WESTFIELD, NJ — Chris Beck is concerned about the safety of crossing at East Broad and Prospect streets, where he once served as a traffic officer.
James Anderson walks to the train station daily and noted a broken pedestrian-activated walk button on the north side of the intersection at South and Central avenues — a spot where cars turning left are often at odds with pedestrians in the crosswalk.
Karrie Hanson, a 34-year-long town resident, said she doesn’t feel there is a safe way to bike to two county parks near to her home.
These are among the complaints residents took to municipal officials earlier this week. And they are just the type of feedback officials are asking for as they develop a plan for safer streets.
John Federico, a project manager with WSP USA, the consultant the state hired to gather public input and create a plan for safer Westfield streets, said that Monday’s workshop was the first of what will be two community workshops.
“It’s aimed primarily at gathering public input and identifying issues from the community,” Federico said. “After this meeting, we’re going to work to develop recommendations to help make Westfield a more friendly walking and biking community.”
The state Department of Transportation is funding the study through a grant to Westfield.
As of the workshop, Federico said, about 250 people had responded to an online survey established for the study. A map established for the purpose of identifying traffic and pedestrian trouble spots in town netted about 200 comments as of the workshop, he said.
Federico said he has conducted the study in municipalities across the state including Moorestown, Maywood, Highland Park, Elizabeth, Red Bank and Perth Amboy, among others.
In addition to seeking public input, the study includes an analysis of local crash data submitted to the state.
Between the years 2013 and 2017, crashes on Westfield Streets injured 72 pedestrians and 33 bicyclists, the most recent figures available from the state show. Crashes killed two people and incapacitated five during that time, the figures show. Due to a lag in reporting to the state, Federico said, the figures do not include crash data from 2018 and 2019.
Mayor Shelley Brindle said she hopes to supplement the state data with an analysis of more recent crash data maintained by the police department. Brindle also wants to create a paradigm change in local transportation.
“It’s about creating a shift in culture and mindset. It’s about being a much less car-dependent society and town, and for all the obvious reasons: It decreases congestion. It’s good for the environment,” said Brindle, who noted the importance of improving streets for pedestrians, too. “But people can’t think about taking a bike out … if we don’t have safe bike lanes.”
At the workshop, residents filled officials in on the issues that might not be seen in the state data.
For Beck — who directed traffic on East Broad Street near the bakery Bovella’s until his retirement from the police department in 2017 — his old intersection is a key trouble spot, as there is no longer a police officer helping drivers and pedestrians negotiate the busy intersection with no traffic signal.
“Having a live cop on the street, people obey them,” said Beck, who lives in Westfield. “It’s a comfort thing.”
Seeking to improve safety at the intersection, police have put out cones and in-street pedestrian crosswalk signs. The municipality also made Prospect Street a one-way thoroughfare going onto East Broad Street.
For Anderson — who walks 20 minutes from his Westfield home to the train station daily — his top concern is the intersection of South and Central avenues, where he said a crosswalk button is broken on the north side of the intersection.
“That signal does not work at all,” said Anderson, 47. “I’ve reported it twice, and nothing has happened to it.”
The intersection of county roads is a known trouble spot. Last February, a car hit a 55-year-old man crossing there.
Last year, municipal officials moved to change the timing of the lights at the intersection, something requiring county approval, which minutes of the Union County Freeholders show the board agreed to the following month.
This week’s workshop wasn’t all about identifying trouble spots; residents also outlined in green highlighters on maps alternative routes were they feel are safer traveling.
Hanson, who could be found at one such map, said she wants to make Westfield a better place for bicyclists. She emphasized the need for a plan encompassing the entire municipality.
“There’s no safe way to bike to Lenape Park,” Hanson said. “There’s no safe way to bike to Echo Lake Park. There’s no safe way to bike from the north side of town to the south side of town.”
Email Staff Writer Matt Kadosh at email@example.com; Follow him on Twitter: @MattKadosh