BELMAR, NJ — For the 60 residents of the Belmar senior housing building, the designated crosswalk on Eighth Avenue between Route 35 and Main Street is a vital link into the hub of the downtown district, where shopping and dining is just a short walk away.
However, it’s also one of the most precarious pedestrian crossings in the borough — particularly in the aftermath of a July 1 crash that left a 64-year-old resident of the senior building critically injured.
While the borough has added signage, repainted yellow caution markings and restricted parking even farther back from the crossing, there is not much more officials in this town can do since this busy block is part of state Route 71.
Further complicating the situation is that the crosswalk is just several feet away from the NJ Transit railroad tracks, which is equipped with flashing lights — another distraction for motorists as they travel in and out of Belmar and may not see pedestrians in the crosswalk.
This week, Belmar Police Chief Andrew Huisman and Public Works Director Michael Campbell met with officials of the state Department of Transportation, NJ Transit and New Jersey State Police to see what steps can be taken to improve safety conditions along this block of Eighth Avenue.
“It’s a state road (and) we’re limited on what we can do there,” Huisman told the Belmar Council at its July 23 meeting. “(State officials) are willing to come up with a more solid resolution.”
Under consideration is a plan to move the crosswalk closer to Main Street and then install flashing yellow lights at the crosswalk itself.
At its current location, flashing lights are not an option because the walkway is only feet away from the railroad crossing, whose flashing red lights are activated when a train is approaching — increasing the potential for more confusion for both motorists and pedestrians.
During a recent visit to the senior housing building, Councilman James McCracken said he and Councilman Thomas Carvelli observed motor vehicle and pedestrian traffic around the Eighth Avenue crosswalk. “At the time we were there, only one person used the crosswalk from the building,” McCracken said.
Instead, pedestrians crossed at other points, including many closer to Main Street — the reason why he would support exploring that option. “It makes more sense to move (the crosswalk) down so more people can use it,” he said.
During its meeting, the council also was presented with a petition signed by 63 Belmar residents — most from the senior building — calling for the installation of speed bumps at the Eighth Avenue crosswalk.
“Over the past eight years, traffic on Eighth Avenue between Route 35 and Main Street has turned into a speedway, where drivers exceed the speed limit, drive recklessly, make U-turns at the Eighth Avenue crosswalk in front of the senior building and fail to stop for pedestrians in the crosswalk,” said Missy Manley, a 13-year resident of the senior building, reading from the petition.
Citing several websites on traffic safety, the petition stated that speed bumps are an effective (traffic) calming device and in areas of fairly high traffic volume, they can “dramatically improve the safety of pedestrians and motorists alike."
“We are worried the next accident will seriously harm or kill someone if no action is taken,” the petition said, calling the matter of installing speed bumps one of utmost urgency.
The recent accident involving fellow resident Sheila Tagliareni has shaken their small community. “Many of us are distraught and upset, and we’re also frustrated and angry,” Manley told the council, whose members did not comment on the petition. “We hope you consider speed bumps."
In the meantime, they are requesting a police officer be stationed at the crosswalk during the summer months, when traffic is heavy, from 3 to 8 p.m.
Tagliareni was using a walker while in the crosswalk, heading toward Belmar Plaza, when she was struck at about 3 p.m. on July 1 by a vehicle driven by Robert Scrabis, 83, of Avon-by-the-Sea. The force of the impact threw her some 30 feet, resulting in extensive injuries that involved major surgery, according to the police report of the accident.
Scrabis, who was heading west toward Route 35, told police he bent down to pick up something he dropped in between his car seat when he struck Tagliareni.
Scrabis, who was given a blood test for the presence of drugs or alcohol, was charged with careless driving and failure to yield the right-of-way to a pedestrian. The status of his court date was not known.
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