Local officials and city engineers held an information session on Thursday to introduce a potential redesign of Willow Ave. from 11th Street to 13th Street. That section of the county road passes Wallace Elementary School and Fox Hill, a federally funded senior citizen building. That stretch of Willow is considered one of the most dangerous in Hoboken.
Since 2008, 64 collisions have occurred in the proposed project area, five of which involved pedestrians or cyclists, according to a Rutgers University study. The proposed project area represents a transition from a typical Hoboken one-way street (Willow south of 11th Street) to the a more high-speed, two-lane road (Willow north of 13th). So in that area, the lanes are wider than usual, which the city says encourages speeding.
According to city spokesman Juan Melli, the plan is in its infancy, and its progress will be fully contingent on public response. Around 25 residents attended the “open house”-style info session, which lasted from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m.
“Obviously, any type of plan that’s designed to improve student safety, we’re in favor of.” - Superintendent of Schools Mark Toback
Additionally, the city is considering changing the front-first angle parking on the west side of the street to back-in angle parking, which it says would increase visibility and thus safety. Bike lanes may also be installed using the excess space from changing the number of driving lanes.
Finally, additional areas would be designated to protect Wallace students and their parents, who currently are forced to double park and exit their vehicles into traffic lanes during dropoff and pickup hours.
There are several possible versions of the potential redesign, said Melli.
The most comprehensive would resemble the way 11th Street looks now, with bike lanes and a central median full of trees. The median and trees would not be added until additional funding could be secured, said Melli, but the design scheme is similar.
Because Willow Avenue is a county road, Hudson County would fund the entire project, said Melli.
The Willow Avenue redesign, if it comes to fruition, would be one of the first opportunities for the city to showcase its dedication to a “Complete Streets” policy it adopted in 2010. The initiative seeks to build roadways “designed and operated to enable safe, attractive and comfortable access for users of all ages and abilities, including pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists, and public transport riders.”
According to the city, 15 percent of traffic in the area travels above the 25 m.p.h. speed limit, while 12 percent drive above 30 m.p.h. Pedestrians struck by a vehicle traveling 30 m.p.h. have a 45 percent chance of dying.
Washington Street is the only north/south street in Hoboken with a higher collision frequency than Willow Avenue, according to the city.
Last year, a Wallace School teacher was accidentally hit by a car outside the school, but was unhurt. Additionally, the front-first angle parking on the west side of the street means that a motorist opening his or her trunk has to stand in a traffic lane.
The city has proposed several possible alternatives to the existing conditions, nearly all of which would narrow the lanes and use the excess space to install bike lanes, reserve the sidewalk outside Wallace School for dropping off and picking up students, and elongate the back-in angled parking by several inches.
According to Melli, the Hoboken school district has been involved with the project from its beginnings. In 2010, the city and the Board of Education submitted a dual grant application to the state’s Safe Routes to School program to do a project similar to the proposed redesign. However, the application was denied. But when the city recently learned that the county was planning to repave Willow Avenue, it opened a dialogue with county and Board of Education officials about the redesign.
“Obviously, any type of plan that’s designed to improve student safety, we’re in favor of,” said Superintendent of Schools Mark Toback, who noted that the district worked with the city to arrange for all school buses to drop Wallace students off on Clinton Street behind the school, in an effort to avoid danger on Willow.
“When we moved the buses, we took some of the pressure off of Willow, and now the city is taking the next step in making this a safer area,” he said.
According to Melli, nothing regarding the proposed redesign is definite. At the information session Thursday, surveys were handed out to parents and residents regarding their thoughts on the area and the possible changes. The survey is also available on the city’s website, along with the city’s presentation on the project.
Melli said that the city will allow a few weeks to a month for residents to fill out the survey before any decisions are made.
Dean DeChiaro may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org