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Residents Give Input at First Public Meeting on Livingston Avenue Safety Study

Nearly 50 Community Members Came to Redshaw School to Learn More About Project
Glenn Patterson
New Brunswick Planning Director Glenn Patterson explains the different types of road diets. Andrew Cangiano

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—Community members were able to formally give their input on how to address safety on Livingston Avenue, one of the county's most dangerous roadways.

Nearly 50 area residents came to the brand-new Redshaw Elementary School on February 11 for the first of a number of planned public input meetings on an engineering study, with the goal of making that roadway safer for all users.

“This was a great turnout by the community out here,” City Planning Director Glenn Patterson said. “I think it shows a lot of interest in pedestrian safety and complete streets.”

Livingston Avenue has been known for its frequent motor vehicle crashes, many involving pedestrian who were seriously injured.

Between 2001 and 2011, Livingston Avenue was the site of 27 motor vehicle crashes, resulting in the injury of 32 pedestrians.

An additional 87 crashes, resulting in 143 non-pedestrian injuries, also took place during this time period.

Last May, New Brunswick Fire Director Robert Rawls was involved in a motor vehicle crash on Livingston Avenue that injured three children on their way home from school.

Two days after that crash, Middlesex County's Board of Chosen Freeholders promised swift changes to Livingston Avenue at a meeting crowded with protesters.

Certain sections of the roadway were modified from four lanes to three, with a center turning lane, as part of a pilot program which was quickly initiated following the crash involving Rawls.

“So far the reaction's been very positive,” Patterson said of the public response to the lane modifications made as part of the pilot program.

The county, which owns the roadway, agreed to split the cost of the $299,000 engineering survey to examine the potential options for Livingston Avenue.

At a city council meeting in December, Patterson said the study would last about four months and would include at least four public input meetings to comment on the process.

“It takes a little time, because you want to try to get it right,” Patterson said this week.

The city has commissioned the study in the hopes of developing a concept plan for a "road diet" for Livingston Avenue. Road diets typically involve limiting the number of lanes for cars.

The public was able to give their input through a written survey which will be evaluated by Dewberry Engineers, the firm hired to conduct the study.

Eva Sumano of Unity Square, a project of Catholic Charities that focuses on a 37-block neighborhood that borders the avenue, spent the evening translating for the mostly Spanish speaking audience.

She said that residents suggested an educational component to the project to increase safety in the school zones.

Sumano said community members were also interested in the installation of better lighting along the roadway, including lighted crosswalks.

The study encompasses 26 blocks of Livingston Avenue, from Nassau Street to New Street, including three elementary schools: Livingston School, Roosevelt School and the newly opened Redshaw School.

New Brunswick's Middle School lies just beyond the study area, along the border with North Brunswick.

“A lot of the drivers are not respecting the cross[ing] guards at all,” Sumano quoted residents as saying.

Crossing guards are positioned to direct traffic during the time when students are arriving and leaving school.

This year, the city gave the guards a raise, and bought them new high-visibility uniforms.  For the first time, the city's Board of Education is reimbursing the city for the wages of the guards.

The speed limit on Livingston Avenue is 25 mph and 15 mph in the school zones during school hours.

Peter Agnello, an engineer for Dewberry, said that although speeding on the roadway is a concern, the main focus of the study is pedestrian safety.

“The perception is that there is a speeding issue,” Agnello said.  “The project goal is really just to increase safety, not just for cars, but for pedestrians and bicyclists as well.”

“I think one of the issues is clearly no one is listening to the school speed limit signs,” Agnello said.

Possible modifications to the roadway may include curb extensions, lighted crosswalks, reducing the number of lanes, and/or adding a dedicated bicycle lane.

“Nothing is off the table as far as what we're evaluating,” Agnello said.

Andrew Besold, a long-time North Brunswick resident, said that he has been biking down Livingston Avenue for 25 years and would welcome a bike lane.

“You've got the space, you might as well use it,” Besold said.

“The city doesn't want people on the sidewalk,” he said. “Let's use the extra space for a bike lane.”