By BRIAN DONOHUE
Broadwalk, the seasonal downtown pedestrian plaza that has delighted restaurant diners and visitors while frustrating some residents and business owners, is officially a recurring fixture of life in Red Bank.
Singing high praise for the four-year-old program, the borough ouncil voted unanimously to make the seasonal closure of a section of Broad Street permanent Thursday night.
Though any ordinance can be modified or repealed, proponents said the action ensures the council won’t debate and renew the closure every year, making it easier for officials and businesses to plan.
“I am telling you the upside is great,” said Deputy Mayor Kate Triggiano. “We have studied this thing and looked at this thing. We have done it and it’s going to keep getting better and I have to tell you it’s here to stay.”
Only a single speaker opposed to the measure. Linda Cohen, owner of Eye Design on Broad Street, said the closure has worsened traffic in town and hurt some businesses.
“If we want to chase people out of Red Bank, we’re doing a great job,” she told the council.
Broad Street restaurants and stores between Front Street and White Street will have table access to the street starting the Monday after the second Sunday in May, and through September 30, “on an annual basis,” the law reads.
The same law also designates Emanuel Court, an alleyway connecting English Plaza to West Front Street, as a “permanent pedestrian mall” closed to vehicular traffic.
Broadwalk was created in 2020 to help downtown businesses recover from the wallop of the COVID-19 pandemic that arrived in the United States earlier in the year. The plaza is now guarded against vehicle intrusion by heavy-duty steel bollards that retract into the ground when not in use.
Council members pushed back against Cohen’s criticism, which echoes the opposition council members acknowledged continues to persist in some quarters.
“I wish I could say something to change their minds,” he said.
For the most part, though, council members said Broadwalk has been a resounding success.
Mayor Billy Portman said parking revenues have broken records each year since Broadwalk has been in effect, evidence that the program is drawing more people to Red Bank.
“We are not a beach town and we need a draw,” he said.
Triggiano noted that a photo of Broadwalk landed the town the cover of the Monmouth County tourism guide.
“We’ve never had such a thing,’’ she said.
And Forest said he personally spends more time downtown and noticed last summer how unique it was to eat outside without hearing traffic.
“ I’m sitting there and there’s activities and there’s band playing and there’s hundreds or thousands of people there on Friday and Saturday nights,” he said. “I don’t remember that on a typical Friday in summer before Broadwalk. I mean, that thing draws a lot of people to our town.”
As for the concerns that Broadwalk causes traffic logjams?
Forest and others cited recent winter nights when Broad Street is open to vehicles and traffic is snarled in the area anyway.
“We have a traffic problem whether Broadwalk is open or not,” Ben Forest said.
In other business, the council pumped the brakes on a plan to ban takeout food businesses from giving customers plastic utensils unless they ask for them. RiverCenter Executive Director Bob Zuckerman told the council businesses need more time to prepare and educate workers.
The council hopes to put the law in effect in time for Earth Day on April 22, but tabled the measure to tweak it slightly and add a grace period that delays enforcement until July.
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