Atlantic City officials installed road medians on Atlantic Avenue in the Lower Chelsea neighborhood during the 1990s but removed them in 2006 because they compromised visibility.
Now, medians are being considered for Atlantic Avenue between Michigan and Virginia avenues.
“You have more foot traffic (there), so there’s more jaywalking opportunity and more vehicle traffic. It’s a more dangerous situation,” Assistant City Planning Director Bill Crane said.
Conditions along Atlantic Avenue, particularly the Michigan-Virginia stretch, make the road among the 10 most dangerous in New Jersey, according to the latest rankings by the state Department of Transportation. Pacific Avenue also made the list. Atlantic City and Newark are the only municipalities in the state to appear twice.
That distinction contributed to DOT officials picking Atlantic City for its Local Technical Assistance Program. Consultants from DOT contractor Michael Baker Jr. Inc. have worked for nearly a year with city officials and residents on a plan to make city streets safer for bicyclists and pedestrians. Medians are one of several components expected to be included in the plan.
Medians are not a problem elsewhere in Atlantic City, officials say. And, they point out, they’ve reduced accidents in other cities.
A public hearing on a draft of the plan is expected in mid-October, DOT spokesman Joseph Dee said. It should be finalized by the end of this year and could yield discernible changes as soon as next summer.
Those changes could include adding a lane on each side of the road for bikes inside the designated parking area and extending curbing at Atlantic Avenue intersections to make crossing the street easier. Those changes would require reducing traffic lanes from four to two.
Any of those initiatives would be new for Atlantic City, except medians.
With mixed success, the resort has tried out landscaped concrete islands in various areas, although never in commercial areas such as the one now being considered.
In making their case, consultants pointed to other municipalities where medians have been effective.
In Newark, for example, a $2.5 million median installation improved safety along Broad Street. Before that initiative in 2007, the road averaged 55 accidents annually. Crashes have since dropped to an average 19 per year, said Jack M. Nata, manager of the city’s Division of Traffic and Signals.
While Atlantic City does not consistently use Newark for comparison, Crane believes medians will help.
“Any time you have a median, you will cut down on jaywalking, regardless of the surrounding environment,” Crane said.
Atlantic City has traditionally installed medians for aesthetic reasons, not safety, Crane said.
During the 1990s, the city built medians first on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and later on Atlantic Avenue south of Albany Avenue in the city’s Lower Chelsea neighborhood.
On MLK, the medians added trees and a jaywalking deterrent in the heavily residential area on both sides of the wide street. The road gets heavy use by delivery trucks entering Atlantic City from Route 30.
“MLK is still up and looks nice, but there were some worries about people getting stuck on the median,” City Councilman Tim Mancuso said. Mancuso represents the Sixth Ward, which includes Lower Chelsea.
Crane said the medians on MLK, coupled with police monitoring for speeding, seem to have worked in slowing traffic and discouraging jaywalking.
Although traffic is heavy, MLK is not among the streets where a significant portion of car crashes occur, police Sgt. Monica McMenamin said. And when accidents happen, their cause rarely can be tied to the medians. Instead, distracted-driver behavior such as texting or talking typically is to blame, she said.
Results in Lower Chelsea were different, however.
“It looked nice, but as far as safety, they were causing accidents,” Mancuso said.
Several beach block high-rises line Atlantic Avenue in Lower Chelsea. That makes for a dense population of drivers who exit parking garages attached to their buildings onto streets without traffic signals, Mancuso said.
“We have more density: more people, more jitneys, more overall traffic on the street,” Mancuso said. “People are speeding down from Margate and Ventnor, so you have problems with high-rises and people coming out and cars moving fast. Turning right is not bad, but turning left, that’s more of a concern.
“Speed reduction is a factor, too, because you have a lot of seniors coming out of there,” Mancuso said.
The four-lane street also is slightly wider through Lower Chelsea than it is in Ventnor and Margate. All of those factors seem to encourage speeding in that area, he said.
Signal improvements would accompany any new landscaped concrete islands on the stretch of Atlantic Avenue between Michigan and Virginia avenues. The medians would include fences and would span 15 feet, tapering to 6 feet wide at intersections under the forthcoming plan.
DOT officials and their consultants could not provide cost estimates for the medians and other possible components of the bike and pedestrian plan. The final version, however, will contain pricing information as well as plans for finding the money to pay for the medians and other components, Dee said.
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