LAKE COMO, NJ — As soon as new signage is ready, 19th Avenue from Bradley Terrace to B Street in Lake Como will revert to two ways with “Local Traffic Only” signs to replace the “Do Not Enter” ones for traffic heading westbound from Ocean Avenue.
Acting on a request by Belmar Police Chief Andrew Huisman, the Lake Como Borough Council on July 18 voted to suspend the recent change making that two-block portion of 19th eastbound only, after questions arose over whether Lake Como or the state Department of Transportation (DOT) has jurisdiction over traffic flow changes on local streets.
The sign change will take effect as soon as the borough can obtain the “Local Traffic Only” signs, which Huisman said should occur by the week’s end.
While the police chief cited a 2006 letter from the DOT, which resulted when borough officials at that time implemented a similar one-way eastbound designation for 19th Avenue, both Lake Como Mayor Brian Wilton and Borough Attorney Marguerite Schaffer said the DOT no longer has the same authority over local streets it once did.
According to Steve Schapiro, DOT's director of communications, Gov. Jon Corzine in December 2008 signed a law that gave local jurisdictions the authority to establish most traffic-control devices and regulations along roadways under their jurisdictions without DOT review and approval. "The department does not have jurisdiction over the roadway in question (19th Avenue) and has not been involved with this case since December 2006," he said.
However, Wilton and the borough council decided to grant the request by Huisman, who said they will “go back to the drawing board” after the summer-only traffic flow and parking restrictions end on September 15 and examine other options before the rules take effect again on May 15, 2018.
In the summer, increased traffic and speeding along 19th Avenue have been chronic problems during the summer, as beach and bar traffic use the roadway as a thoroughfare to exit Belmar. What these motorists quickly discover is that 19th Avenue is a dead-end street westbound, forcing traffic onto Greenwood Terrace and particularly Bradley Terrace — both extremely narrow two-way streets. The situation consistently raises safety concerns and gridlock issues from neighborhood residents.
During the past three weeks, Huisman said that 19th Avenue at Ocean Avenue in Belmar has been closed off to traffic on weekends beginning at about 10 p.m. to prevent motorists from D’Jais Bar & Grill, including ride-sharing vehicles, from using the roadway — a measure that has been effective in alleviating concerns.
Since Lake Como implemented the traffic pattern change on 19th Avenue, it has divided the neighborhood along the Belmar/Lake Como border.
Currently under the new seasonal traffic pattern change, 19th Avenue from Bradley Terrace to B Street in Lake Como has gone from two ways to eastbound only, while 19th Avenue from Ocean Avenue to B Street in Belmar remains westbound. As a result, there are opposing “Do Not Enter” signs posted at the intersection of 19th Avenue and B Street — the dividing line between both towns. Since B Street is one-way southbound, traffic on 19th Avenue emanating from Lake Como must turn right onto B Street and traffic from Belmar must turn left onto B Street.
Belmar residents along 19th Avenue and B Street contend the change has increased traffic and caused confusion, particularly among motorists unfamiliar with the area, resulting in additional safety concerns.
Also some Lake Como residents in the neighborhood maintain the traffic configuration is an inconvenience, including Robert McKenzie of 19th Avenue, who said he is now forced to travel down other streets to get home from the beach. “I have to drive by 60 other residences to get home,” said McKenzie, who several weeks ago presented the borough with hand-written petitions containing some 100 signatures of “residents” opposing the change.
Mayor Wilton said that making the traffic pattern changes was a “balancing act” that took into consideration both inconvenience to residents and improving public safety on the affected streets.
Before the borough council voted to suspend the one-way designation on 19th Avenue, several Bradley Terrace residents thanked its members for their original decision to make the roadway one-way eastbound in Lake Como.
“This is about safety and traffic flow on Bradley and Greenwood Terrace — two-way streets that are terrible in the summer,” said Robert Lamb of Bradley Terrace, who said he initially asked the borough to examine the issue in 2015. “I can’t believe that more accidents haven’t happened, and it’s impossible for emergency vehicles to get through.”
Richard Flanders of Bradley Terrace said that claiming the traffic change is an inconvenience is an unbelievable argument. As a frequent beachgoer, “I miraculously find my way back home,” he said. “Inconvenience is a shallow argument over the safety of kids and (access for) emergency vehicle.”
Meanwhile, Police Chief Huisman said he is pleased with the results of the other seasonal traffic patterns changes made to relieve congestion and increase safety on Lake Como’s busiest streets during the summer. These included making 17th Avenue one-way westbound from B Street to Main Street with parking permitted on both sides, and placing a three-way stop at 17th and White Street to slow down traffic at that intersection. On 18th Avenue, parking is prohibited on the south side of the street from Main Street to New Bedford Road, beginning every Friday at 6 p.m. through Sunday until 6 p.m. Two-way traffic continues until B Street, where one-way eastbound traffic continues into Belmar to the beach.
The other change — making Redmond Avenue one-way eastbound with parking on both sides of the street — drew criticism from South Belmar Fire Department Chief Ronald Whille during the July 18 council meeting. He said the department’s fire trucks can no longer access the fire house, located on the corner of Redmond and Main Street, directly westbound from the street. Borough officials said that change will be re-examined before summer’s end.
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