Winter is coming and many Cranford roads have yet to be repaired from the brutal storms of last year. As the township committee plans its infrastructure investment for 2015 and beyond, it should take a broad approach that includes improving the walkability of the town, which will enhance safety, increase property values, and add to the community feel of Cranford.

There has been a sea change in NJ home buyer preferences in the past several years -- away from isolated homes with larger yards towards urban centers and walkable towns with train access like Morristown, Princeton, and Cranford. Our town has done a lot to enhance downtown and Centennial Ave: Walk/Don’t Walk signs, a healthy mix of retail and restaurants, community events, and new innovations like the farmers market. Now is the time to move improvements out to the neighborhoods.

The town can take a number of relatively inexpensive and non-disruptive steps to make our neighborhoods more walkable. First would be adding crosswalks at key intersections, particularly on commonly used walks to our schools. Second, studies have found the simple presence of street signs identifying children present or bike usage can positively change drivers’ behavior. Third is ensuring that sidewalks and shoulders are in good repair, and shoveled/salted during the winter.

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Taken together, these simple steps can have a big impact. Lowering the perceived barriers to walking will support healthier habits and create a stronger community feel as we see more of our neighbors outside. As home buyer demand for more walkable communities continues to increase, every investment the town makes will be realized in rising home values. Perhaps most importantly, it will be safer for the town’s children to walk to and from school, as many already do.

As its new term gets underway, Cranford’s township committee should partner with our neighborhood communities to identify their respective needs and preferences and build a coordinated plan to improve our town for both drivers and pedestrians.