BY JAIMIE JULIA WINTERS
The Montclair Planning Board has recommended that pedestrian-only elements of the SAFE Streets plan be included in the township’s master plan.
The township received a grant in 2016 to hire consultant NV5, and the firm, with the aid of a steering committee, was tasked with drafting a plan to implement SAFE Streets throughout Montclair.
Through community meetings, outreach and a survey, the implementation plan was created. It 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.
Since 2009, Montclair has had a Complete Streets Policy, which requires that future roadway improvement projects include safe accommodations for bicyclists and pedestrians, as well as for 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.
Late last year, the advocacy group Bike&Walk Montclair lobbied for incorporating the SAFE Streets plan into the master plan, but Planning Board members had trouble with the bike path elements.
A master plan subcommittee consisting of Planning Board members Carmel Loughman, Daniel Gilmer and Carole Willis proposed at the June 22 meeting that the documents should be edited to focus on pedestrian safety only. Loughman said that bicycling could be revisited at a later date.
“We wanted to bifurcate to just deal with the efforts of the pedestrian issues, as that’s what the Planning Board supported a few months ago,” she said.
Willis said the language in the master plan that marries walking and cycling needed rewording, with Planning Board member Martin Schwartz contending the language “almost mandates kind of a bike-centric focus.” Pedestrian safety has not been addressed with the two elements so closely tied in the document, Schwartz said.
Loughman said she expects the new council would be visiting how the town deals with biking.
Prior to May’s municipal elections, Bike&Walk Montclair hosted a candidates forum in which the candidates were generally in support of the SAFE Streets 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,” said John Sullivan, president of Bike&Walk Montclair.
Sullivan, in addressing why the SAFE Streets plan needs to be incorporated in the master plan, pointed to the more than 80 recorded crashes between cars and pedestrians and bikers in the past two years, resulting in many serious injuries, four fatalities and too many “close calls” to count.
The proposed revisions to the master plan and SAFE Streets plan are expected to be discussed at the July 13 Planning Board meeting.
Bike&Walk has issued a survey on bike paths, and as more Montclairians are biking and walking the streets since the pandemic hit, Bike&Walk has been lobbying to temporarily transform some residential and business district roads and sidewalks into walking and biking paths.