WESTFIELD, NJ — A 25-year-long resident of the town, he enjoys riding his bicycle through the municipality’s outer wards.
But James Lucarelli won’t bike the central portions of the downtown, as he does not feel safe from vehicular traffic there.
“I’ve never ridden on Central Avenue — ever — for 25 years,” said Lucarelli, a retired educator. “It’s a suicide mission.”
His concern about traffic safety on the thoroughfare is no abstract matter. In 2017, a 14-year-old freshman from Westfield High School was killed on that road while participating in a nighttime scavenger hunt.
Last Thursday, Lucarelli was among the members of the public to get a first look at proposed recommendations from a state funded study geared at improving safety on streets throughout the town. The preliminary recommendations offer options for sidewalks along portions of Central Avenue.
The study took into account 447 survey responses, 91.8% of which were from people living in Westfield, along with crash statistics from 2013 to 2017, the figures presented at the workshop show.
Key among the preliminary recommendations is a “Road Diet” for North Avenue from its intersection with East Broad Street to Central Avenue.
Susan Blickstein, a professional planner on the project, referred to a diagram showing two proposed treatments for the roadway and said that since drivers are often turning, the lanes are not used to their fullest and pointed to recommendations for reducing the lanes with the inclusion of a center turning lane.
“This road is only four lanes for a certain part of the road,” Blickstein said. “There’s a lot of jockeying and passing that goes on so sometimes the four lane roads operationally don’t function as four lanes.”
The initial recommendations provide two solutions for improving pedestrian safety along the roadway, diagrams for which show a center turning lane that can also act as a “potential refuge area” for pedestrians. One of the options includes a bicycle lane on the thoroughfare and the other option creates on-street parking on one side of the roadway.
Gathering public feedback for such projects, as Westfield is doing, is not just a way to identify dangerous spots, something planners asked the public to pinpoint on a map earlier this year, it is in the best political interest of local leadership.
In 2016, Millburn Township, a similarly upscale municipality, approved an $8.2 million overhaul of streets in its downtown geared toward pedestrian safety, including the narrowing of lanes and curb extensions, news reports said. But when officials implemented the extensive project, the resulting traffic tie-ups angered the public, and residents voted the project’s key founders out of office, according to the reports.
Other options detailed in a report from the workshop in Westfield would be less cost intensive, such as the implementation of “lead pedestrian intervals,” which time traffic signals to give pedestrians a head start to cross, helping to avoid conflicts with cars that would otherwise traverse a crosswalk at the same time, Blickstein said.
Mayor Shelley Brindle, who has dubbed 2019 “The Year of the Pedestrian” for Westfield, said she was most impressed with the low cost measures, and pointed out the proposed widening of crosswalks on North Avenue as something that could improve safety.
Brindle also said that by including the bicycle and pedestrian safety plan in the municipality’s master plan update, officials have a better chance improvements being implemented.
“We’re obviously going to have tweaks to all of it,” Brindle said. “I can’t say it’s going to be exactly what the recommendations state, but this direction is stuff I think the town will be very happy to see.”
Email Staff Writer Matt Kadosh at firstname.lastname@example.org; Follow him on Twitter: @MattKadosh