MONTCLAIR, NJ - A recent study found that closures to a lane on Bloomfield Avenue could reduce crashes by nearly 20 percent over a four-year period, prevent injuries and preserve millions of dollars of household income. Experts believe that modifications would also dramatically reduce stress for commuters, shoppers and patrons of local services. However, community members have expressed the need to reduce traffic, during council and planning board meetings over the past year. Experts say that such lane closure may slow traffic, while saving lives. 

These findings are just a few among many put forth by researchers from the New Jersey Health Impact Collaborative (NJHIC) during a recent assessment of the impacts of a Complete Corridor Plan for Bloomfield Avenue in Essex County. The team, based out of Rutgers University with funding from Partners for Health Foundation, completed a Health Impact Assessment of the busy roadway in order to assess the health impacts (positive or negative) of implementing a road diet along portions of Bloomfield Avenue. This study was done in coordination with the Bloomfield Avenue Complete Corridor Plan, a local demonstration project of Together North Jersey.

A “road diet” is a common term used to describe a reduction in the number of travel lanes or roadway width in order to improve safety for all road users including those who drive, walk or cycle. For the purposes of this study, the team analyzed the potential impacts of removing one lane of motor vehicle traffic along the four-lane Bloomfield Avenue and reconfiguring the remaining lanes to better accommodate pedestrians, transit riders, cyclists or other users. 

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The assessment included a comprehensive analysis of pedestrian and bicycle crashes within the study area. Based on a recent report by the Federal Highway Administration, road diets result in a crash reduction rate of approximately 19 percent in urban areas. The team applied this reduction rate to Bloomfield Avenue, yielding a predicted result of 163 fewer pedestrian and bicycle crashes, 57 injuries prevented over four years, and an annual savings of $2-6 million in preserved household income due to safety improvements and reduced healthcare costs. 

Another finding pointed to a clear connection between road conditions and stress levels. It found that constant stops and starts, motorists turning onto and off Bloomfield Ave at non-signalized points and aggressive driving created high levels of stress for drivers, as well as for other users.

“We heard from over a thousand residents in the area and found that community members are very frustrated with driving, walking and bicycling along Bloomfield Avenue,” said Kathy Smith, program director at Partners for Health. “As we point out in the study, this kind of chronic stress, rooted in fears about traffic safety, can lead to development and exacerbation of health problems, such as anxiety: depression, hypertension, headaches and heart disease.”

“I feel like I'm taking my life into my own hands whenever I try to make a left turn because cars are flying down the road so quickly,” said Montclair resident Sybil Eng. “I just don’t feel safe on Bloomfield Avenue at all – whether I’m biking, walking or driving. I’m hoping that the work that Rutgers has done will translate into some real changes for our community.”

The full report, which includes additional results and corresponding recommendations, can be found on njhic.rutgers.edu. For more information on the project contact Kathy Smith, Program Director at Partners for Health Foundation, 973-746-6130, ksmith@partnersfdn.org. For more information about the New Jersey Health Impact Collaborative or the results of this study please contact Leigh Ann Von Hagen at New Jersey Health Impact Collaborative at 848-932-2854, lavh@ejb.rutgers.edu.