SUMMIT, NJ — George Jetson’s world may have self-driving cars, but don’t expect them filling Summit’s streets anytime soon. At least not according to Parking Services Manager Rita McNany’s presentation at the Summit Common Council’s October 2 meeting.
McNany attended the International Parking Institute’s annual conference this part June in Orlando, and self-driving vehicles were a hot topic. She described five levels of autonomous vehicles, from Level One – available today, where drivers must be alert at all times but the car provides certain assists like cruise control – to Level Five, where no driver intervention is required.
Developers of autonomous cars predict that by 2070, “95% of traffic will be autonomous vehicles.” But there are barriers -- including safety concerns, costs, reliability issues, legal questions, and a lack of consumer trust. McNany cited a Reuters poll in which two-thirds of respondents said they’d feel uncomfortable riding in a self-driving car. Further, she noted the position of the Wantman Group, Inc., -- a national consulting firm providing infrastructure services including parking solutions -- which maintains that vast numbers of autonomous cars not personally owned are still decades away, and demand for parking structures will endure well into the future.
McNany noted that Summit currently needs an additional 350 to 400 parking spaces and that a well-maintained parking garage can last 50 -100 years. McNany presented a schematic of a parking garage that might eventually be converted to office space if some of its parking space becomes superfluous, although it would be costlier than building a structure purely devoted to parking.
She also noted that there are software companies and auto manufacturers that bring parking availability into vehicles. Essentially, a service like the ParkMobile parking app could tell a driver not only where parking lots are, but whether open spaces are actually available. She noted that Summit is interested in a pilot program for some off-street locations.
Ward 1 Council Member Mike McTernan suggested that the advent of self-driving cars might be sooner than the parking industry anticipates. Council President David Naidu asked whether City employees had embraced the use of Lyft. While their usage is low, McNany said, residents have filled the available slots and there is now a waiting list.
Also speaking Tuesday was Elaine Anderson, chair of the Department of Community Programs Advisory Board. The Board comprises nine volunteers along with Ward 2 Council Member Mary Ogden, and works closely with the DCP staff. Anderson characterized the team as “diverse and committed.” The Board focuses on community facilities, the Family Aquatic Center and Municipal Golf Course, youth sports, senior programming, field space, and succession planning.
Anderson said that the 2006 City of Summit Master Plan acknowledged a shortage of playing fields, and the situation has been exacerbated since then, largely due to expanded sports seasons, traveling teams, and more adult participation. While these are all positive developments, they put pressure on the playing spaces available. The Advisory Board has polled sports groups and the high school athletic director to come up with a list of the most pressing needs. These include an additional soccer field, an additional tee-ball field and “dynamic” baseball fields (where the length of the baselines can be adjusted for various levels of play), turf and lights on the lacrosse field, and lights on the football field.
The Board members have brainstormed numerous solutions, ranging from keeping the Upper High School Turf Field lights on seven days a week to gain a few more playing hours, to adding a playing field atop a parking garage as is done in New York City, to re-purposing the 'K9 field' at Glenside if another location for that unit can be found.
The group’s final recommendations include:
- A Tatlock redevelopment plan;
- Keeping the lights on at the High School Upper Turf Field;
- Upgrading the Anderson field house with improved locker rooms and meeting space;
- Improving the Franklin Field baseball field;
- Adding a tee-ball field in the “cow pasture” behind Investors Bank Field; and
- Exploring water service at Lincoln field to better care for the grass.
These suggestions will be incorporated into the fall capital budget planning.
McTernan expressed concern about keeping on the high school lights. Anderson replied that, with new lighting technology, there us very little light spillover; Ogden added that the Board is very conscious to creating “the least amount of impact.”
Two ordinances introduced at the September 17 meeting were heard and voted on.The first ordinance identifies eight loading zones in the downtown, imposes time limits on parking there, and authorizes signage for these areas, with the goal of improving safety and traffic flow.
This ordinance is based on months of work between Public Safety, Summit Downtown, Inc., and Public Works, and was introduced by Ward 2 Council Member Stephen Bowman. The changes don’t affect the number of parking spots available downtown. Businesses will be educated so they can work with their vendors to ensure compliance. Public Works Director Paul Cascais added that businesses with real alleyway access will continue to be able to use that.
The second ordinance, introduced by Ward 2 Council Member Marjorie Fox, authorizes a permanent easement for the air rights for a skywalk between the buildings at 367 Springfield Avenue and 40 Beechwood Road, and defines the responsibilities of the parties regarding maintenance, insurance, and other matters. The City will be paid $750 for these rights. The skywalk has existed for more than 50 years, but an agreement was never formalized. This fact, said Mark Yeager of SAF 367 Summit LLC’s development team, was a surprise to the developers as they were researching the property. His company is rebuilding the edifice, enlarging it, and bringing in as a tenant Energy Capital Partners, relocating from Short Hills, hopefully next summer.
Both ordinances passed.
Council Member at-large Beth Little introduced a Finance / Personnel resolution authorizing a three-month contract extension to Millennium Strategies, LLC for grant writing services. The extension was valued at $10,500. Among the grant writer’s accomplishments to date was obtaining $400,000 from New Jersey Department of Transportation for downtown “safe street” projects. Council agreed that, when the contract is up for renewal in January. all departments would be consulted to determine the benefit of the grant writing assistance. Little also bundled three resolutions authorizing two-year extensions, expiring at the end of 2020, for existing contracts with a number of vendors. These include Dreyer’s Lumber and Hardware, Inc., not to exceed $60,000 annually and Summit Hardware, not to exceed $25,000 annually, for walk-in hardware purchases; and Scheppe Landscaping (capped at $55,000 annually) and T.M. Brennan Contractors (for HVAC, capped at $50,000 per year) for on-call services at a discounted rate.
Fox introduced a Buildings and Grounds resolution authorizing an agreement with New Jersey Transit to replace the train station’s existing 14-bike locker with a modern 36-bike locker with video surveillance. It will be installed and maintained by the New Jersey Bike Walk Coalition. The five-year license includes an annual payment between $300 and $332 to the State. In 2016, representatives of the Coalition made a presentation on similar bike shelters it has constructed and maintains. The project has been on hold until an arrangement could be reached with the State of New Jersey. No completion date was given. Currently about 50 residents commute by bike to the train station daily. Also moved was a resolution appointing Oliver Rodriguez as a builder / developer member of the Shade Tree Advisory Committee.
A Works resolution moved by Bowman authorizes the purchase of four new truck-mounted salt spreaders to replace four existing spreaders at a total cost of $137,800. Cascais noted the 12- to 14-year-old spreaders being replaced have little residual value but would be auctioned off to recoup as much as possible.
Ogden’s General Services resolution declared a vacancy for a senior registered environmental health specialist. This position, to be filled at a later date, is part of the shared services agreement with Westfield.
All resolutions passed.
McTernan asked that an item from the consent agenda be voted on separately. That resolution granted permission for the Beacon Unitarian Universalist Church and Fountain Baptist Church picnic to be held this Sunday, and event that will celebrate the houses of worship's shared commitment to support the 'Black Lives Matter' movement. McTernan said three residents had mentioned to him that they’d received no notification of the event, which impacts their street. Following a brief discussion as to whether the fact that this was a previously announced rain date implied notification, permission was ultimately granted on condition that the Churches provide the proper notification
Residents were also reminded that parking permits must be renewed by October 31.
Karen Ann Kurlander