By DUSTIN RACIOPPI
When a group of residents banded together almost two years ago to make Red Bank’s streets safer for pedestrians and bicyclists, there were never any notions it’d be a fast-moving process. Compiling data, analyzing studies and working with local and state government simply don’t lend themselves to timeliness.
But in the long-distance course to effect change, a grassroots group made a leap forward Monday night when it all but secured adoption from the borough planning board of a 100-plus page report on bike and walker safety, including a multitude of recommendations on how to improve the way of life of those on two legs and two wheels.
The board, after hearing close to an hour’s worth of highlights of the plan from borough Engineer Christine Ballard, moved to incorporate the “Red Bank Bicycle/Pedestrian Planning Project” into the town’s Master Plan the official document that guides planning and development in town. A public hearing and final vote was scheduled for next month.
Barring major public outcry or a sudden shift in sentiment from board members, the plan will roll safely to approval.
“Overall this is a great plan and thank you for all your hard work,” planning board member Guy Maratta told Jenny Rossano, Jim Willis and Marc Dostie, the founding members of Safe Routes Red Bank.
The 106-page report, prepared by Urban Engineers under a non-cash grant from the New Jersey Department of Transportations Office of Pedestrian and Bicycle Programs, gets in-depth on all factors of road safety in town, highlighting traffic statistics and offering a litany of suggestions to improve safety for bicyclists and pedestrians.
In some cases, the ideas are either cost-prohibitive or logistically unfeasible Ballard said. These include mid-street islands, or “refuges,” which she said would cause large trucks or emergency vehicles to “squeeze” down the road; delineated east-to-west and north-to-south bike lanes, because they’d eat up necessary parking; and the addition of four-way stop signs in certain areas because they do not meet the federal Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, and could actually cause accidents, she said.
But enhancing intersections and crosswalks, as well as adding lighting and signs alerting drivers that they are nearing or in areas heavily traveled by walkers and bikers are not only recommended but, in some spots, more than needed, she said.
Ballard noted that the borough has already taken steps to boost safety downtown by securing state money to install bumped-out curbs, a raised intersection at Broad and Front streets and other upgrades along East Front Street, which fit in with Safe Routes’ mission.
Planning board alternate member Barbara Boas said the report’s recommendations, if adopted as part of the Master Plan, will not be required for future planning and development projects. Like the Master Plan itself, the report will be used as a roadmap for framing future projects.
“This is a guideline. It’s not a bible,” she said.
In the last 18 months or so, the members of Safe Routes have buried themselves in the work of putting the report together, in hopes that they’d get to this point. And if the planning board does approve the plan, it will enable the town to tap into funding sources to implement projects and safety improvements down the road, said Stanley Sickels, the borough’s administrator and planning board member.
“Usually, money begets money,” he said.
Willis (who is redbankgreen‘s webmaster) said he and group members had anticipated a full approval Monday the board, however, must provide public notice and hearing before adoption but said securing positive feedback on the plan was enough assurance that the group’s work is paying dividends toward a shift in standards in Red Bank.
“As long as things are moving in the right direction, you have to be happy,” said Willis, of Harrison Avenue. “I’d love to just flick a switch and have all this stuff, but this is the process.”
The process, Dostie said, is expected to be long, tricky at times and, of course, have a few speed bumps.
“I think we always prepared for a marathon, not a sprint,” he said. “I just hope that when my kids are ready to ride their bikes on their own, it’ll be safe.”
Heres the full report in PDF format. Its a sizable file, so be patient while it downloads.