BY JAIMIE JULIA WINTERS
Since 2017 there have been 119 collisions and three deaths on Montclair streets involving pedestrians and cyclists. This year, 40 pedestrians and 15 cyclists have been involved in crashes, even with a major increase in enforcement, according to data supplied by the Montclair Police Department.
Bike & Walk Montclair is now stepping up its lobbying efforts in favor of the adoption of the Montclair SAFE Complete Streets Implementation Plan, which has been stalled at the planning board level since 2017, as part of the township’s master plan.
“Speaking as residents, we are growing frustrated with the lack of movement on this issue when we feel action is critical to making our streets safe,” said Debra Kagan, president of Bike & Walk Montclair, at the town council’s Nov. 4 conference meeting. “It has been over 20 months since this first came to the council and has been stalled in the planning board ever since. It is time for the town council to take action. We have the means to change our streetscapes and make them safer and more accessible for everyone. Data and research show the most impactful and direct way to make streets safer for all users is through changes in street design.”
Kagan said the group is fielding “too many” calls from residents reporting “close-calls” when it comes to pedestrians and cyclists and cars on Montclair streets.
The group has also started a petition to urge the council to implement the SAFE Streets plans.
Since 2009, Montclair has had a Complete Streets Policy, which requires that future roadway improvement projects include safe accommodations for bicyclists, pedestrians, transit riders and the mobility-impaired.
In addition, Montclair’s 2015 Land Use and Circulation element of the master plan recommends the town establish a network for both pedestrians and cyclists.
Currently there are no dedicated bike paths along streets in town, only sharrows (marked roadways for both cars and bicyclists to share the road).
The township received a grant in 2016 to hire consultant NV5 and, with the aid of a steering committee, they were tasked with drafting a plan to implement SAFE Streets throughout Montclair. Through community meetings, outreach and a survey, the implementation plan was created. But that plan has remained stalled for two years, mainly over concerns with installing bike lanes.
The plan includes a menu of infrastructure upgrade options such as bike lanes or sharrows, pedestrian islands, clearer crosswalks and improved countdown signals depending on the type of street and the volume of traffic. But at an April planning board meeting, members focused mainly on the bike paths and their placement on streets they deemed unsafe, particularly Grove Street, as they did over a year ago when the implementation plan was first presented.
Planning board member Martin Schwartz said that no one is delaying the process.
“The planning board is always very concerned with pedestrian safety/ and we incorporate that into all impacted site reviews. So/ the safety recommendations from the Safe Streets Plan were really not the issue. There is just basic policy disagreement. While board members are very supportive of biking as an environmentally friendly transportation mode, some clearly took issue with Bike Walk’s proposed push to insert bike lanes throughout the township since it would create a major reduction in still-needed parking,” he said.
Planner Janice Talley told planning board members at the April meeting that by supporting the plan, they were in no way committing to bike routes on any street. The SAFE Streets implementation plan only provides a framework for pedestrian, bicyclist and vehicular safety options when a street is scheduled for repaving and therefore would be implemented over time, she said.
According to Kagan, the subcommittee met last April and recommended that the plan be adopted with some changes. Members of the planning board once again asked the subcommittee to review it. Since that time the subcommittee has not met and no subcommittee meeting is scheduled.
She said, the first step would be the adoption of the SAFE Plan as part of the Master Plan. The second step would be to begin the process of identifying the streets with the most pressing safety issues that also offer the most practical opportunities for implementation.
“It is common to begin with a couple of low-cost pilot projects,” Kagan said. “We could engage consultants to assist us in identifying a couple of these projects as a phase 1 of implementation. This selection process should also specify opportunities for input from the Pedestrian Safety Committee, pedestrian biking advocates and community residents.”
Planning board member Carmel Loughman said that a number of board members believed that most major streets in Montclair are not wide enough to accommodate adding bike lanes and are therefore unsafe.
At the April meeting, Talley said, the report had good concepts for pedestrian safety, such as curb bump outs, which will calm traffic, and more visual crosswalks. Fifty-seven percent of pedestrian crashes last year occurred while pedestrians were in crosswalks.
Loughman said that it was suggested the group provide more data to prove their case on the bike paths.
“The board has yet to receive those revisions,” she said.
A 2013 study by Alan M. Voorhees Transportation Center at Rutgers University, titled “How do people value different types of pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure?”, examined traffic in Bloomfield. About 21 percent of the 1,387 surveyed — both bicyclists and non-bicyclists — said they would allocate at least 20 percent of their town’s roadway improvements to new bike paths. However, respondents wanted bicycle paths that were off roadways and separated from traffic more than paths that shared roadways with cars.
A discussion about the plan was pulled from the Nov. 4 agenda as a planning board meeting was held the same night. Planning board members wanted to attend any discussion on the SAFE Streets plans, said Schwartz. At the council meeting where Kagan spoke during the public porton, Fourth Ward councilwoman Renée Baskerville said it would be put back on the agenda in the near future.