MAPLEWOOD, NJ — In 2018, Maplewood saw a lot of growth, both in its culture and physically. In addition to new businesses and residents coming to town, Maplewood upgraded infrastructure, invested in safety and showed pride in its diversity.
Maplewood made national news on June 7, when it installed New Jersey’s first permanent rainbow-striped crosswalks at the intersection of Valley Street and Oakview Avenue, adjacent to Maplewood Town Hall and Memorial Park. All four crosswalks at the intersection were permanently painted the eight colors of the original LGBTQ pride flag, which was designed by Gilbert Baker in the 1970s. Installing the permanent rainbow-striped crosswalk required multilevel cooperation between township, county, state and federal officials to ensure the crosswalk would be fully compliant with all regulations. According to Maplewood officials, the project also makes the crosswalks safer by making them more visible to drivers and more interactive for pedestrians.
This was certainly not the only roadway safety initiative in Maplewood in 2018. At its Feb. 6 meeting, the Township Committee approved the addition of eight new stop signs, one to make Menzel Avenue a stop street at its intersection with Schaefer Road; Jacoby Street at Schaefer Road; Hughes Street at Schaefer Road; Schaefer Road at Newark Way; Fernwood Road at Woodside Road; Brookwood Road at Woodside Road; Peachtree Road at Woodside Road; and Laurel Avenue at Brookwood Drive. The stop signs were installed by mid-March.
As part of the aesthetic enhancement and safety upgrades to Maplewood Village, in the fall the township began to replace the existing sidewalk pavers on both sides of Maplewood Avenue and installed traffic-calming bump-outs on the west side of the street.
As part of its 2018 Roadway Resurfacing Program, Essex County repaved Valley Street from Hixon Place to the Union County line in Maplewood. The project included milling the old surface off the road, repairing broken curbing, improving handicapped ramps and crosswalk areas at intersections, laying new pavement and painting striping on the new surface.
In February, Essex County was awarded a $14.8 million traffic safety grant from the North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority to make safety improvements at 31 intersections in the county; the county took a portion of this grant to fund traffic signal upgrades, pedestrian countdown signals and high visibility crosswalks on Valley Street in Maplewood, and to install new traffic signals on Valley Street at Pierson Road.
Also of note, the Maplewood Senior Center officially opened its doors March 17 at 106 Burnett Ave., formerly the Maplewood Baptist Church. While the senior center had been operating for almost a year, renovations to the kitchen and lounge space were finally completed and the ribbon was cut to officially open it to the public.
Maplewood is also continuing its work to transform The Woodland, making the historic building more user-friendly. Maplewood was awarded $168,204 through Community Development Block Grants for phase two of The Woodland’s Americans with Disabilities Act improvements, including an improved ramp, restriping and push-button electric doors. The grants are funded through the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, and administered by the Essex County Division of Housing and Community Development. Also, Maplewood changed local laws to facilitate the installation of residential solar energy systems and the township set up the first public electric car charging station in The Woodland Parking Lot.
Though some of the recent redevelopment in Maplewood has drawn criticism, the finished products have garnered acclaim. In June, Clarus Maplewood, the boutique rental community that opened in 2017 in the heart of Maplewood Village, was named the best mixed-use community of 2018 by the Metropolitan Builders & Contractors Association of New Jersey, taking home “Community of the Year” honors at the association’s annual Awards of Excellence dinner. It was one of four awards earned by Clarus Maplewood that night.
During the summer, Maplewood changed some existing jitney routes and added a new route along Elmwood Avenue, beginning at Boyden Avenue; the new route was added to serve a number of residents who live in the recently added Avalon Apartments.
In an effort to brighten the town, the Springfield Avenue Partnership introduced a public art initiative into Maplewood’s business district, part of an effort to bring more people into the businesses along Springfield Avenue. On the side of the 1978 Maplewood Arts Center is Elijah Minton’s work, “Many Hands Make Light Work,” and a few blocks away, at 1883 Springfield Ave., is “I Am Maplewood,” painted by the husband-and-wife team of Michael David Adams and Viktorija Bowers Adams.
Throughout the summer months, a group of interns working with the Maplewood Memorial Park Conservancy helped maintain the park’s 25 acres. The group researched native plants and wildlife, while keeping the area clean. One of their greatest successes was unveiled in November: new landscaping at Flagpole Hill. The new landscaping was designed by intern Jennifer Ryan; the hill is the first step in the organization’s plan to revamp the park and bring it back to the days of the Olmsted brothers, who designed the park in the in 1920s. The landscaping was updated with plants native to New Jersey that would enhance the flagpole, the namesake of the site, and a water source was also added to the site.
Many nonprofit organizations have also worked to improve the township. In March, the Maplewood Lions donated hoods to protect town firefighters. The brand new, state-of-the-art hoods provide protection from life-threatening fire-based contaminants, such as carcinogens and other toxic exposures, with which the firefighters come into contact. During the summer, South Orange Elks 1154 made a donation to St. Joseph’s CYO Basketball in Maplewood, allowing for the purchase of a new scoreboard.
Lastly, the future for Maplewood Memorial Library looks promising as it continues its renovation plans to become a 21st-century library. Though not yet complete, plans include: a large multipurpose community room with a separate entrance and bathrooms available after library hours for special events and community use; enhanced areas for children, teens and adults; more and larger meeting rooms; improved and more efficient heating and electrical systems to meet modern environmental standards; an outdoor patron space; and entryways designed for easy access for all residents. On Feb. 22, the Maplewood Woman’s Club donated $300,000 to the cause.