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Bike&Walk Montclair asked candidates
what they see as future bikeable, walkable Montclair
COURTESY ARTERIAL STREET DESIGN

By JOHN SULLIVAN

The author is president of Bike&Walk Montclair, an advocacy group for policies focused on improving conditions for pedestrians and bicyclists.

On May 3, slates for the Montclair 2020 Municipal election came together to discuss mobility and livability issues in an online forum hosted by local volunteer non-profit Bike&Walk Montclair. Each slate selected three candidates to represent them. Participants included mayoral candidates Councilwoman Renee Baskerville and Councilman Sean Spiller, Councilor-at-Large candidates James Cotter, Peter Yacobellis, and independent Candidate Carnel Loughman, and 2nd Ward Councilwoman Robin Schlager and 3rd Ward Candidate Lori Price Abrams.

Three participants were self-identified by each slate and were asked to provide responses to the same questions. Over the course of 75-minutes, candidates shared their vision of a walkable-bikeable-liveable Montclair, their position and stance on The Montclair SAFE Complete Streets Implementation Plan and the role they believe bikes, pedestrians and public space should play in the ongoing development process in Montclair. 

Throughout the forum, much of the conversation circled back to the Montclair SAFE (Streets Are For Everybody) Complete Streets Implementation Plan. The plan, funded in 2016 with a grant from the New Jersey Department of Transportation was completed in 2018, and provides a blueprint for a range of options to develop Montclair’s streets and walkways into a safe, inviting network for all users and forms of transportation. We would like to take this opportunity to dispel a myth that has been associated with the SAFE plan. This plan is NOT simply “a plan for bike lanes” but rather a comprehensive, holistic, data supported document that offers a clear vision of how our streets sidewalks and their adjacent public spaces can and should play a role in creating an equitable, livable and safe Montclair for ALL modes of mobility.

We live in a wonderfully unique, hybrid of a town that self-identifies as the place “Where the City Meets the Suburb.” A slogan that plays itself out on our streets, sidewalks and public spaces everyday as our community seeks to strike a balance between the car-oriented nature of traditional suburbia, with the walkable, bikeable public transit oriented street plan more typical of an urban setting. As one would imagine, the way that we move through and within our beloved “city-suburb hybrid”  presents many moments of conflict and uncertainty as people of all ages, abilities and transportation modes navigate our unique setting. 

“We want safer streets!” is a cry often heard around Montclair. In the last two years, Montclair has witnessed over 80 crashes between cars and pedestrians and people on bikes, resulting in many serious injuries, four fatalities and too many “close calls” to count. In the meantime, our municipal leaders have chosen to focus solely on campaigns targeted to slow down cars either through lowered speed limits or increased enforcement and ticketing for speeding.  Traffic calming best practices (and what we observe with our own eyes everyday) show that these are not the type of remediation efforts that will bring about the systemic change around street safety.  When it comes to creating a truly functioning system of transportation that values and protects users of all ages, abilities and methods of transport, the only answer will come with a shift in how we DESIGN our streets with infrastructure that supports and promotes a balanced approach to transportation and mobility. 

Unfortunately, the plan that would bring about this type of change in design, the SAFE plan has sat on a shelf for nearly three years. While the responses from the candidates in yesterday’s forum around the SAFE plan were consistently positive and “in support” of it from a conceptual standpoint, Bike Walk Montclair is calling for actual action on the plan by adopting it into the master plan and implementing the much needed changes in street design. 

Solutions to make our town more equitable, liveable and safe already exist in other similar towns throughout the State of New Jersey and have greatly improved the lives of their residents. In 2009, Montclair was a leader on these issues as we were the first in the State to adopt a Complete Streets policy. Since then over 150 other municipalities have followed with Complete Streets policies and implementation of those policies while Montclair, a town is designed around walkability, bikeability and livability has fallen behind.

“We want safer streets!” is a cry often heard around Montclair and as well it should be. In the last two years, Montclair has witnessed over 80 crashes between cars and pedestrians/people on bikes, many resulting in serious injuries, four resulting in death and too many “close calls” to count. In the meantime, our municipal leaders have chosen to focus solely on campaigns targeted  to slow down cars either through either lowered speed limits or increased enforcement.  The data shows that these are not the type of remediation efforts that will bring about the systemic change around street safety.  When it comes to creating a truly functioning system of transportation that values and protects users of all ages, abilities and methods of transport, the only answer will come with a shift in how we DESIGN our streets with infrastructure that supports and promotes a balanced approach to transportation and mobility. 

With the right leadership Montclair can once again become a leader and start to redesign our streets to better serve the people who use them, whether they are taking public transit to work, driving to the supermarket, window shopping or a child biking.In this 2020 municipal election, these issues as well as many others focused around pedestrian safety, traffic calming, bike infrastructure and public space continue to be at the heart of the conversation of what an equitable and livable Montlcair will be moving forward as the needs of our community have evolved over time. This week be sure to think about a safer, more equitable and livable Montclair when you submit your mail-in-ballot.

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