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New bike lanes poorly designed

Recently there has been a lot of talk about the bike lanes that were just added in Brookdale Park. When we at Bike&Walk Montclair first heard of them we were excited… but then we saw them and rode them and our hearts quickly sank. Though we applaud the efforts of Essex County decision makers in their attempt to create a street design that allows bikes to ride comfortably, safely and predictably, these bike lanes actually make it more dangerous for everyone.  

Real-world experiences have shown time and again that bike lanes should not be placed immediately next to parked cars without a small buffer area. This buffer area is more commonly referred to as the “door zone,” and it is a very dangerous area for people riding a bike as well as passengers exiting vehicles. Just imagine — a passenger opens a car door without looking behind them first and WHAM! This is not an unlikely scenario; in fact, very often this even endangers people driving in cars who swerve to avoid a horrific crash as the bike bounces off the door and into the travel lane.

Bike safety in Essex County has been the subject of debate for years now. In fact, many park users might not have been aware that bike riding has actually been banned on all Essex County park pathways for over 30 years. Ever since this regulation was passed, it has been expected that people riding bikes in Essex County were limited to ride on park streets only — the same streets that were designed without people riding bikes in mind! 

For years, Bike&Walk Montclair, along with other stakeholders, has made many recommendations based on tried-and-true street designs used universally to make our shared spaces and parks safer places for every park user. Unfortunately, little action has been taken until suddenly these new bike lanes popped up overnight.  

Though the design is flawed, Essex County is right on one point; solutions to make our streets safer are crucially needed today. The streets have never been more congested with people driving cars, people walking and people biking as they have recently. However the solutions put in place need to be evidence-based, tried and tested solutions put forth by professional planners and, more importantly, with input by those who actually use the space.

In Montclair, outside of Brookdale Park, we have a similar situation. Most of our streets were designed for cars with wide turn angles, wide travel lanes that encourage speeding, long crosswalks and absent any bike-specific infrastructure anywhere in town.  These designs, among others, make our streets feel uncomfortable and unsafe, and this is not a problem that will go away on its own or magically disappear. We need to find solutions to slow speeding cars down and make Montclair a safer place; we have tried signage, we have tried enforcement, we have tried educational campaigns. These techniques all have value, but none of them have been successful in making our residents feel more comfortable walking out their front door and leaving their car behind. 

We deserve to live in a town where everyone from age 5 to 105 of all socioeconomic backgrounds and abilities feels safe regardless of how they choose to travel. To get to this goal, it is clear the only way we can actually make our streets feel safer is by redesigning our streets to be safer. 

Fortunately we have a plan ready to go that will do just that. It is called the Streets Are For Everyone (SAFE Plan), and it is filled with evidence-based designs that have been used throughout the world with efficient results in creating safer, attractive and more comfortable streets. Unfortunately this plan has been unused for years, but now Montclair’s Planning Board recently indicated that they will soon call a public meeting open to comments where they will finally vote on adopting it into the town’s master plan. 

If Brookdale Park’s bike lanes show us anything, they show us just how important it is to have professionally engineered guidelines. Our elected representatives need these evidence-based guides to make wise choices on how to improve the shared streets, or we will end up with “door zones” or worse all over town. 

Bike&Walk Montclair is calling on everyone reading this who rides a bike, drives a car or walks in any Essex County park to contact their local representatives and let them know that we all deserve places where we can feel safe and enjoy legal and fun activities that make life enjoyable. 

And if you live in Montclair, we need you to speak up and support the SAFE Plan! This is the crucial next step to get us to a place where we slow down speeds and create comfortable, friendly streets, but it cannot be the last step. When the SAFE Plan is adopted into the town’s master plan we need to be sure it will not just gather dust on a shelf, and we have some ideas we would love to share with you! Learn more at BikeWalkMontclair.org/Complete-Streets-Montclair.

JOHN SULLIVAN
Montclair

The author is the president of Bike&Walk Montclair.

Let’s keep diversity alive

We bought homes in Montclair in large part to join a diverse community. We love that Montclair has all different kinds of housing — single-family houses, multifamily houses, apartments, condos, owner-occupied and rental houses — which enables people with a wide range of resources and income levels to all call Montclair home. 

But our Montclair community is changing, and we want to share why fighting for rent control in Montclair can help maintain the community we all know and love.

We believe rent control is critical to keeping Montclair affordable — it’s the right thing to do, so that all Montclair residents can stay in their homes. Additionally, affordability allows for more diversity.

As our town’s current master plan explains, “One of Montclair’s unique strengths is its diversity, both economic and social, and there is a danger of losing that diversity due to rising housing costs.”

This is already happening.

A few Montclair facts:

  • Montclair is full of renters, with 42 percent of all households paying a landlord rent.
  • Between 2000 and 2018, the proportion of Montclair renters who paid more than 30 percent of their income on rent increased from 8 percent to 43 percent.
  • From 2000 to 2019, the number of Black residents declined 26 percent.
  • From 2000 to 2018, the number of upper-income households grew by 29 percent and lower- and middle-income households declined by 14 percent and 12 percent respectively.

Montclair has responded to these trends. The town requires housing developers to set aside 20 percent of new units as affordable, but this has not been enforced across the board. Even if all the required affordable units were actually built, that would still only meet a fraction of the affordable housing needs in Montclair. Montclair can’t build its way out of our affordable housing problem.

Beginning in 2019, members of the Tenants Organization of Montclair (TOOM) held monthly meetings, organized and advocated. Their work resulted in the Township Council passing a moderate rent-control ordinance this April. However, a group of multifamily property owners funded and formed the Montclair Property Owners Association (MPOA) and successfully challenged the town in court.

Implementation of the rent control ordinance is on pause while the MPOA collects signatures to put the question to a vote on November’s ballot.

What can you do to help Montclair get its rent control ordinance implemented and help maintain the diversity of Montclair?

  1. Talk to your neighbors and friends about why Montclair needs rent control.
  2. Visit montclairrentcontrol.org to learn more and sign up to volunteer.
  3. Email TenantsOrganizationMontclair@gmail.com and Facebook @toomadvocacy to volunteer.
  4. Attend Montclair Township Council meetings and speak up for rent control.
  5. Vote for rent control if it appears on the ballot in November.

Of 1,147 housing units approved and/or built, 143 are affordable.

There is no reason for homeowners to be threatened by rent control. Property tax increases have happened in the past, without rent control, and they will likely continue, unrelated to rent control.

Rent control will benefit all of us.

LOUISA HACKETT, LIZ PEREZ, 

BETSEY TESSLER 

Montclair

To our angels, from First Montclair House

When Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote those words over a hundred years ago, he never would have been able to envision the coronavirus pandemic plunging America into the greatest crisis in its history.  No country has been spared, no country stood idly by, certainly not the town of Montclair. Although the virus struck without warning or time for  preparation, the residents at First Montclair House have weathered this unparalleled challenge thanks to the amazing outreach and caring of hundreds of faceless angels. At this time they would like to present an amazing bouquet, because miracle of miracles, they are COVID-19-free. They would like to speak to you directly: “We Salute You! And Our Love For You Runs Deep!”

Fully believing the written word is a lost art form and the reality there are not enough “pleases” and “thank yous” in this world, we cannot let another moment go by without stepping across the threshold of silence into your hearts and homes. All too often words are left unsaid; not so in this instance. Compliments gracefully spoken are not enough because miracles occurred, when it seemed impossible to bear the reality of quarantine, due to COVID-19; we, as tenants of First Montclair House, wore masks and gloves at all times, and one to an elevator, in the fear that one of us would be unfortunate and become sick.

With so much love and caring around us we began to have a deep abiding faith and felt the audacity to believe in the not-yet-seen. Our faith, through so much love and caring, allowed us to not take risks. You gave us faith, which is the stuff of “leap and the net will appear.”

We thank the following:

Janet Hall, Shopping for Seniors volunteer; Chef Abrams, Shopping for Seniors volunteer; First Congregational Church, grocery donations; Katie York, Montclair Senior Services; Officer Khan, Montclair Animal Shelter pet food donation; Todd Smith, handmade face shield donation; Sofia Sheyten and Georgia Brooks, Kay Gruner, handmade face masks donation; Jean Gilio, Soma Sewing Volunteers, Maplewoood-South Orange; Katie Rotio, Katherine Elizabeth Events, Glen Ridge; Alyssa Kraemer, Sewingthecurveflat.com; Jacob Cramer, Letters of Love for the Elderly, Cleveland; and the George Bullock School, cards.

GRANGE HABERMANN

Montclair

The author is the First Montclair House public relations senior correspondent.