By ERIN ROLL
It is a long-running discussion in Montclair, especially for the parents of the town’s youngest residents: How should Montclair make its streets safer places to walk and bike? Montclair has been included in Safe Routes to School since 2005, after Renaissance Middle School was selected as one of the schools to participate in New Jersey’s pilot Safe Routes to Schools (SRTS) program.
For Renaissance, being part of the pilot program resulted in the overhaul of curb breaks, sidewalks and intersection markers at the intersection of North Fullerton Avenue and Chestnut Street, which had been deemed a risky intersection for students and staff traveling on foot. The intersection also had solar lighting and additional fences installed.
“Obviously it [Safe Routes to Schools] encompasses everything from safer intersections to increased visibility in intersections,” said Lt. Stephanie Egnezzo, the police representative during the SRTS workshops and discussions.
SAFE ROUTES TO YOUR SCHOOL
In 2013, a Safe Routes to School project in Montclair was initiated by the township’s engineering department to explore ways to improve safety conditions for students to walk to school. Montclair’s Safe Routes to School committee, working with representatives from each of the schools and an engineering firm, put together what are known as “travel plans” or routes to all 10 of Montclair’s elementary and middle schools. Each travel plan looks at the surrounding half-mile radius around each school, the conditions of the roads, crosswalks and crossing signals, the number of crossing guards and traffic conditions that may make it unsafe for children to walk or bike to school.
Egnezzo uses the reports to give parents recommendations on what routes are safest to walk to each school. And she said the township has used the reports when deciding which streets and sidewalks to re-do over the years.
Principals also routinely send out notices to parents about safe drop-off and pick-up procedures, and a principal may periodically come outside to lecture a parent about unsafe driving.
WALK OR DRIVE?
According to the National Coalition for Safe Routes to School, 48 percent of children ages five to 14 walked or rode bicycles to school in 1969. In 2009, only 13 percent of children in that age group walked or rode bicycles to school.
“I’m very overprotective of my kids,” said Quinn Harris, who has a fifth-grader at Hillside and a kindergartener at Nishuane. Harris drives his children to and from school, as he feels it is too risky for them to walk. Traffic is definitely an issue, he said, with lots of double-parking on the streets, and cars cutting around school buses.
Traffic control in school zones, including near crosswalks, needs enforcement, said Glenfield student parent Colleen Daly Martinez who also drives her son to school.
“Drop-off is like a nightmare,” Martinez said. At Glenfield, parents are required to pull up directly in front of the school, with the passenger side door opening out onto the sidewalk, and let their children out there. Instead, many parents park across the street. “And then their kid darts across two rows of traffic to get to the school side.” She said drivers do doing K-turns in the middle of the street to turn around as well, Martinez said.
Glenfield School does have crosswalks and crossing guards. “But parents are teaching their kids unsafe behavior,” Martinez said, referring to the habit of crossing mid-block.
Nicole Harris, who has a fourth-grader attending Hillside for the first time this year, said they walk to school for now, and he finds the crossing guards very helpful.
For one Montclair family, a lack of sidewalks on the route to a bus stop for their 11-year-old son near their home has presented what they contend is a safety hazard.
Janet Kahn’s grandson who attends Charles H. Bullock School has to traverse a steep 325 foot long hill with no sidewalk to get his bus stop at Yantecaw Road and Heller Way. The family has reached out to the business office and the district’s transportation office with no solution. Kahn said the district has no intention of changing the bus route. Her grandson is now driven to school by his parents and they put him into the before-care program so he can be picked up by his parents.
WHAT THE REPORTS REVEALED
During the Safe Routes to School information gathering period in 2013, each school identified several areas of concern, which were then documented in their school’s respective travel plans. The SRTS committee had meetings with school principals and PTA councils, and held workshops for parents to share their own concerns.
The reports recommended instituting Walk to School or Bike to School days. Montclair’s elementary schools have designated walk/bike to school days in early October, to coincide with International Walk/Bike to School Day.
Each of the reports included sample bike maps showing streets that were safe to bike on, as well as streets that ought to be avoided.
Some of the areas of concern, or suggestions from parents, included:
- • Watchung School — A crossing guard and additional pedestrian crossing signage near the trestle bridge. Parents also noted that the Watchung Plaza area was a difficult place to walk and bike. Signage has been placed.
- • Charles H. Bullock — More crossing guards were requested in the area of Bloomfield Avenue. Crossing guards are now stationed down Elm Street to Elmwood Avenue.
- • Bradford — The sidewalk in front of the school has been partially redone, after parents raised concerns. A street quilt was suggested for Mt. Hebron Road, to encourage motorists to slow down, but this was not done.
- • Buzz Aldrin, at the time known as Mt. Hebron — Upper Montclair’s status as a busy area, with lots of shops and a commuter train station, was a concern for parents. A new crosswalk was also suggested for the intersection of Norwood Avenue and Lorraine Avenue. The intersection has four crosswalks at this time, two school crossing signs, and two stop signs for traffic on Norwood Avenue.
- • Hillside — Upgraded pedestrian signals and a street quilt was suggested. Today, the Orange Road intersection has pedestrian signals and a signal button. The street quilt was not done.
- • Nishuane — Concerns raised over only one crossing guard at Cedar Avenue and High Street, and of parents and children crossing mid-block. Crossing guard, a traffic light or better signage requested at the intersection of Llewellyn Road and Harrison Avenue. The intersection is still a two-way stop with a flashing amber light, with no crossing guard.
- • Northeast — Concerns over traffic backups in the horseshoe-shaped driveway spilling out onto Grove Street. Today, the car line is monitored by teachers and staff.
- • Edgemont — More school zone signs.
- • Glenfield — A need for crossing guards. Glenfield now has two crossing guards.
Alexandra Kent, former coordinator for the Pedestrian Safety Committee and part of the team for Safe Routes to School, said schools officials were given discretion on what concerns would be addressed. Each school has its own individual needs, she said, making a district-wide “one-size-fits-all” plan difficult.
Kent said she didn’t believe that the SRTS reports were ever brought before the BOE.
“We certainly support safe routes for walking and biking for all our families,” BOE President Eve Robinson said.