A vision for a redone Atlantic Avenue designed to better balance traffic, pedestrians and cyclists was presented at a public meeting Wednesday night, drawing strong reactions from the residents and business owners in attendance.
The draft plan, presented by Montclair-based Arterial LLC, a consulting firm hired by the city, proposed a complete street makeover. New concrete sidewalks would be poured, and more visible crosswalks intended to discourage jaywalking would connect corners made accessible to those with disabilities. Cube-shaped seats would be placed in between newly planted trees. Additional L.E.D. streetlights would be added, along with new curbs made of a durable material such as granite.
Most significantly, Arterial proposed adding a bike lane on each side of the street in between the curb and parking lane. Doing that would reduce the traffic flow to one lane in each direction with a turning lane in between, though Dave Lustberg, the Arterial staffer who presented the design, said that part of the proposal is still up for debate.
Studies and public feedback have shown that while Atlantic Avenue serves as a major transportation thoroughfare and hosts numerous businesses, it also struggles to accommodate cars, trucks and buses, Lustberg said. A lack of bike lanes means cyclists are forced into the middle of the street or onto the sidewalk, he said, putting both them and pedestrians at risk.
Elizabeth Terenik, the city’s planning director, said state statistics reveal Atlantic Avenue to be one of the most dangerous streets in the state for those groups.
In addition to improving safety, Terenik said the city wants to better the quality of life for residents while also growing its population by attracting young professionals, a demographic that desires pedestrian and bike-friendly neighborhoods.
“There are less and less people who live here because the city has been designed for the tourists,” Terenik said. “We’re trying to create public spaces, to make it a more appealing place to live, bringing back the neighborhoods that we once had. We need to respect those aspects of the city that have been disrespected because we designed it for the cars.”
Phase one of the project would focus solely on redoing the sidewalks on Atlantic Avenue’s 1700 block. Construction would be paid for with a $400,000 grant the city received from the Department of Transportation. Because the money must be used by the end of 2015, work would begin in the fall and end by the end of the year, Terenik said.
Phase two, which Lustberg said will be presented to City Council later this year, will propose reconstructing 10 blocks of Atlantic Avenue, between Mississippi and South Carolina avenues. That plan will deal with the street as well as the sidewalks, he said.
The source of the funding for that phase isn’t yet known, but money exists for streets deemed to be dangerous, Terenik said.
Some of those at the meeting said the city was overplaying the need to accommodate cyclists. The street needs to be dedicated to vehicle traffic, they said, especially during the tourist season, while cyclists should be redirected to adjacent streets or the Boardwalk.
But Atlantic City resident Dennis M. Konzelman supported the plan.
“It’s going to be a clean, safe environment for people to go to,” Konzelman said. “I ride my bike everywhere. I want to feel safe, and I think this is a way to do that.”
John Exadaktilus, the owner of Ducktown Tavern and Liquor, said he liked the idea of an Atlantic Avenue that is more welcoming to pedestrians and bikes but that disruptive truck traffic needs to be dealt with, too, especially during business hours.
Exadaktilus suggested passing a city ordinance requiring all deliveries to be made between midnight and the morning, an idea Councilman Steven L. Moore, who attended the meeting, said he would be open to.
“Everyone has to be accommodated,” Exadaktilus said, summing up the meeting’s overarching theme.
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