Shortly after Westfield residents Maria Carluccio and Greg Kasko addressed the Town Council Tuesday evening regarding the accidents that they believe have occurred on Central Avenue as a result of the HAWK pedestrian activated midblock stoplight, the Council approved the placement of another HAWK light on North Avenue West between Charles and Clark Streets.
Councilwoman JoAnn Neylan, chair of the public safety, transportation and parking committee introduced the resolution and said that the committee had been working with the county, as that portion of North Avenue is a county road, and Lord & Taylor since 2010 to improve safety in that area.
Neylan cited a traffic report prepared by Gordon Meth on March 3, 2012 that concluded that a HAWK signal is recommended at that location. The County of Union engaged the firm of Pennoni Associates Inc. to review the report prepared by Meth and concurred with his findings.
The crosswalk, which allows employees access to the off-site parking lot, has been the scene of several accidents involving pedestrians.
In August 2009, a Lord & Taylor employee crossing from the parking lot to the store driven by a suspected drunk driver. The employee, 25-year-old Clark resident Gina Marrotta, received head injuries and broken bones in the accident, which resulted in the of Westfield resident Leslie Boughner. Several years earlier, a Lord & Taylor employee was killed while crossing in that crosswalk.
Councilman David Haas and Councilwoman Vicki Kimmins voted against approving the light Tuesday evening as each stated they wanted to have more information before making a decision.
"With all due respect to Lord & Taylor, I honestly can't vote yes for this," Kimmins said. "I'm really concerned. I don't necessarily believe that HAWK systems are the right way to go. I have not seen any report on this. I haven't seen any diagrams. So, I'm going to be voting no tonight."
Neylan said her committee "has discussed this particular midblock intersection many, many times" and felt comfortable bringing it to a vote.
Councilman Frank Arena reiterated that the signal will be paid for by Lord & Taylor and the Town of Westfield will provide for its maintenance once it is installed.
"I’m strongly in favor of this," Mayor Andy Skibitsky. "This is a very bad section of road to try to cross not only for employees but residents, commuters, and children. You can study any situation to death but the HAWK system is here to stay."
“There’s an intersection where we know there’s been a death. While the HAWK system is new it’s been approved and it’s going to start to be utilized around the country. If a HAWK system is going to, in any way, improve the safety of anyone crossing North Avenue then I think it's incumbent upon this Council to vote in favor of this to help to protect those people,” Councilman Jim Foerst said.
Skibitsky went on to say that when it comes to traffic safety "we have to defer to the experts and not public opinion and that’s what we’re doing here."
Haas questioned why in this case the Council was deferring to the experts, who were in fact the same experts who recommended from its midblock location to the intersection at Central and Clover Street which the Council rejected.
"I certainly appreciate the employees needing safe travels to and from work as well as any customers I just really feel with everything being talked about in the recent months or years that it just also behooves us to make the right decisions when it comes to new traffic lights or HAWK systems. As I said before, I'm just really uncomfortable voting yes when I really didn’t know about it until tonight and I don't necessarily know that the HAWK light is the way to go," Kimmins said, adding that she feels drivers are most comfortable with the traditional "green, yellow and red" signals.
Carluccio and Kasko, who have attend every Town Council meeting to voice their concerns, maintain that the configuration of the light, with its flashing signs and markings on the roadway, create driver confusion that has contributed to the that occurred within an 11-month time frame. Both Carluccio and Kasko had left the meeting by the time the resolution was adopted.
Councilman Keith Loughlin said since the HAWK light on North Avenue is a county project, he doesn't have a time frame for when the light will be installed.