Town Administrator Defends Westfield’s Storm Cleanup as He Praises Public Works Superintendent; Residents Argue Crosswalk is a Tragedy Waiting to Happen

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The HAWK pedestrian activated mid-block crosswalk located on Central Avenue near Cambridge Road. Credits: Jackie Lieberman
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Resident Maria Carluccio argued against the HAWK crosswalk in front of her home on Central Avenue. Credits: Jackie Lieberman
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Town Administrator Jim Gildea (left) congratulated Claude Shaffer on being named Director and Superintendent of the Year by the New Jersey Chapter of the American Public Works Association. Credits: Jackie Lieberman
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Mary Robinson spoke to those in attendance about Imagine, a Center for Coping With Loss. Credits: Jackie Lieberman
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WESTFIELD, NJ— Shortly after congratulating Westfield Public Works Superintendent Claude Shaffer on being named Director and Superintendent of the Year by the New Jersey Chapter of the American Public Works Association, Town Administrator Jim Gildea found himself defending the town’s current storm cleanup efforts and past snowstorm cleanups. (Westfield also issued this statement today regarding the current cleanup.)

“Almost every year the schools ask for priority to be made for school zones for snow and leaf pickup,” said resident Pamela Orbach. Currently, due to storm debris, “There is no parking lot for Franklin School,” she said.

“There’s no parking on Clark Street,” she said. “What is the reason for starting with areas that don’t affect traffic?”

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Orbach also complained that crews held off on clearing high-traffic areas to clear a cul-de-sac, instead. (Gildea later explained that the cul-de-sac’s priority was moved up because it was about to be paved.)

Orbach also told the council she felt snow removal last year was mismanaged. “Last year they didn’t plow the streets around the high school early. By the time they plowed, it was a sheet of ice,” she said. She told the council how she dug out a fire hydrant in front of her home that had been plowed in. “Is this something you really want to put on the citizens?” she asked.

Orbach suggested requiring residents to move their cars to a parking lot while streets are plowed, and said that she would like to see a panel formed to create guidelines for cleanup priorities.

“Every snowstorm is different,” said Mayor Andy Skibitsky in the town’s defense. As to the slow storm debris cleanup, he noted the unusually enormous amount of debris from the October storm and added, “One of the problems we have right now is we can’t co-mingle the limbs and the leaves.”

Gildea later added, “Brush pickup is cumbersome. It’s very difficult.” He said that contractors have been hired in addition to the town’s employees to speed debris removal.

Resident Maria Carluccio stepped to the microphone to once again argue against the HAWK pedestrian activated mid-block crosswalk located on Central Avenue near Cambridge Road, which she has spoken against at many town council meetings in the past. She and others have complained that the light and the crosswalk are impractical and even dangerous where they are; that drivers frequently drive through the crosswalk when the light is activated and that the location leads drivers to believe that a driveway on one side and the back end of a cul-de-sac on another are roads to turn onto.

Beginning with a recitation of Psalm 23 verse 3, Carluccio compared her testimony to seeing a neighbor’s house on fire and feeling compelled to call the fire department.

She spoke of a recent incident at night when she watched a driver turn the car into the curb, she said because the light confuses drivers into thinking there is a road there. She spoke of another evening when she activated the light and six cars drove through the red light. “I can’t stand coming here,” said Carluccio. “I can’t stop because these things keep happening.”

On another occasion, she said, she activated the light to cross. “A woman stopped in the crosswalk, rolled down the window and said, ‘I’m sorry!’” said Carluccio.

“You’ve been warned. We’ve all been warned. I don’t know why your heels are all so dug in,” she said.

Carluccio also complained that cars and motorcycles drive too fast past her home on Central Avenue and that she saw a motorcycle “pop a wheelie” there recently. “You know why he does it? Because he can. I see cars and motorcycles fly down that street all the time,” she said.

Carluccio said she feels the council does care about Westfield—that this is the reason they volunteer. “I’m trying to spare us a tragedy,” she told them.

Resident Greg Kasko, also a long-time opponent to the HAWK light and one-time Third Ward town council candidate, handed out copies of an accident report from April 25 and photos taken at that accident that showed a car stopped in the crosswalk. Kasko said that this accident occurred just after children crossed. He then pointed out what appeared to be discrepancies between the report (which says that the accident was caused by a driver following another car too closely) and the photo.

“One accident does not mean a thing. Accidents happen all the time,” said Mayor Skibitsky. He also pointed out that the light was not red at the time of the accident. Kasko argued that it is not just the red light that is confusing, but also the signs and the lines on the road.

After arguing over statistics, the mayor told Kasko his time was up. Kasko argued that 10 minutes had not passed, but then sat down.

Before the open discussion began, Mary Robinson spoke to those in attendance about Imagine, a Center for Coping With Loss, which is to open in Westfield in 2012. The center will serve as a year-round grief support center for children, teens and adults coping with loss due to death and illness.

Robinson thanked the Gerald Glasser Foundation in particular, saying, “The need is enormous.” Currently, the center is still in need of a space, volunteers and additional funding.

“Thank you for doing this and starting this up here in Union County, where there’s a need for it,” said Councilwoman Jo Ann Neylan.

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