Millburn is officially ready to break ground on its Complete Streets initiative. On March 15, the Essex County township unanimously approved a bond ordinance for $8.2 million, and will make a down payment of $391,000 to get the project rolling. Millburn mayor Ted Bourke, who has been involved with the project since its conception in 2014, hopes to begin construction on Phase 1 this summer. The third and final phase is set to wrap up in October 2017. We caught up with Mayor Bourke to discuss the motivation behind the project.
Millburn’s Complete Streets initiative grew out of a series of issues that the township had been looking at independently. A string of downtown crashes highlighted the need for improved safety. Meanwhile, traffic conditions bounced between two extremes: speeding motorists on one end and unacceptable levels of congestion on the other. Lastly, township and business leaders were looking for a way to revitalize the downtown district. Thanks in part to the work of former Bicycle and Pedestrian Resource Center Ambassador in Motion Jerry Fried, who presented to the Township Committee in 2013, Complete Streets was developed as a framework that could address all the issues simultaneously.
According to Mayor Bourke, the ideas behind the Millburn Complete Streets Initiative are innovative, but the process has been the same as any other capital improvement program. The official effort began when former mayor Robert Tillotson established a Complete Streets Sub-committee to explore options for the downtown. RFPs were issued, contractors were chosen (Arterial, LLC of Montclair and Sam Schwartz Engineering), and conceptual designs were developed. (Their presentation to the Township can be viewed here.) From there, the usual sequence of stakeholder meetings, community engagement, and plan revision followed. The final plans were presented to the public in February, and involve many of the hallmarks of the Complete Streets movement: a road diet, curb extensions, flexible parking, and streetscape improvements. The township is even replacing a particularly troublesome four-way intersection with a roundabout.
The project has not been without its critics. Some business owners expressed concern about street trees blocking signs. An opinion piece submitted to the Item of Millburn and Short Hills wondered if drivers might search for other, less suitable routes around the newly traffic-calmed downtown, perhaps through surrounding neighborhoods. Many residents feel unsure about the reverse-angle parking to be installed along much of the roadways. But these are all expected growing pains, say city officials. By and large, the mayor says he has been amazed by the level of support from the public. There will always be some concerns, but among many residents, the Complete Streets initiative is recognized as a holistic solution to a suite of complex problems. As summer approaches and the seasonal lull in traffic begins, we can expect to see a flurry of activity as Millburn begins its downtown renaissance.
This article was written by Jeremy Glover, a Research Assistant at the Alan M. Voorhees Transportation Center. He is currently pursuing a Masters of City and Regional Planning at the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University.