Council Rejects Proposal to Replace Central Ave. Stoplight With Signal

Report does not guarantee that traffic signal would provide "any measurable improvement in intersection safety."

Though it may have occurred during the final hours of Valentine’s Day, there was certainly no love lost at an emotional meeting Tuesday night.

At the beginning of a sweeping presentation that summarized almost eight years of history behind the Council’s decision to install a pedestrian-activated stoplight on Central Avenue, Mayor Andy Skibitsky spoke of the importance of building a consensus.

But after more than two more hours of discourse on a subject that has dominated public meetings for more than a year, and after a night that saw considerable conflict between residents as well as Council members, the only consensus reached was that the controversial mid-block traffic signal will not be moving anytime soon.

The Council voted 7-1 to not endorse a proposal made in a county commissioned report to replace the current stoplight on Central Avenue between Cedar and Clover Streets with a traffic light at the intersection of Central and Clover. The resolution was proposed by Skibitsky and quickly seconded by Second Ward Councilwoman Joann Neylan, who is also Chair of the Public Safety, Transportation and Parking Committee.

Third Ward Councilman David Haas, the only Council member to vote against the resolution, requested waiting until both the Council and members of the public had more time to read the traffic report before deciding whether to accept or reject its proposal. But the majority of the Council supported the process that lead to the decision to install the stoplight as well as the location of the signal itself.

“The current system works,” Skibitsky said. “It works well.”

The report, which was conducted by the consulting firm Pennoni Associates and commissioned by Union County, was dated Dec. 20, 2011 and received by the town last Thursday, according to the resolution. In addition to confirming that the signal was installed in accordance with the 2009 Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) standards and guidelines, the report also affirmed that the signal has been serving its purpose since its installation.  

“Based on observations, the signal operates as intended and is utilized by pedestrians,” the report states.

However, the report also includes a proposal to “replace [the] current mid-block HAWK signal with a ‘standard’ signal installation at Central Avenue and Clover Street.”

Skibitsky said the report will be available on the town’s website today.

In a particularly significant passage, the report states that “[t]he removal of the HAWK signal and the installation of a ‘standard’ signal at Central Avenue and Clover Street would require a considerable amount of work, including additional signal equipment and providing ADA compliant handicap ramps on all of the corners, without necessarily providing any measurable improvement in intersection safety.”

First Ward Councilman Frank Arena said the report was particularly compelling when it concluded that replacing the stoplight with a standard traffic light at the intersection of Central and Clover would not definitely be a safer alternative. He expressed hesitation to engage in what he speculated could be additional years of meetings and conversations leading to an end result that might not be as good as the stoplight that is in place now.

But while Arena focused on the possibility that moving the signal might not necessarily lead to a more effective outcome, Haas was less quick to disregard the report’s proposal. Though he clarified that the current mid-block signal is better than not having any signal at all, Haas said it was significant that the only study specifically tasked with tracking the effectiveness of the stoplight to date suggested that it should be at the intersection of Central and Clover and not at its current location.

“The fact that this is an improvement does not mean it’s the optimal improvement,” Haas said.

The Council’s discussion followed a 20-minute presentation by Skibitsky that detailed the process leading up to the decision to install the stoplight at its current location. Improving traffic conditions on Central had been a goal of the Council for 30 years and Skibitsky said discussions to mitigate traffic issues there and in other hotspots around town received particular attention beginning with the creation of a Traffic Safety Committee in July of 2004. He said that the subsequent process was deliberate, pragmatic and included notifications sent to every home in town.

“There was a lot of outreach to the public,” he said.

Skibitsky said the Council had three objectives when it decided how to best approach any alleviation of traffic issues on Central Avenue: providing a safe crosswalk for school children and other pedestrians, minimizing traffic flow interruptions and preventing cut-through traffic on side residential streets. Neylan said there was compelling evidence supporting the fact that the stoplight has effectively met these objectives.

“This improves safety at Central Avenue,” said Neylan, who also emphasized the importance of all pedestrians and drivers taking more responsibility for their own actions in order to reduce the risk of future accidents.

The decision to place the signal – activated by the county last February – on Central at the Cambridge Road cul de sac stemmed from data indicating that a mid-block crosswalk involves fewer “points of conflict” than a crosswalk at a traditional intersection. In other words, a person crossing a mid-block walkway has to worry about vehicles entering the crosswalk from only two potential traffic directions, whereas an intersection crosswalk could contain as many as 12 different points of conflict. This reasoning drew particular support from Fourth Ward Councilman James Foerst.  

“I don’t teach my child to cross the street by looking in 12 different directions,” said Foerst, who supported the mid-block signal location. “There’s a common sense solution [to the Central Avenue traffic problem]. We’ve implemented it.”

Haas said that no pedestrian would actually ever have to look 12 different directions before crossing the street, suggesting that Foerst’s inference that a crosswalk intersection was six-times more dangerous than a mid-block crosswalk was distorting the points of conflict data. He again stressed that the Council had before it the only report that was asked to specifically determine the best location of the signal and that it proposed moving it to the corner.

“I’m not ready to reject that,” he said.

Skibitsky said he was confused by Haas’ stance, reciting two statements that Haas had made at previous Council meetings that seemed to infer that Haas was opposed to installing a traffic light at the intersection of Central and Clover.

“I don’t have the luxury of taking every side of this issue, which you have done with the crosswalk,” Skibitsky said.

Haas repeated that having a mid-block pedestrian-activated crosswalk is an improvement over not having one and commended the Council on resolving a 30-year problem. He said he still does not advocate a traditional timed traffic light at the intersection of Central and Clover, but said there could be other options, such as a censor-equipped signal at the intersection that is predominantly green but changes as needed to accommodate pedestrians looking to cross the street.

About an hour after the meeting started, the Council ended its discussion and voted 7-1 to pass the resolution. Second Ward Councilwoman Vicki Kimmins was not present at last night’s meeting.

The second-half of the meeting opened the floor to public comments, which presented various perspectives on both sides of the stoplight issue. Frank Foley, who said his parents live in close proximity to the stoplight, questioned how the Council defined “vicinity” when measuring the number of accidents that have occurred in the area of Central and Clover during recent years. He also suggested that moving the light to the intersection would be a safer alternative.

“Isn’t it a little bit safer to have [the signal] at the corner?” he asked the Council.

Foerst answered Foley’s question in the negative. Foley also had an exchange with Skibitsky relating to a dispute the two allegedly had a local barber shop Saturday morning regarding public safety.

Adina Enclescu, who had the stoplight installed in front of her property and has been addressing the Council at its meetings ever since, said that Skibitsky’s presentation failed to take into account that the mid-block signal creates additional points of conflict emanating from her driveway. She suggested the Council was acting in an undemocratic fashion, an accusation that Skibitsky refuted.

The Council also received a large amount of praise and thanks from residents supporting their decisions on this issue and the Council members’ general civic duty.

“I’m just really here to just thank you,” resident Janice Sampson said. 

Tony DelDuca told the Council that he trusts its judgment, but also said that the way the stoplight issue has degraded into a series of personal attacks is “an embarrassment.”

“This isolated issue has gone much too far,” said DelDuca, before demanding that the aggrieved parties put an end to it immediately.

Dan Lynch, who said he has resided in Westfield for more than 40 years, said he has seen other problems that dwarf this one be resolved in a shorter time.

“You probably had a good reason in the beginning,” Lynch told Encelscu, before telling her that she cannot bring the Council to its feet anymore. “You lost the battle,” he told her.

Kimball Avenue resident Wally Parker said that while every resident has the right to raise issues to the appropriate governing body, it is incumbent to show respect and to be reasonable when considering how a process is adjudicated.

“There is no easy answer,” Parker said. “You can just do what’s in the best interest of the majority of the people. I think our town has done that.”

The string of speakers in support of the Council was markedly different from most recent meetings and was a pattern that did not go unnoticed. As Parker left the microphone, Haas commented that it was strange that there was suddenly a large group of residents speaking in support of the Council and wondered why so many happened to be in attendance last night.

“This issue has been beaten to death,” answered Parker, who had returned to the microphone and seemed to speak for the majority of residents in attendance. “It’s time we move on.”

Foerst then made a remark to Haas, saying that just because Haas did not like what many of the residents had to say did not mean they did not have the right to say it. Haas responded by telling Foerst that is not what he said and told Foerst not to put words in his mouth.

About 20 minutes later, Neylan returned to Haas’ comment and expressed her disappointment that he would say something that she said called the integrity of the entire Council into question.  

“I find that extremely offensive,” said Neylan, who told Haas his comment was “inappropriate” and said she did not appreciate the innuendo he was making. Haas clarified that he was not questioning anyone’s right to be present and to speak at the meeting, but disagreed with Neylan that his remarks rose to the level of being inappropriate.

Enclescu’s neighbor Maria Carluccio, who has attended meetings with her for more than a year and has vehemently advocated moving the light, maintained her position that the mid-block location is a dangerous one and claimed it has helped lead to .  

“You’re not getting it,” she told the Council. “The cars don’t stop when the light is activated because [the light] is in the middle of the road.”

Carluccio’s comments caused Foerst to momentarily leave the meeting and also drew criticisms from the audience, some of whom she referred to as “elitist snobs.”

“All [that] these people did was come up here and blow smoke,” Carluccio said.

“When the accidents stop, I’ll stop,” she later added. “When the light is moved, I’ll stop coming.”

As the meeting drew to a close, Skibitsky said that it is important that Council members and residents be able to have dispassionate discussions of passionate subjects, but returned to the notion that consensus is difficult to reach.

“If you try to please everyone,” he said, “we’ll be at a complete standstill and nothing would ever change.”

South Westfielder February 26, 2012 at 12:12 AM
NR9 February 26, 2012 at 01:37 AM
@South Westfielder. Now we might actually be getting somewhere productive in our dialogue! You said: “I never said in any of my postings that the current location is the safest place. I have been commenting on the behavior of those who are so quick to point out the Mayor's behavior when they themselves have been guilty of the same and worse behavior.” Here’s my response for you… If, for just a moment, you disregard everything you’ve seen/heard coming from Mrs. E, Mrs. C and Mr. Kasko at council meetings (disregard all the yelling and other nonsense from BOTH sides- Mayor and Town Council too!), and you focus on the light location and nothing but the light location, and you could have it located at either (1) Cambridge (current mid-block) or (2) Clover (intersection), which would you choose and why? Remember, disregard ALL of the PEOPLE and ALL of the politics. Just focus on THE ROADWAY itself. Which would you choose and why?
South Westfielder February 26, 2012 at 02:02 AM
So the ONLY thing you find productive is anything that supports YOUR point of view. I travel this road ever morning and every evening. It has only activated once for me and that was in the evening on a weekend. I do NOT find it confusing. I NEVER saw anyone try to make a turn in a driveway. I HAVE seen drivers cut out in front of traffic onto Central Ave. from side streets including Clover. I have seen most drivers going well over the speed limit and tailgating. The ONLY two things I can agree with you on is that the current location is different than what most drivers are used to and I would not want it next to my driveway. Moving it to Clover still does not solve the fact that is would be mid block on one side and that there are few or no sidewalks on the side of Central that the children who do cross can walk on. I have focused my response to JUST this light. What you, Kasko, and the others need to do is to focus on MORE than this one issue before you paint an entire person's leadership. By the way, I am a life-long Westfield resident, graduate of the school system and live not far from this light.
NR9 February 26, 2012 at 02:48 AM
@South Westfielder. Actually, I found it interesting that you don’t seem to have a strong opinion as to which location is the safest place and you indicated it was the personalities/behavior that were the issue for you. I thought we were going to finally be able to focus on just the roadway/safety issue. But, I guess not. But, you did say: “the current location is different than what most drivers are used to.” That’s exactly what the experts at Pennoni were concluding in their just-released report. They concluded EXACTLY YOUR POINT. They worded it a little differently though. They wrote: “At intersections with ‘standard’ signals, drivers have expectations of potential conflicts and are prepared for the possibility of stopping… The operation of the HAWK signal presents a dark signal face until activated by a pedestrian. This, combined with the unfamiliarity of the signal, does not necessarily create the expectation to stop for the driver.” Pennoni then went on to say… “our recommendation is to replace [the] current mid-block HAWK signal with a ‘standard’ signal installation at Central Avenue and Clover Street.” They further said that this “… would provide both a driver and a pedestrian with a more FAMILIAR form of traffic control.” Like you said, the location is ‘different’ from what most drivers are used to. Adopting the expert’s recommendation would remove that unfamiliarity and, in doing so, IMPROVE SAFETY. (continued…)
NR9 February 26, 2012 at 02:48 AM
(part 2 of 2) And, you also said: “Moving it to Clover still does not solve the fact that this would be mid block on one side.” That’s correct. It would still be mid-block on one side. But, the other side is not someone’s driveway. It is just the other side of a wood fence. I think that’s the reason why all the experts preferred Clover instead of Cambridge.
South Westfielder February 26, 2012 at 02:12 PM
I DID comment on safety. Read my comments again. There is no sense in having further "dialogue" with ou because the only response you will accept is that the light is unsafe. The engineers' report did not say it was unsafe. i do NOT believe the light's current location to be unsafe.
Adina Toescu-Enculescu February 28, 2012 at 12:28 AM
If you watched the last Council meeting on Channel 36, you could see that the Pennoni experts recommended the relocation of the crosswalk to the intersection of Central with Clover, and a manually activated standard traffic light. (red-yellow-green). It will control the traffic at the intersection, and it will not disturb or reduce the flow of the traffic on Central. Even more important, it will be SAFER for the pedestrians than a mid-block crosswalk as the drivers will not be confused any longer by the bizarre location of it. The number of accidents, 6 in 9 months is extremely troubling and are. The large daily near miss accidents are terribly It will also be safer for my household at 1310 Central Avenue as nobody will have the tendency to turn in my driveway thinking it is a street between the lights. This never happened before but it has happened 6 times during last 14 months. In December 2010, Mr.Sontz presented to them a petition asking for the relocation of the light and crosswalk exactly where the experts recommended. The petition was signed by 122 residents,53 of them from immediate vicinity of the mid-bloc crosswalk . Without any understandable reason the Mayor rushed the Council to vote against the experts recommendation. None of the 3 experts reports recommended the midblock location as he repeatedly said.Neither the mayor nor the council members took in the consideration the will of the residents who live in the neghborhood .
Adina Toescu-Enculescu February 28, 2012 at 12:47 AM
The mayor, and 6 Council members who did not have access to the Pennoni report more than 10-15 minutes, voted the way he wanted, meaning to reject the experts recommendation. Councilman Haas was the only one who understood the experts point of view and had the courage to vote according to what is right not what the mayor wanted. Mr. Haas has all our respect. Council woman Vicky Kimmins was not present at the meeting.
Adina Toescu-Enculescu February 28, 2012 at 01:09 AM
As you could see on Channel 36, at the well-staged meeting, on Valentine day, there were a series of residents invited to praise the mayor and to give all of us a lesson of civility. I agree with them: everybody has to be civil. Interesting enough, that some people forgot, or did not know how arrogantly and rude the mayor has treated each resident who expressed their negative opinion on the mid-block location of the lights and crosswalk, and asked for their relocation to intersection. He culminated on January 31st, when unprovoked, he tried to discredit Mr.Kasko who has provided documents and true data. Even more incredible, Mr. Foley revealed on February 14, how the mayor insulted him in public, calling him “a buffoon” a jack ass” and “an idiot”, and telling him “if you don’t like it, move!”. Is this civility? The mayor did not deny it, by contrary, forgetting the witnesses; he invented an explanation just to excuse himself and to discredit the resident. He put words in our mouth and ridiculed us. So, what can one expect from the people who were mocked, lied about, ridiculed for such a long time? To praise Mr. Skibitsky? And what the people who praises him would feel and would do if they were in our shoes or they were treated as Mr. Foley was?? Would they praise him any longer? Instead of doing the right thing, instead of correcting a mistake, and ending elegantly the issue, the mayor complicated it in the embarassing meeting on February 14.
Adina Toescu-Enculescu February 28, 2012 at 01:33 AM
What about all the people who voted in the poll would feel invited to the Council meeting tomorrow night to express their opinion? The Patch poll might get official, and nobody would be suspicious any longer. Regardless they think it is official or not, I thank all of you for your vote! I voted once, I believe that only a sick mind or a dishonest person would do it differently, and I hope no one in Westfield would do it.
Brendan Galligan February 28, 2012 at 07:39 AM
I have stayed out of the debates on the merits of this light (I don't drive down Central enough to care), and will continue to do so. I will however respond to your comments regarding the Patch poll and its usage. For a poll to be legitimate, it must be unbiased, and scientific. For those three reasons, the Patch poll must never be used. All the Patch poll says is that 95% (+/-) of Patch readers (not necessarily Westfield residents) who read the article, and decided to vote in the poll happened to vote against it. Since the Patch does not restrict multiple votes per account, nor do they restrict one account per person, it could in theory be one person that voted 2000 times against it. To create a scientific poll, with a 3% +/- margin of error and a 95% confidence interval, a polling firm would have to obtain responses from 271 eligible voters in Westfield. Assuming about half of all called will not respond, the firm will have to make 542 phone calls. This will cost approx $3000. I say a polling firm must be obtained because this issue is too locally charged for any individuals or groups to be impartial enough develop a truly unbiased poll.
NR9 February 28, 2012 at 12:42 PM
@Brendan Galligan. I would agree with you. The poll is not perfect. It is possible that there are people who have voted more than once (on both sides of the issue). But, as a quick and no-cost method, it's a worthwhile way to try and get the pulse of what people are thinking. If a scientific poll was conducted, maybe the results would be a little different. I just checked and saw that more have voted and the number is now exactly 1,400 votes. Assuming a town population of 30,000 and assuming for a moment that there were no duplicate votes, it would suggest that about 5% of the town’s residents read the paper, read that article (a lead story) and then participated in the poll. Voting by 5% (yes, I do realize many of the 30,000 include children, the old/sick, etc) does not strike me as being very high so as to suggest major vote duplication going on. (continued…)
NR9 February 28, 2012 at 12:42 PM
(part 2 of 2) While not perfect, I think of this poll as being more of a “casual” poll in nature—like when a group of people in a room are asked… “By a show of hands, who here thinks ‘A’? Now, who here thinks ‘B’?” If you listen to the mayor speak on this matter, you would think the entire room, less three people, was voting in agreement with him. However, this Patch poll is suggesting a far different picture. As of just a little while ago, there are only 79 votes approving the mayor’s position on this topic (5% of 1,400 votes). This small number of votes cannot go unnoticed. I do agree with and appreciate your insight into polling/statistics. But, I don’t think the results of this “casual” poll can be ignored.
Sally McBride June 05, 2012 at 09:08 PM
just came back to the page. Seems that since the poll got to settle down, the final count was 1334 yes and 1332 no's (as of June 6th). Guess all of the "no" votes in the first few hours/days, got overwhelmed by a steady stream of "yes" votes. Hmm, kind of strange if you ask me.
Sally McBride June 05, 2012 at 09:08 PM
oops, as of June 5th just came back to the page. Seems that since the poll got to settle down, the final count was 1334 yes and 1332 no's (as of June 6th). Guess all of the "no" votes in the first few hours/days, got overwhelmed by a steady stream of "yes" votes. Hmm, kind of strange if you ask me.
Huey Packard June 06, 2012 at 02:01 AM
Sally. you might want to get those blisters on your fingers checked out before they become infected. A side effect of excessive computer key voting to balance out the pole.
Sally McBride June 06, 2012 at 01:21 PM
NR9, it wasn't me. maybe someone up the votes on the one side since that is what was done on the other.
NR9 June 06, 2012 at 02:38 PM
@Sally McBride. It's now clear to me that the Patch polls can be manipulated more easily than I had previously thought. I concede that observation to you. While I had previously believed there was room for someone to easily cast maybe a few extra votes, I did not realize it could so easily be done on such a large scale. I think we can both agree that this is what occurred. I don't accuse you of being that person. Going forward, I will view Patch polls as being somewhat "less secure" than I had previously thought. I’ll leave it to Patch to monitor and correct for seemingly fraudulent mass-voting by the same person, assuming the technology they have in place allows for this.
Sally McBride June 06, 2012 at 08:20 PM
So when "your side" gets 1000 votes in the first few hours, it is just people excited. When "the other side" gets a 1000 votes over a long period of time, you admit there might be a problem. Huey Packard/NR9, you are fooling no one. I like out Huey Packard made his first post and only patch post on this topic (that had not be updated in 3 months,) within hours of my comment. Guess he was just tracking and decided now was the time to post. Or is NR9 willing to also admit it was really him. Of course he will not, but everyone else knows. I guess NR9 will "not understand" my post. That is his default comment when someone catches him
NR9 June 06, 2012 at 08:48 PM
Sally: "So when "your side" gets 1000 votes in the first few hours, it is just people excited. When "the other side" gets 1000 votes over a long period of time, you admit there might be a problem.” Response: Yes, that’s correct. I’m conceding that point to you. I did not agree with you several months ago on this topic but yes, I agree with you now. Unless and until Patch is able to significantly reduce the likelihood of such mass voting by one or a few people from going on, I will now begin to consider Patch polls as being far less reliable than I had previously thought. Sally: “Huey Packard/NR9, you are fooling no one.” Response: I have NEVER posted a comment on Patch under any name other than “NR9.” The person who posted under the name “Huey Packard,” like many others, must have that article listed in his/her profile as a “follow comments” article. When you made your post, he/she, and MANY others, not just you and me, got an email of your comment. Then, he/she made his/her comment accordingly, under the just-created name of "Huey Packard." You can think that person is me if you want but you’d be wrong.
Sally McBride June 07, 2012 at 12:40 PM
yes, and "Huey Packard" decided his first post ever would be to a 3 month old topic hours after I posted something. Suspicious, I guess some people will fall for it (probably only the people that have the multiple accounts)
Sally McTried June 07, 2012 at 02:31 PM
Sally, an email gets sent when someone posts a comment to a story All one has to do is check the appropriate box for email notification. Since you were the one that first posted after months of no postings once the topic died down, it is easy to deduct that it was you that was following or manipulating the poll for several months. Good job.
NR9 July 26, 2012 at 07:11 PM
Union County Freeholder Daniel Sullivan has a great quote in today’s Westfield Leader regarding installation of the HAWK light and pedestrian walkway at Cambridge Road, rather than at Clover Street. He said: “Whoever told you this is the county’s decision [Mayor Skibitsky] doesn’t know what he [Mayor Skibitsky] is talking about and is really trying to throw the blame back on us [for installing a confusing light at a confusing location]. Nothing is done… without the complete endorsement of the town… It was done at the request of Westfield [Mayor Skibitsky]." See page 1, lower portion of the page, in today’s paper. The Mayor knows it was his fault. He cannot continue to shift blame to the COUNTY officials.
Sally McBride August 13, 2012 at 06:14 PM
@Patch. Obviously this person has more than one account. Can you do something to control this? This is a person that obviously is using more than one account to cause trouble and to vote more than once in a poll. They might the site look bad
Sally McBride August 13, 2012 at 06:15 PM
and obviously it is NR9.
Sally McBride August 13, 2012 at 08:26 PM
I'm posting under my other account. I have over a hundred but I'm using thisone to make my point. I only voted yes 1315 times.
Sally McBride August 13, 2012 at 08:57 PM
another fake account by NR9? @patch, didnt he ask you to have accounts removed that looked like his name? What a child
Sally McBride August 13, 2012 at 11:31 PM
Now that the Olympics are over I can concentrate on voting "Yes" a couple more times a day.
Sally McBride August 13, 2012 at 11:36 PM
Sally McBride August 14, 2012 at 12:27 AM
Sally, Stop pretending to be me.


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