BLOOMFIELD/GLEN RIDGE, NJ — A number of Bloomfield and Glen Ridge residents living along Essex Avenue have voiced opposition to striping the roadway because they are concerned that two continuous, yellow traffic lines down its center will alter the residential character of the neighborhood. Although it has recently been resurfaced, scheduled striping of Essex Avenue has been postponed because of this opposition.
Until it was resurfaced, much of the blacktop on Essex Avenue, which runs from Bay Avenue to Benson Street, was sorely in need of repair. Drainage was also an issue, with Essex Avenue runoff flowing down onto Broad Street after a heavy rain. The two thoroughfares are parallel; that underlies some of the concern voiced by the Essex Avenue residents.
Those opposed to the striping have signed a petition that has been communicated to Bloomfield and Glen Ridge elected officials and administrators. The borderline between the two municipalities runs down the center of Essex Avenue.
The striping plans for the road, which were designed by Bloomfield Township Engineer Paul Lasek, include white stripes along the roadway, 7 1/2 feet from the curb, and bicycle sharrows — which are those ubiquitous icons, stenciled in blue and found along suburban streets — signifying to motorist that they should share the roadway with bicyclists.
According to Allen Regar, a Glen Ridge and Essex Avenue resident who spoke Tuesday, Dec. 1, to the Bloomfield Township Council about the striping plans, the petition was signed by 55 Bloomfield and Glen Ridge Essex Avenue households.
Although an attached letter explaining the petition is signed only by him with, “Save Essex Avenue,” under his name, he said he shared the impetus for the petition with about five other residents.
“There was no striping along Essex Avenue prior to this,” Regar said in a recent interview at his home. “Essex Avenue was a potholed mess.”
The petitioners, he said, have nothing against the sharrows.
“Many of us are bicyclists,” he said. “But it’s not a bicycle-friendly street. If they wanted to make it bicycle-friendly, they’d put in a buffered line.”
He was displeased that the public was never involved with the striping plans although its residents are pleased with the improvements as they now stand. The primary concern, he said, was the double-yellow line.
According to Regar, some studies indicate vehicular speeds increase when double-yellow striping is added because it makes the roadway more visible to drivers.
“The contention is that a double-yellow line will slow traffic,” he said. “Most roads in Glen Ridge and Bloomfield, with continuous yellow lines, are high volume and mixed use.”
According to Regar, if Essex Avenue were painted with a double-yellow line, it would become the first purely residential street in either community with this striping. He said the people opposed to the striping want a road design “that takes into account all stakeholders — the engineers, elected officials and residents.”
“Our long-range vision is to create impediments to non-essential traffic,” he continued.
He said non-essential traffic on Essex Avenue are people who do not live on Essex Avenue.
“We believe traffic on Essex Avenue has increased because of the design of Broad Street,” he said. “Essex Avenue residents have definitely noted an increase in traffic because of the Broad Street streetscape.”
Regar acknowledged that the petitioners are involved with an all-or-nothing issue.
“We don’t want to mince this,” he said. “Right now, we don’t want any of the striping or sharrows. We don’t wish Essex Avenue to become a collector street. We are not opposed to bicycle lanes or stop signs. But we want speeding to slow and traffic volume to decrease.”
He suggested a possible solution could be to retime Broad Street traffic lights so that fewer drivers avoid it and instead travel Essex Avenue, which has no stop signs along it entire length, although eight streets connect with it.
“We’re not trying to be elitists, but egalitarian,” he said of the petitioners. “But this striping was done without any public comment. We would have preferred an open project instead of something directly from one engineer.”
That one engineer is Lasek, who spoke this week in his office.
“Over the years, there was an issue of speeding,” he said of Essex Avenue. “With that in mind, I designed the street with striping.”
Lasek said his design basically followed “complete street” guidelines, which expound that streets are for everybody’s use. But he said there was no law or requirement that dictated how Essex Avenue should be striped.
“It’s my recommendation, and the design is supported by the traffic divisions of the Bloomfield and Glen Ridge police departments.”
Lasek said it was only an opinion that putting traffic lines on a road increases speed.
“It’s just the opposite,” he said. “A yellow line, in my professional opinion, doesn’t make anyone go faster or slower.”
Regarding the absence of stop signs on Essex Avenue, Lasek said stop signs are usually placed on the street with the lesser amount of traffic, at an approach to an intersection.
“You’re not suppose to put stop signs on streets with higher traffic,” he said. “The federal standard in The Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices says stop signs are not to be used for control of speed.”
There are instances, he said, where a four-way traffic stop is installed but they require state approval unless it is in a school zone.
His proposed striping design of Essex Avenue, Lasek said, was an entire system: double-yellow lines, shoulder striping and sharrows, which would not be as effective if one of those elements were removed.
“We design streets for everyone,” he said. “It’s not mutually exclusive to residents. The vehicle counts are up to 2,000 a day on Essex Avenue. They’re not all residents; they’re traveling. My recommendation stands. But ultimately, it’s the decision of the administrations.”
Bloomfield Township Administrator Matthew Watkins said both Glen Ridge and Bloomfield signed off on the original plans for the striping.
“Our concern is that we respect what the residents feel,” Watkins said in a recent telephone interview, “but the professionals are saying this is necessary. We can argue until the cows come home, but it’s up to the township and Glen Ridge engineers.”
He said concern for residents postponed the striping, possibly until the spring if it is not started before the weather turns cold. A meeting between the two towns to discuss the matter was also postponed.
Lasek said the Essex Avenue project was a joint venture between the two municipalities and the cost would be about $1 million, split right down the middle.
“No one would have expected a small concern would become a large ordeal,” Regar said. “We would hope for some closure soon.”