Councilman Dave Haas became the first Town Council member to publicly support the potential moving of the pedestrian activated stoplight on Central Avenue near the intersection with Clover Street.
Haas made his announcement during an emotionally charged meeting Tuesday night that saw one stoplight moving advocate declare war on Mayor Andy Skibitsky. Haas, who voted for the policies which led to the light’s creation, said that he cannot support the light’s current placement until he receives answers from engineering experts on safety of the midblock location.
“Now I am saying that I believe, that unless I hear from an engineer, that the best location for the light is at the corner,” Haas said.
The pedestrian activated light, placed as part of an overall project to improve the safety along the Central Avenue corridor, has been the focus of resident opposition since September. Central Avenue resident Adina Enculescu, who has the light on her front lawn, and her neighbor, Maria Carluccio, have been at Council meetings for 10 months for the light to be moved 150 feet to the intersection with Clover Street. Skibitsky and Council members have declined to move the light saying that they are awaiting data from a study of the light. The data is not due back to the town government until later in the summer or the early fall. The stoplight debate has led to several heated Council meetings, including one in the spring which pitted former Councilman Sal Caruana and Carluccio in a that spilled into the hallway.
Haas, who represents the third ward which includes the traffic light, noted that he has asked for the town’s traffic safety consultant, Gordon Meth, or for county traffic engineers to answer questions he has posed regarding the placement of the light. Haas, the Council’s lone Democrat, has not received answers to written questions he submitted earlier this year to Union County officials regarding the light’s placement. Central Avenue is a county road and county public works staff approved the final placement of the light on Enculescu’s front lawn.
Skibitsky voiced opposition to Haas’ comments, saying that the midblock location was the safest location for the light, based on all of the information currently provided to the Council. Skibitsky, who reminded Haas that he had voted for the entire project including the final placement of the light, said the information shows that a placement at the intersection with Clover would lead to potentially more accidents along with the need for a full stop light, instead of the pedestrian activated HAWK signal currently in place.
“I’m not going to move the light because we’re under flack to a less safe location,” Skibitsky said.
Skibitsky has declined having Meth speak at a meeting, saying that the engineer has addressed numerous meetings on the subject over the past several years. Several months ago, Haas and Councilwoman Vicki Kimmins the possibility of bringing Meth into a meeting. Skibitsky quickly quashed the idea at that meeting.
Skibitsky’s comments about the intersection being a less safe location drew a response from Enculescu, who was sitting in the audience.
“That’s not true,” she said.
Enculescu and Carluccio have said that the current location is less safe, saying that there have been frequent accidents and near accidents at the light. They have argued that on several occasions pedestrians crossing at the light have almost been hit by cars who have gone through the light.
With Enculescu and Carluccio claiming the decision to place the light on Enculescu’s front lawn was done in secret and they did not receive notification from the town, Haas defended the town’s actions. During his speech, Haas described the process as “open and transparent.”
Haas’ remarks followed the latest speeches from Enculescu and Carluccio, who have dominated Town Council meetings since September in advocating to remove the light. Both stuck to past talking points, noting the safety aspect of the light and questioning Skibitsky and the Council over the light’s placement. In a departure from , Skibitsky briefly engaged Carlucccio, saying that the data is still being collected and an analysis has not been completed.
Carluccio said that she believes she is now at “war” with Skibitsky, something the mayor quickly denied.
“We’re not at war,” Skibitsky said.
Carluccio said that she has been receiving anonymous postcards in the mail that she said that supported her and Enculescu. She also repeated several new cases where she said pedestrians were almost killed while crossing the street while using the light. She said she witnessed a couple almost hit by a car and that she recently helped a child cross the street out of fear the child would be hit by a car going through the activated light.
Carluccio addressed recent safety markings placed on the roadway.
“You’ve ruined my neighborhood,” she said. “I was duped seven years ago into buying a house on Central Avenue. Because it looked so beautiful. Now it looks like the landing pad for the Starship Enterprise.”
Carluccio also directly addressed what she believes Skibitsky’s actions have done to the neighborhood.
“This is our neighborhood you’ve ruined, ours, not yours,” she said.
Skibitsky lives close to the light in the Manor Park neighborhood and is a former third ward councilman. The mayor has been advocating for safety upgrades to the Central Avenue corridor since his tenure as a councilman.
Enculescu used her 10-minute address to cite what she said has been damage to her quality of life due to the light’s placement on her lawn.
“I see my property destroyed, my driveway destroyed,” she said. “I see in my house a red light like I am in the red light district of Amsterdam. I see it in all rooms. This is why I am not stopping until I get it moved to where it belongs. Republicans I want this moved.”
Enculescu said she has been receiving comments of support from residents in the neighborhood. She also noted that she believes that former Councilman Mark Ciarrocca, who was a proponent of the light’s location before his to become a , was lying regarding his son, Jack’s, use of the light. Ciarrocca said that Jack, a student at , uses the light to cross Central Avenue to get to school. Ciarrocca lives near the light’s location.
“Mark Ciarrocca’s son is a student at Edison and not ,” Enculescu said. “His son does not cross at the crosswalk. He could care less about the safety at this time.”
Enculescu did not offer evidence on whether or not Jack Ciarrocca uses the pedestrian activated light or another stoplight to cross Central. Skibitsky, a close friend of the Ciarrocca family, vouched that Jack Ciarrocca uses the pedestrian activated light to cross Central to reach the Rahway Avenue intermediate school.
When Skibitsky asked Town Administrator Jim Gildea to respond to a question from Enculescu about the data currently being collected about the light, Enculescu dismissed the answer.
“Mr. Gildea doesn’t know anything,” she said.
Enculescu later questioned Gildea directly.
“Mr. Gildea what did you do with my driveway?” she said.
“I did not do anything to your driveway,” Gildea responded.
Boulevard resident Joan Sanborn joined Carluccio and Enculescu at the podium advocating for the moving of the light for the second time. Sanborn said since her first appearance before the Council she has received an outpouring of public support.
“Everyone thinks it’s a bad idea,” she said. “People stop by my house and say thank you. I had no idea that people were so interested in this and thinking it was a bad idea. Move this light to Clover where it belongs or get rid of it.”
Sanborn questioned if there is a fine structure in place for drivers who ignore the directions of the crossing guard who is also at the intersection during school hours. The guard was put in place after Carluccio and Enculescu started advocating against the light. She said if fines are in place she would like them raised to encourage drivers to follow the crossing guard’s directions. She proposed fines ranging from $1,000 to $10,000.
Under state law, crossing guards cannot direct traffic and are only empowered to stop traffic to let a pedestrian cross. Crossing guards also are prohibited by law from ticketing drivers.
Independent Third Ward Town Council candidate Greg Kasko, an ally of Carluccio and Enculescu, spoke praising Haas and questioning Skibitsky over the data collection. Kasko, who stressed he supports having a light on that part of Central Avenue but would like the light moved to the intersection with Clover, said he would like to know when the data was being collected.
Kasko is challenging Republican Councilman Mark LoGrippo and Democrat Matt Sontz for the seat.
Skibitsky stressed the data was collected before the school year ended in June, a notion that Kasko questioned, saying he thought the data was being collected in the summer months. Kasko said that any data collected over the summer would be faulty since it would not include the high pedestrian crossing period.
Skibitsky defended the placement of the light.
“It would be less safe for children, that not seem to both you,” Skibitsky said of the move to the corner.
Kasko said that the HAWK light could be moved to the corner, citing a report he said he read saying that an intersection installment of the HAWK light in Tucson, Ariz. has shown a 97-percent compliance rate.
Kasko stressed he is in favor of having a light.
“I am against the current location of this light,” he said. “A light is needed on the Central Avenue corridor to protect our children and our residents.”