Seasonal Closure Of Maple St. Recommended By Summit Consultants

A presentation about options for Maple Street usage was present at the council meeting Tuesday night.
A presentation about options for Maple Street usage was present at the council meeting Tuesday night. (Remy Samuels/Patch)
SUMMIT, NJ — To the relief of many residents and council members, traffic consultants and Summit Downtown Inc. recommended a seasonal closure — not a permanent closure — of Maple Street at Summit Common Council’s meeting Tuesday night. Consultants hired by Summit Downtown Inc. conducted a presentation for the community on Tuesday, providing land use and policy recommendations for a seasonal closure of Maple Street. Related: Residents Object To Permanent Maple Street Closure At Summit Meeting “This is all part of a movement that’s happening around the country, New Jersey and around the world,” explained Leo Vasquez, the executive director of Creative Placemaking Communities. Vasquez said the “open streets movement” or “flex streets movement,” allowing for outdoor dining or pedestrian plazas in downtown areas, has become extremely popular around the state— particularly since the start of the pandemic.

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Let’s go! Different towns take different approaches to the flex street movement, Vasquez said. For instance, he said in Somerville and Jersey City, some streets are closed permanently to cars, whereas Westfield and Hoboken have seasonal closures. In Maplewood, downtown streets are closed on an occasional basis, Vasquez said. The consultant made a recommendation for a seasonal closure of Maple Street after surveying residents and visitors, as well as downtown business owners, workers and property owners on Maple Street. Focus groups with Maple Street business owners and property owners were also conducted. Certain concerns that resulted from the focus groups included complaints about “ugly” barricades along Maple Street, difficulty dropping off children, traffic on neighboring streets, litter and noise and a sense that non-restaurant businesses are less visible. On the flip side, some business and property owners said restaurants were able to add more staff and some retails obtained new customers because of the temporary Maple Street closure that was in effect. A traffic impact study and observations of Maple Street activity and the surrounding area were taken into account, as well.

Traffic Impact Study

Maurice Rached, the Division Director of Traffic & Transportation at Colliers Engineering, said this past September he analyzed six major intersections along Union Place and Springfield Avenue. Maple Street was closed at the time for outdoor dining, so he said there was not much to analyze at the intersection of Springfield and Maple. Rached said five of the intersections were operating at an “acceptable level of service.” However, he said the intersection at Union Place and Summit Avenue causes high traffic delays, with the average vehicle waiting for up to almost two minutes. Rached since this intersection has been an ongoing issue for the city, and he suggested that the County could install a traffic signal, which could cut down the wait down to 38 seconds per vehicle. In comparison to other busy streets in Summit, Rached said Maple does not carry a “huge number of cars.” “From a traffic standpoint, if you wanted to close a street, Maple would be the one,” Rached said. “If you redirect the traffic, none of intersections will be overcrowded, except for Union and Summit.” Councilwoman Jaime Levine later argued that a traffic study should have been conducted when Maple Street was open to cars as a means for comparison. Resident Kevin McGoey later agreed with this sentiment. “When you want to understand the impact of [the closure], you would need to study it when the street is closed and when the street is open, and how it impacts the other arteries,” McGoey said. “I don’t understand the value of a traffic study that doesn’t compare the two.” Rached said the study was conducted in September because it is the “worst time” for traffic, especially with school in session. The study was conducted during the morning peak hours from 7 to 9 a.m. and evening peaking hours from 4 to 6 p.m. during the week days. The traffic was also studied on Saturday peak hours from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., Rached said.

Transforming Maple Street

Here are some of the land use recommendations that the consultant provided when Maple Street is car-free:
  • Maintaining the pedestrian-area borders that were in place in 2022
  • Have small pick-up/drop-off areas at Springfield Avenue and near Union Place
  • Replace the jersey barriers and orange cones that have been used to block traffic with more attractive items, such as removable bollards and moveable planters
  • Maintain a walkway in the middle of the street to make it easier for pedestrians to pass through
In terms of year-round land use recommendations, the consultant suggested things like installing murals and art to create more “attractive pathways between parking areas and Maple Street.” Vasquez also suggested providing signage around Maple Street that promotes the businesses, as well as reducing the traffic speed through features like public art and temporary (or permanent) bump outs. In addition to live music and dancing on the street, Vasquez said more activities can be made available on the street, such as corn hole and other games. He also suggested renaming Maple Street from Union Place to DeForest Avenue to encourage visitors and drivers to think of it as a different space. New name suggestions included Maple Lane or Maple Place. From a legal standpoint, Rached said the city would have to obtain approval from the New Jersey Department of Transportation. The city can either seek a yearly approval from the NJDOT or a permanent ordinance to establish a pedestrian mall, Rached explained. The ordinance would also have to be approved by the NJDOT.

Resident Concerns

Despite a permanent closure being taken off the table, many residents still expressed concerns about closing Maple Street at all. One longtime resident said closing Maple Street “puts too much pressure” on the other streets in the downtown and may cause more traffic issues. She said she often goes to New Providence’s downtown where she believes parking is easier. “It’s all the incremental things that create the law of unintended consequences,” she said. “You can find a lot of people that say they don’t come to Summit anymore, they go to New Providence.” Other residents, like Allison Chieffo, argued that the survey that was sent out to residents was “flawed” and that many people never even received one. “The survey was flawed from the very start,” Chieffo said. “I received it because I subscribe to the Summit Downtown newsletter. I know plenty of people that never received the survey.” She also said many of the questions were flawed. One question asked “how many times a day do you drive down Maple Street.” But Chieffo said at the time the survey was sent, Maple Street had been closed off to cars for about four months, so it was hard to answer the question. “You took data from a flawed survey, regurgitated it, and came up with flawed results,” she said.

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