By JOHN T. WARD
A month after the roadway at a Red Bank intersection was painted over with a giant, vivid sun on a field of turquoise, officials gathered there this week to explain and defend it.
The bold image is meant to catch the attention of motorists, reminding them to be aware of pedestrians and cyclists, as well as other vehicles traversing the intersection, where an offset alignment of Bridge Avenue and South Bridge Avenue makes for some dicey maneuvers.
The eye-popping markings are “what we refer to as ‘positive distraction,'” said Charles Brown, senior research specialist at the Voorhees Transportation Center at Rutgers University. “They force the driver to pay close attention to the intersection.
“So this is heavy emphasis on, ‘you are approaching a pedestrian zone: pay attention,'” he said.
The image, recommended by graduate students at Voorhees, reflects a “tactical urbanist” philosophy that cities should try bold measures when it comes to safety, environmentalism, economic development and more, officials said.
Business Administrator Ziad Shehady said the borough landed the project under a Sustainable Jersey grant obtained by the Environmental Commission. Nancy Blackwood, of the Environmental Commission’s “green team” subcommittee, said the group selected the intersection from a number of possible sites in town. This one was chosen in part based on accident data provided by the police department, she said.
Police Chief Darren McConnell said he didn’t have figures available, but “this was sorely needed here,” because of the danger the tricky layout poses to pedestrians and cyclists.
After the image was installed, the group and Voorhees students conducted a street survey, which found “a lot of people liked it, particularly the pedestrians,” Blackwood said. They “felt a lot safer, which was the point” she said.
Still, “we do have a lot of cyclists on the sidewalk,” she said. “In their perfect world, we would love to have a bike lane.” And pedestrians continue crossing Drs. Parker on the western edge of the intersection, where there isn’t a crosswalk, she said.
Mayor Pasquale Menna said the alignment, between the northwestern corner and the curb cut on the opposite side of Parker Boulevard, is considered a pedestrian crossing under state law. But no crosswalk can be painted there because it would run straight into a utility pole, he said.
Officials underscored that the project is an experiment.
“Tactical urbanism is meant to be a temporary, to see if it works,” said Councilwoman Kate Triggiano, who noted some cities have used chalk for similar projects.
“It’s not the first time, and it’s not going to be the last time we think outside the box,” said Shehady. “Too often, people just expect, well, if it’s not perfect, government screwed up. Government is no different from anybody else. You try a project at your home, at your business. If it works, great, if it doesn’t, you improve upon it.
“We welcome the feedback, we welcome the criticism,” he said. “But people have to understand it’s a process.”
“It’s a demonstration project,” said Doug Greenfeld, of the North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority, which provided $10,000 in funding to cover technical services for the project. “If people in Red Bank think it works, there’s an opportunities to apply it elsewhere. I know the mayor is already asking where else.”
“It’s not meant to be here forever,” said public utilities director Cliff Keen. “The sun will set soon.”