BY JAIMIE JULIA WINTERS
Residents and motorists having to contend with detours around the Seymour Street and MC Hotel construction, and most likely more with future redevelopment on Church Street and Orange Road, can also expect delays on Bloomfield Avenue beginning next spring.
Essex County hopes to break ground on a major overhaul of Bloomfield Avenue in Montclair in 2020, with construction lasting until the fall of 2021.
But as much as residents and shop owners don’t want to deal with another construction project, most who got a rundown of the plans on Oct. 15 welcomed the county’s plan.
The overhaul is intended to make the busy avenue safer for both motorists and pedestrians. And county officials said they hoped to limit construction impacts to the surrounding environment, cultural resources and properties.
Bloomfield Avenue, officially part of County Route 506, is owned by the Essex County and is a major transportation link connecting Caldwell to the west and Bloomfield to the east, with Montclair in between. The project will encompass a 1.2-mile section beginning at the intersection of North and South Mountain avenues to the intersection of Maple Avenue and Pine Street.
Design phase costs are being covered by the county, while the Federal Local Safety Program will fund the construction estimated at $15 million.
The main impetus of the overhaul is the problematic and dangerous maneuvering of the “Five Corners” intersection — where South Fullerton Avenue, North Fullerton Avenue, Church Street, Glenridge Avenue and Bloomfield Avenue converge — said Martin Schwartz, who has lobbied the county for a change for over a decade.
County engineers said that the overhaul has been in the works since 2006, and that they met with town planners, the engineer, and committees to come up with the plans. Maser Consulting is doing the designs.
County senior engineer Engineer Asif U. MahMood discussed the plans for the project area, which currently contains 10 traffic lights. Plans include removing the light at Glenridge Avenue, keeping the other nine, and adding two lights at Midland Avenue and Seymour Street.
Glenridge Avenue would become one-way in the opposite direction than currently, allowing motorists to make a right-hand turn from Bloomfield onto Glenridge. This would give access to the new municipal garage that is expected to open in 2020. Some residents, including Councilman Rich McMahon, were against the change to Glenridge.
And residents were troubled with pedestrians attempting to cross Glenridge with motorists making the hard right hand turn without a light. Residents also voiced concerns over the elimination of the Bloomfield Avenue crosswalk at Glenridge. Lynn LaMunyon of Maser said pedestrians would instead have the option of using crosswalks at South Fullerton Avenue and Seymour Street.
South Fullerton and North Fullerton avenues would have dedicated left- and right- hand turn lanes and the lights would be delayed for the turn lanes, she said.
Sidewalks would be extended or bumped at four locations Willow, Seymour, Fullerton and Church, making crosswalks shorter. Pedestrians would also be given more time to cross. Where a one-second -per-four-feet rule is usually implemented, the county will allow for one second per three feet, which give pedestrians 30 seconds to cross the street, LaMunyon said.
Left-hand turn lanes would also be added at North Mountain, Valley, Willow, Grove, Pine and Maple. There would be no left-hand turns off Bloomfield at other intersections, according to the engineers.
All lights would be synchronized for motorists traveling at 25 miles per hour. Speeders would miss the lights, according to county engineers, therefore encouraging motorists to slow down, LaMunyon said.
But residents noted Lloyd Road should also be included in the plans due to its location near Montclair Kimberley Academy, the Montclair Art Museum and Whole Foods, and the sharp incline there that causes motorists to speed up. Residents pointed to an October 2018 fatal crash in which a man was crossing Bloomfield Avenue near Montclair Kimberley Academy and Lloyd Road shortly after 6:30 a.m., when he was hit and killed by two motor vehicles.
It was also suggested that “no right on red” be implemented throughout the corridor to enhance pedestrian safety.
“I want the pedestrians prioritized,” said John Sullivan of Bike&Walk Montclair, adding that the problem should not be addressed as a traffic light synchronization problem. “Instead of paint [in the crosswalks] use planters to get motorists attention.”
The number of pedestrians struck on streets throughout Montclair has remained steady at 41 pedestrians in 2018, and 42 pedestrian in 2017. Fifty seven percent of crashes occurred while the pedestrian was in the crosswalk.
County engineers said they would take into consideration the suggestions made by residents.
“By participating, interested citizens can provide insight and suggestions that will assist engineers and governmental agencies in developing the most technically sound and environmentally sensitive alternative for improving the transportation infrastructure within the area that compliments current and future needs of the community,” county officials said.
Debra Kagan of Bike&Walk Montclair said the improvements are long overdue, citing Bloomfield Avenue as one of the most dangerous corridors in Essex County.
“From what I’ve seen there are a number of excellent improvements for pedestrian safety including new pedestrian crossing signals at most intersections, enhanced crosswalks, and some bump-outs along the corridor,” she said.
LaMunyon said the project is based on pedestrian safety. “We are working for you. We are not developers,” she said.
Kagan said she hopes the improvements to Bloomfield Avenue will help jumpstart a more proactive, forward looking approach to other streetscapes in town, including the adoption of the Montclair SAFE Complete Streets Implementation Plan as part of our Master Plan that has been held up with the planning board for over 18 months. Bike&Walk Montclair has launched a petition urging the town to adopt the Montclair SAFE Plan.
A proven method of increasing safe streets is to cut back on vehicular traffic and increase pedestrian and bike modes of transportation, as a traffic calming measure, Kagan said.
Newly appointed Pedestrian Committee Chair Jackie Mroz said the committee is pushing for more traffic calming measures such as more visible crosswalks and bump outs.