staircase on Grove Street, an access ramp near the staircase, Bloomfield Avenue and a pathway behind the Pig & Prince restaurant.
McMahon said that the entire traffic plan needed more study before committing to no left-hand turns on Grove Street. He said he spoke to traffic bureau Lt. Stephanie Egnezzo, who would like a chance to review the traffic flow plans. Hurlock agreed, stating he didn’t see the urgency in passing the ban that night.
A March 23 e-mail from Deputy Chief Tracy Frazzano states that although the police department is in favor of no left-hand turns, they would welcome a review of the plans.
Baskerville, who is the council liaison to the pedestrian safety committee, said the group has agreed they are not in favor of the left-hand turns.
Deputy Mayor Sean Spiller noted that the Grove Street egress would give motorists an additional entrance to a parking lot that once housed a supermarket almost twice the size. The former Pathmark was 47,000 square feet, while new supermarket tenants Lidl have proposed a 29,000-square-foot space.
Speaking on behalf of New Jersey Bike & Walk Coalition, of which Stolar is board chair, Edward Goodell told the council the group opposes the ordinance. Reading from a statement by the executive director, Cyndi Steiner, the ban is set up to fail based on its need of enforcement, he said.
“It requires policing. Look at speed limits for example,” Goodell said.
Baskerville said the council’s decision should not be based on the fact that someone might violate a law, but on the safety of the residents overall.
According to police reports, seven bike- and pedestrian-involved crashes occurred on Grove Street last year, four involving bicyclists, and one resulting in a death.
“We do have a say on this left-hand turn. We didn’t with anything about the project itself,” said Spiller before the council voted through the ordinance.
Although the planning board approved the development in February, it has not yet memorialized its approval of the Lackawanna development. The plan includes 154 units of housing on the east side of the lot, as well as a supermarket, medical office and some retail.