By ERIN ROLL
Although the Bloomfield Avenue overpass reconstruction is expected to be done later this fall, Montclair’s pedestrian safety committee contends not enough is being done to help pedestrians navigate the overpass during ongoing construction.
The committee has received multiple complaints from township residents about the overpass not being safe to navigate, said Jackie Mroz, the chair of Montclair’s pedestrian safety committee.
Both of the sidewalks on the overpass are closed off to pedestrians. With no pedestrian access, residents and Glenfield students are crossing in the middle of Bloomfield Avenue, according to Mroz.
EZ-Ride runs a shuttle service in the area for pedestrians who need to navigate the overpass.
Township communications director Katya Wowk said the shuttle runs in a loop between Bloomfield Avenue, Maple Avenue, Woodland Avenue and Freeman Parkway about every 10 minutes. The shuttle hours are from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. on weekdays and 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. on weekends. On Woodland Avenue, passengers can flag down the shuttle from anywhere on the street. Elsewhere along the route, there are designated stops, such as Panera.
However, the bus has not been widely used, either by Glenfield students or by the general public, Wowk said.
One concern raised is that the bus is not accessible to Glenfield students. NJDOT suggested having the bus stop in a driveway at the school. But since other vehicles use the school driveway, the accessibility may have to be studied further, Wowk said.
At the start of construction, Glenfield students were told that they would have to take a longer route to get to the Glenmont Square area after school.
“It was made clear that the kids would have to go up Woodland and then take Freeman to get to Panera,” Wowk said.
The Montclair Police Department suggested stationing officers at the overpass to keep an eye on bridge traffic. But NJDOT has to grant permission for that. “We can’t just assign police there. It’s their project,” Wowk said.
Stephen Schapiro, a spokesperson for NJDOT, said the overpass will be re-opened for pedestrians just before Thanksgiving, and the entire project will be completed early next year. In addition to the courtesy shuttle, there is a marked pedestrian detour on Maple Avenue, he said.
The group was told by NJDOT that more signage would be put up, with information on the shuttle schedule and route, Wowk said.
In September 2018 the month before construction began, the township said the pedestrian walkways would be closed for a later stage of the project, and that pedestrian traffic would not be allowed on the bridge during that time.
The bridge was deemed structurally deficient in a 2015 report from the group Transportation for America. All three of the bridge’s sections – deck, superstructure and infrastructure – received a rating of four out of 10 in the report.
The original bridge was built in 1911 and serves more than 23,000 vehicles each day.
Councilwoman Renee Baskerville said she was only recently aware of the issues with people walking along the overpass. Police are now aware of the issue, and the school principals at Glenfield are being notified, she said.
Once the construction is done, the area will still be risky for pedestrians.
“When you get to the upper part of the bridge, there’s no crosswalk,” Baskerville said, which means that many pedestrians will run out into the middle of Bloomfield Avenue.
Baskerville suggested having a crosswalk on Glenridge Avenue near Lackawanna Plaza, only to be told that the township could not put in a mid-block crosswalk at that location.
Over the next few weeks, Montclair will be meeting about its Safe Streets plans. It might be a good opportunity, Baskerville said, to bring up the possibility of putting in a crosswalk on Bloomfield Avenue between the shopping center and the car wash.