Township engineer details new road diet

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WEST ORANGE, NJ — Municipal engineer Leonard Lepore announced at the July 16 West Orange Pedestrian Safety Advisory Board meeting that the Main Street road diet will include lane, striping and parking changes to slow down traffic and increase road safety in the township.

The project, which spans from Park Avenue to Tory Corner on Washington Street, will reduce the number of lanes on Main Street from four to two, change the curb lane to an 8-foot parking and no-parking lane, and replace current skip lines with a solid white line “delineating the curb lane from the northbound and southbound lanes,” Lepore said.

Parking areas will remain the same, except at T-intersections, including Erwin Place, Prospect Place and Kling Street, “where we want to prohibit a little bit of parking … to help facilitate left turns,” Lepore said.

“Too often — and you’ll notice this during rush hour — if somebody wants to, say, make a left turn onto Erwin or Prospect Place, they’re waiting for a gap in the opposite, southbound direction,” Lepore said. “I’m not going to say it’s going to solve every single problem but we certainly want to help facilitate some movement around the intersection.”

Parking will continue to be prohibited on both sides of Main Street at Thomas Edison National Historic Park, the community house and in front of the Rite Aid between Erwin and Prospect places because “these are areas where we have high pedestrian volumes,” Lepore said.

Lepore also mentioned that he plans to “tweak” parking at Washington Street in the southbound direction to make fewer parking spots available in front of the merchants on the western side of Main Street to facilitate buses that travel that route.

However, parking will be added in front of the CVS between Edisonia Terrace and Babcock Place as it diminishes “the likelihood that somebody is going to try and scoot around the queue of traffic,” the engineer said.

The county has also agreed to install a high visibility crosswalk at the Dunkin’ Donuts and Baskin Robbins and Edison Middle School crossing as part of the road diet. The bus stop at the location will be eliminated and a flashing pedestrian-activated crossing sign will be added, Lepore said. Similar signs are also set to be installed at other high-volume crossings, including Charles Street, Lakeside Avenue, Kling Street and at Babcock Place by the community house.

While he did not announce a definite date, Lepore said that he expects the changes to be implemented later this year after he makes a few “tweaks” and meets with county officials again. He also said additional future phases could bring similar changes to other areas of Main Street.

Also at the meeting, West Orange Police Officer Chris Jacksic gave board members updates on other township projects.

A new crosswalk has been installed at Lawrence Avenue and South Valley Road, and a light is in the process of being added at Alisa Drive, Jacksic said.

Jacksic also discussed the findings from the second quarter crash data. In the second quarter of 2018, there was a 25.38-percent decrease in the total number of motor vehicle crashes compared to the second quarter of 2017, Jacksic said. However, for the second quarter in a row, Jacksic said police have seen a steady increase in instances in which individuals leave the scene of a crash.

“I think it’s the economy,” said Jacksic of the cause of the increase. “I think people are like ‘oh crap. I don’t want to pay for that’ and they leave, which puts pressure on us to solve these.”

There was also an increase in auto-pedestrian crashes from two cases in 2017 to four cases, but there have been no fatalities in the second quarter, he said.

“We do battle the county on a regular basis to try to get stuff done … it’s a slower process. I think a lot of you now see that it takes time to get us to our goals,” Jacksic said. “A lot of the goals we’ve had, we’re starting to now see come to fruition, which is a good thing and I think the crash data shows that.”

To further continue the mission of the police and town to reduce motor vehicle crashes and increase safety for all — especially for pedestrians — board member Sunil Badlani suggested the PSAB work with the Township Council to join the more than 25 New Jersey towns taking a stand against the legalization of recreational marijuana.

“Marijuana legalization is steamrolling ahead. What’s the impact on the roads, nobody knows. We’ve seen the impact that alcohol has had and what MADD and other organizations have done to dial it back. Here there are no tests to even detect that you are under the influence” of marijuana, said Badlani. “Bottom line is: something needs to be done about it.

“Why not have West Orange join that group and put additional pressure on the state,” he continued. “It’s a small thing that will hopefully make a difference.”

The majority of board members seemed to be on board with Badlani’s suggestion. Township Councilman Jerry Guarino said he will work with other PSAB members to collect more data on the issue and maybe have a multitown meeting to prepare a case for joining other towns against legalization to bring forward to the council.

“It’s become a gigantic science experiment,” West Orange Community Traffic Safety Program coordinator Detective Arnold Anderson said of the marijuana industry. “I really think we need to be better educated before we just go ‘OK, sure,’ because the financial benefit does not outweigh the social cost.”

Photos by Kaanita Iyer