MARGATE – Change is difficult, especially in this ever-changing city by the sea.
Margate officials Thursday, Nov. 14 said that recent changes to traffic patterns near the city’s two public schools are designed to “change driver behavior” and improve pedestrian and bicycle safety for students, but residents say the changes are too confusing for motorists.
After receiving a $371,000 Safe Routes to Schools grant, Margate taxpayers funded the remaining costs of a $417,753 contract for Feriozzi Concrete Company to make traffic improvements in the area. According to city engineer, Ed Dennis of Remington & Vernick Engineers, the work is nearly complete, but may require some adjustments.
The project included installation of medians at Huntington Avenue near Amherst Avenue, and installation of a traffic circle on Huntington Avenue at Fulton Avenue. Several new stop signs have been installed at cross streets, including one on Amherst Avenue approaching Huntington Avenue. Except for a traffic light on Jerome Avenue and a stop sign at Washington Avenue in the southern portion of the city, Amherst Avenue is a through-way for motorists traveling the north-south route.
Residents just need an adjustment period, officials said.
“We’ve done these projects in other towns and we will be available to answer questions from the public,” Dennis said. “But the intent of the project is to change driver behavior.”
The Police Department will continue to conduct an education campaign about the new traffic patterns on its Facebook page and on the city’s website, Chief Matthew Hankinson said.
The project was conceived in a federally funded study conducted in 2016 by Urban Engineers, Inc. of Philadelphia, the result of which was a bicycle and pedestrian traffic safety plan for Margate and Ventnor.
Several public hearings were held in both communities over the year-long study to solicit input from residents about how best to improve traffic safety and make high traffic and problem areas more accessible for biking and walking. The study sought to find solutions to congested and high accident areas and develop safer routes to schools.
In addition to recommending a road diet for Atlantic Avenue, the study noted problem areas near the William H. Ross Elementary School and the Eugene A. Tighe Middle School, which is located across from the Colmar Circle development where vehicles approach several intersections from eight different directions.
The study recommended installing ladder crosswalks, curb extensions and pedestrian signage at three intersections along North Huntington Avenue, along with ADA compliant ramps.
The project is now substantially complete, but there’s still time for the city to address residents’ concerns, Dennis said.
“I know we’ve had calls and concerns from residents who live and drive through that area. There’s going to be an adjustment period, especially when you make the kinds of changes we made,” he said. “It’s normal to have an adjustment period for this type of a project, especially when the intent of the project is to change driver behavior.”
Commissioner John Amodeo said the main complaints he as received is Huntington Avenue being posted as a one-way street going west from Monmouth Avenue. Officials discussed making Huntington Avenue one-way from Amherst to Ventnor Avenue, which would funnel traffic away from the schools.
“The way it is now, those people who come from Ventnor Avenue going to Amherst have to go by the school, which is counter-intuitive to what we are trying to do there,” Commissioner Maury Blumberg said.
“We don’t want cars that don’t have the need to go near the school district, but we still want to have options for the moms coming from the backbay area can make the left onto Monmouth to go to the school,” Amodeo said.
Hankinson said changing the direction of traffic is an easy fix with new signage, an ordinance to codify it and an information campaign.
Signage has also been installed to inform drivers they must share the roadway with bicycle riders on Winchester and Monmouth avenues, but special efforts should be made to inform cyclists they must ride in the proper direction with the flow of traffic, Blumberg said.
Resident Ava Luger said the new median is not visible in the dark and could be a danger to motorists.
There is a pole near the intersection that could accommodate a streetlight to illuminate the intersection, Dennis said.
Carol Silverman said the recently installed circle, which is marked with yellow striping is not visible at night, which could cause an accident.
“There was a lot of work done to create something that could have been fixed with a some stop signs and a traffic bump,” she said.
Amodeo explained that the five-point intersection, which is 120-foot-wide, puts children in danger when crossing the street and does not comply with federal highway safety standards.
Retired Atlantic City Police Department Deputy Chief Tim Friel said Atlantic County and Egg Harbor Township spent millions of dollars to eliminate the Cardiff and Airport circles, “and we are going to take it upon ourselves to put in a circle to create confusion and problems,” he said.
With minimal recorded accidents over the last 20 years, “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it, and don’t cause confusion,” he said, questioning how emergency vehicles would be able to maneuver the narrowed roadways.
Fire Chief Dan Adams said fire apparatus traveled the area during construction, and fire department personnel were able to gain access at every point without any problems.
Attorney John Scott Abbott said since the city was notified that it does not comply with current roadway safety standards, it is obligate to address it.
“What happen if Margate says we don’t want to follow these safety standards and somebody’s kid gets killed?” Abbott said. “I agree it’s mass confusion right now and it may take awhile to get used to, and it may be modified, but we can’t ignore it.”