BY JAIMIE JULIA WINTERS
As more Montclairians are biking and walking the streets since the pandemic hit, Bike&Walk Montclair wants to temporarily transform some residential and business district roads and sidewalks into walking and biking paths.
“In this time of COVID-19, which has witnessed a dramatic increase in both walking and biking along with a decrease in car traffic, many other towns in New Jersey have responded by passing emergency COVID-street resolutions. It is imperative that Montclair ‘reimagine’ our streets in ways that meet the demands of this,” said Bike&Walk Montclair President John Sullivan, who forwarded the plan to the council and spoke at Tuesday’s council meeting.
Keeping six-foot distancing on sidewalks has been problematic with so many people now walking, pushing some onto the streets to face cars now traveling faster, since there are fewer of them on the road, Sullivan said. The sidewalk width does not safely accommodate walkers approaching one another and trying to pass while maintaining proper distance, he added.
“These roads have organically become impromptu demonstrations and social experiments where cars, bikes and feet have been forced to co-navigate and try to co-exist in spaces that for decades have intentionally been designed to actively work against that co-existence,” he said. “For the foreseeable future, we will be required to maintain physical distance to protect public health.”
The opening of dining cafes along sidewalks will also push pedestrians into the roadway.
Sullivan proposes extending sidewalks out into the street by setting up temporary barriers within parking spaces.
A few weeks ago, Bike&Walk Montclair circulated an online survey that to date has received 1,000 responses, with close to 80 percent of respondents favoring creating temporary pedestrian and bike paths.
Among the streets currently seeing a higher volume of bikers and walkers are Montclair and Highland avenues, Sullivan said. According to survey respondents, streets most favored for walking and biking paths are Bloomfield Avenue, Walnut Street and Euclid Place/Highland Avenue.
There are three options for achieving their goals, advocates say:
- Removing some or all parking from either one or both sides of a street.
- Making certain streets one-way.
- Closing streets to allow only local car traffic.
Currently there are no dedicated bike paths along streets in town, only sharrows (marked roadways for both cars and bicyclists to share the road).
Arnold Anderson, head of community traffic safety for the New Jersey Bike & Walk Coalition, reports that so far this year speeding violations are up statewide, and the state has seen a 14-percent jump in crashes involving pedestrians and bikers.
Last year in Montclair, 40 pedestrians and 15 cyclists were involved in crashes, according to data supplied by the township police department.
Other New Jersey suburbs, such as Princeton, Metuchen, Asbury Park, Rutherford, Ridgewood, Garfield, and Highland Park, have or plan to pass ordinances to implement quick and flexible pilot street designs for biking and walking paths.
Bike&Walk Montclair has been lobbying for the adoption of the Montclair SAFE Complete Streets Implementation Plan, which has been stalled at the Planning Board level since 2017. 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.
“The Montclair we see on the other side of the pandemic will be different from the one we knew a few short months ago,” Sullivan said. “The streets, sidewalks, and public spaces we create today will provide the foundation for our recovery for years to come. Our streets must provide better, safer options for constituents living, working, and playing in all four wards, as well as for those visiting our town.”