A plan to make Maplewood Avenue one-way (southbound only) between Baker and Lenox in Maplewood Village received generally positive feedback from residents and neighbors at a meeting at The Woodland on May 31.
The plan also included new sidewalks, bumpouts and a restriped and re-oriented NJ Transit parking. (See photos below.)
At least one major concern — the potential for the plan to increase traffic on Lenox Place — caused some testy moments between presenters and the audience. However, the engineers and Township officials said they were there for the feedback and would take the concerns into consideration, perhaps holding sub-meetings with neighbors, and that they would make adjustments in the next iteration of the plan.
Neighbors and residents who attended had very specific concerns and suggestions. This was a crowd that knew the topic and had come prepared with thoughtful feedback and solutions.
But first Township Engineer Paul Kittner and John Jahr of Brightview Engineering presented preliminary plans that they said would bring greater pedestrian safety, improved traffic safety and better traffic flow to the southern end of Maplewood Village.
“The proposal you are hearing tonight is just that: a proposal,” Kittner reminded the crowd, adding that he and township officials were there to seek comments.
He noted that the changes were necessary due to the many complaints from residents about the area as well as the fact that there had been more than 17 accidents in the one-block stretch in less than 3 years.
Kittner reported that the intersection of Baker and Maplewood Avenue was not properly aligned. The skewed nature of the intersection — where Baker doesn’t line up and where it enters Maplewood Avenue at an acute angle — caused for long crossing distances for pedestrians and bad sight lines for automobiles.
Another problem in the area of Maplewood Avenue between Baker and Lenox was the narrowness of the street and the many illegal lefthand turns being made into angled parking spaces by northbound traffic.
By adding bumpouts at the corners of Baker and Maplewood and making Maplewood Avenue one-way from Baker to Lenox (moving southbound), the engineers hoped to make crossing at the intersection quicker, shorter and safer and improve sight lines for automobiles — eliminating the need for cars on Baker at Wells Fargo from edging out to see traffic and eliminating one leg of traffic for motorists to keep track of.
Engineers explained that making the section of Maplewood Avenue one-way would also allow for the addition of 10 parallel parking spaces in the former northbound lane. Northbound traffic would be routed through the NJTransit lot, which would be reoriented and re-striped in the opposite direction than it is currently. The re-striping would also net three more parking spaces.
Kittner and Jahr insisted that a newly oriented exit from the parking lot onto Maplewood Avenue near Baker would be safer and would not be backed up significantly at rush hour.
When it came time for feedback, residents were mostly polite and complimentary but they had very clear criticisms, questions and suggestions.
When asked why they didn’t stick with the transit lot at its current orientation and make Maplewood Avenue from Baker to Lenox northbound only, the engineers explained that the volume of traffic traveling southbound appeared to be heavier.
A number of commenters said they were fed up with what they saw as a new aggressiveness from drivers in recent years. “It’s not the street, it’s the people,” said one commenter. “More aggressive people are moving in. The police need to do more.” (Indeed, enforcement was a big sub-conversation of the evening, with Maplewood Police Chief Jim DeVaul on hand to answer questions and Sgt. Reeves, director of the newly former Maplewood PD Traffic Bureau also present. “Enforcement is a key,” said DeVaul, “but the suggestions here will help.”)
Others said that moving the post office to Maplewood Avenue at Lenox had caused major parking and circulation problems. “People going to the post office are carrying packages” and some are “lazy,” said one commenter, leading to some rogue parking and many U-turns at Lenox and Maplewood Avenue.
The day care drop-off next door to the post office added extra parking crunches to the area — as well as safety concerns.
In fact, one Lenox Place resident persisted in her comments about Lenox Place safety until Jahr finally did acknowledge that the changes to improve safety on Maplewood Avenue and Baker would drive more traffic to Lenox.
“Lenox is filled with little children” — she noted 16 young residents as well as Morrow Preschool at the top of the street and the day care at the bottom. “I’m worried about funneling traffic up. How about making Maplewood Avenue one-way all the way down south?”
Another commenter made the same suggestion at the end of the meeting — to general approbation from the audience — although Kittner as well as Township Committeeman Dean Dafis pointed out that anyone coming down to Maplewood Avenue from Ridgewood Road to travel north on that stretch of Maplewood Avenue was probably trying to get into town or to the other side of the train tracks and would not opt to turn up Lenox and back to Ridgewood Road.
A number of residents asked for speed humps or bumps on Baker and Lenox as well as lowering the speed limit — suggestions that seemed to gain a lot of traction with the engineers and township officials.
Jim Nathenson, a planning board member, asked about a traffic light at Baker and Maplewood Avenue. The engineers explained that the intersection does not yet meet the criteria in terms of traffic volume. Later they explained that the cost was also prohibitive — approximately $300,000.
One man asked about a roundabout. “We did sketch that out,” said Kittner, but it was determined to be “too invasive” and required “too many changes” including “impacts to the intersection and surrounding properties.”
Another resident asked for a stop sign at the crosswalk in front of Keller Williams.
Mayor Vic DeLuca also explained that the town would not be seeking to make all of Maplewood Avenue in the Village one-way. It’s “too drastic,” said DeLuca, who invoked what many see as an overwrought answer to traffic and pedestrian safety concerns in downtown Millburn.
To many suggestions, Kittner replied, “We’ll look at that.”
Kittner noted that there was no perfect solution. “We want to fix this once and for all,” he said, but acknowledged “There is not an easy answer.”
What are the next steps?
DeLuca said, “We go back and incorporate your feedback and concerns.” The mayor said there would be “at least one more meeting of this type” and “maybe some sub-meetings before we move forward.” DeLuca noted that any change in street direction would ultimately need to be discussed and voted on through ordinance by the Township Committee.