METUCHEN – After a charged and emotional discussion about bicycle and pedestrian safety in and around Metuchen, a consensus was made—more safety measures have to be implemented in the borough sooner than later.
Residents attended the Borough Council meeting on Sept. 24 to share their fears and concerns of riding their bicycles and walking downtown, from an Edgar Middle School student wanting to feel safer with her friends as they walked downtown, to a couple who was recently hit by a car, who want to feel confident again in a crosswalk.
“I’m afraid as a driver, I’m afraid as a pedestrian and I am afraid as a former bicyclist,” said resident Belinda Coakes, who explained that bicycle, pedestrian and motorist safety is a shared responsibility. “I won’t ride my bicycle around here anymore because it’s just far too dangerous.”
Councilman Jason Delia, who was a member of the borough’s Traffic and Transportation Committee before becoming a councilman, said it crushes him when he hears Coakes say she doesn’t feel safe riding her bike in the borough.
“This is why I’m here [on the dais],” he said. “I want to make bike and walking as safe as possible in the community.”
Delia said many studies have been done over the years – Circulation Plan in 2009, Complete Streets Policy in 2013, Downtown Parking in 2014, Middlesex Greenway Access Plan and Health Impact Assessment in 2014, Accessibility Evaluation in 2015, a School Travel Plan in 2016, and a Complete Streets Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan in 2016.
Resident Sean Massey urged the council to make a bicycle and pedestrian safety plan with metric short to long-term goals a priority. He said funds should be allocated in the budget for the safety improvements.
Council President Linda Koskoski stated that she agrees with the residents and it is important for everyone to work together.
“Even though it looks like not much is being done, we continue to persevere and make improvements,” she said. She also explained that working with county and state officials is a slow process.
Koskoski said the borough added another police officer, which allows the department to have two traffic safety officers; implemented sharrows – line markings in the middle of motor vehicle lanes that indicate the road needs to be shared by vehicles and bicyclists – have been installed on Amboy Avenue, Route 27 and soon Woodbridge Avenue (all county roads); implemented four-way stop signs have been placed at various intersections, implemented orange flags at various crosswalks and reduced the speed limit on Grove Avenue, a borough road, from 35 miles per hour to 25 miles per hour.
In addition, after five years, lighted crosswalks will soon illuminate five intersections in Metuchen. In 2014, the borough was awarded a U.S. Department of Transportation federal grant for the lighted crosswalks; however, the borough only learned it could proceed to go out to bid for the lighted crosswalk improvements on Sept. 6 through a letter.
The lighted crosswalks will be implemented at the intersections of Main Street and Brunswick Avenue, Main Street and Lincoln Avenue, Route 27 and Oak Avenue, Central and Middlesex avenues, and Christol Street and Grove Avenue.
Koskoski said she has also been pushing for all the roadways in the borough to be 25 miles per hour, which has also been a slow process.
Resident Tom Rockafeller, who is a member of the borough Traffic and Transportation Committee, said in the meantime he urged the borough to be open to more ideas of piloting low cast infrastructure changes from bump outs to planters.
He pointed out that the urgency is now with the recent motor vehicle and pedestrian incidents and three deaths and numerous people injured over the past 12 years.
Resident Angela Sielski said in 2014 she banded with other moms and residents and held “Strolling for Safer Street” rallies. She explained as a realtor, she observes young families moving to the borough from walking destinations such as Hoboken, Jersey City and Brooklyn, New York.
“Part of what drew them here is because of the improvements,” she said. “We have to make sure it is safe [to walk and bicycle] not just in the downtown.”
The residents also attended the Middlesex County Board of Chosen Freeholder meeting on Oct. 3 to relay their concerns on the county level.