MONTCLAIR, NJ - Traffic and infrastructure were the main topics at Montclair First Ward Councilor William Hurlock’s community meeting Monday at the Bellevue Avenue Branch of the Montclair Public Library.

There was substantive discussion of both issues, as well as the status of Acting Township Manager Tim Stafford. However, Councilor Hurlock deflected an equally pertinent question – his plans for the 2020 municipal election on May 12.

The main concern regarding traffic was pedestrian safety around the schools, particularly involving proposals for restrictions on parking around the schools to alleviate congestion during school days and to make the areas around them safer for students as well as to allow first responders – fire engines, ambulances – to pass through easily. Hurlock said that parents had been active in pushing for the ordinance mandating such restrictions, and Police Lieutenant Stephanie Egnezzo and Deputy Township Manger Brian Scantlebury have been studying the problem.

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The concern over pedestrian safety near the schools evolved into a discussion of the overall pedestrian issue, particularly with regard to the signage. Resident Heywood Woods said that the blinking pedestrian signs provide a false sense of security for people crossing the streets.

“They have the perception that people will stop for those things,” Woods said. “You have to use a lot of caution crossing at those signs, because people still not stop for those signs. So just because they put them on a blink, people will not pay attention.”

Hurlock agreed and reiterated his insistence that pedestrians look both ways before crossing the street, adding that a 2013 state law that gives pedestrians the right of way over motorists should not be interpreted as allowing the pedestrians to shirk their own responsibilities to keep themselves safe.

Woods also noted that pedestrians wearing dark clothes at night were a problem because they could not be easily seen, and he added that not all motorists slow down at pedestrian crossings when the situation calls for it.

Township Attorney Ira Karasick, who was in attendance, sought to reassure residents that the police were enforcing the law more strongly and that motorists are learning to stop, but he asserted that pedestrians need to learn to operate the flashing signs. “It’s now more dangerous if you don’t push that button, “he said. “Safety-wise, People should be encouraged to press the button; that doesn’t mean you step out there willy-nilly without looking where you’re going.”

Hurlock also cited the numerous infrastructure improvements throughout the First Ward, such as a newly completed ball field at Mountainside Park, an increase in the number of streets paved, and the extension of a path at Yancataw Brook Park so that it circumnavigates the entire pond in the park’s center. He also noted the increase of refuse and recycling bins in the park. However, his anticipation of the annual First Ward cleanup, scheduled for April, led to residents and merchants expressing concerns for the appearance of the Upper Montclair Business District along Valley Road.

They complained that many areas in the district are only cleaned out once a year and are neglected most of the rest of the time. The primary issue was the cleanliness of tree beds along the street and in the back plazas.

Hurlock sought to explain the complicated issue, given the stakes involved. He said that storeowners had the responsibility to maintain the tree beds but that it was the township’s responsibility to maintain the lots. There was some confusion over who was responsible for a tree bed along the edge of Upper Montclair Plaza, which residents agreed was in a decrepit state, and Hurlock promised to look into the matter.

The councilor conceded that the township was ready to have code enforcement and issues summonses at one point but that the then-president of the Upper Montclair Business Association, whom he refused to name, had asked that the association be allowed to take care of the problem itself, though that apparently never happened. There were other gripes about the township’s lax attitude toward decorating the business districts in town for the holidays, unlike the efforts made in nearby towns such as Caldwell and Verona.

Hurlock said that, unlike Caldwell and Verona, which are smaller and have only one downtown area each, Montclair has numerous business districts that would require higher costs and complicated logistics to decorate for the holidays. However, he did not dismiss the proposal, saying that it was “something to think about.”

Several residents addressed the absurdity of Tim Stafford still laboring under the title of Acting Township Manager after more than half a decade on the job. Hurlock said that he himself was displeased with the failure of the council to make manager Stafford permanent, but he did not allude to any specific reason why. He did say that it takes a majority of four votes on the council to approve a resolution that would make Manager Stafford permanent, and so far the council has not moved it forward.

Hurlock said that he could not speak for Mayor Robert Jackson and the other councilors as to why such a resolution has not been moved. He did say that the council would be prepared to waive the residency requirement for Manager Stafford, a Cedar Grove resident, just as the council under Mayor Jerry Fried did for Manager Stafford’s predecessor, Marc Dashield.

On a more positive note, Hurlock and Deputy Manager Scantlebury said that infrastructural projects are proceeding on a pay-as-you-go process, allowing Montclair to keep its debt down. But on another immediate issue – the municipal election – Hurlock had no announcement of his plans. He did say that he had not picked up an election packet yet, an indication that he had not yet made up his mind. Planning Board member Carmel Loughman, who attended the community meeting, is a declared at-large candidate.