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Ridge Neighbor Wants to Set Record Straight on Traffic

Longtime resident says she takes issue with some other comments on high school traffic option, and explains why.

To the Editor:

As a South Finley resident, I have been closely following the “Ridge High Traffic Problem”, and began to pay even greater attention after the Board of Education published the results of its traffic study in June. Since then, I have attended all BOE and Township Committee (TC) meetings and have addressed each group on several occasions, orally and in writing. I take issue with several recent comments by Patch readers.

Based on my experiences and observations, as well as media reports throughout the better part of the year, I have learned or concluded that:

  • Ridge High’s Principal, the Superintendent of Schools and the BOE created this “crisis” by rerouting morning buses through Homestead Village.
  • The TC opposed that action, given its impact on Homestead Village residents.
  • Homestead Village residents understandably objected to additional bus and new auto traffic.
  • Nonetheless, the BOE did not reverse its decision.
  • Instead, the BOE pressed the TC to solve its traffic problem by rerouting morning traffic to the Municipal Complex.
  • The TC declined, expressed its opposition to use of the Municipal Complex and cited a number of concerns, including those outlined by Mayor Pavlini in a March 14 letter to the BOE.
  • The BOE then commissioned a traffic study and eventually proposed three options:  (1) use of the Municipal Complex; (2) widening Ridge High’s existing secondary driveway (south of the Health Department); or (3) constructing a new, third driveway (north of the Health Department).
  • The “Municipal Complex” option was originally presented as a plan by which vehicles would discharge students along Astor Fields, and then proceed around the circle and exit onto Collyer Lane.  Apparently prompted by concerns expressed by or on behalf of the Police Department, that solution has since been “tweaked,” to provide access to Ridge High Parking Lot C via the gravel road along the east side of Astor Fields, presumably making it unnecessary for vehicles to exit via Collyer Lane and presumably addressing the Police Department’s concerns.
  • Given the TC’s continuing opposition, however, it appears that this does not fully address all of the concerns outlined in Mayor Pavlini’s letter.
  • Several residents have noted that two events occurred in 2005 relating to this issue.  First, It’s been reported that the TC then approved use of the Municipal Complex and the gravel road along the east side of Astor Fields to access the rear parking lot at Ridge High. Also in 2005, the BOE, in referendum materials made available to the public, represented that new parking lots would not be used for student parking.  
  • I am unclear as to what the TC intended by its 2005 action. However, contrary to the BOE’s 2005 representations, students are now permitted to park in Lots C and D.
  • Irrespective of the TC’s 2005 intentions, the gravel road has not been opened up to Ridge High traffic.  Given traffic changes that have occurred in the past 7 years, I also don’t know whether or not that remains a viable option.       
  • As to options (2) and (3), it has been reported that either would require the widening of South Finley Avenue, which is inconsistent with the Township’s Master Plan.
  • Two TC members have expressed opposition to the widening of South Finley.
  • I am opposed to the widening of South Finley, as residents who live at and around the Lake Road/Ridge High intersection have borne the brunt of past failed “solutions” and our quality of life has already been significantly impacted by changes at Ridge High over the years. Moreover, options (2) and (3) may (or may not) relieve congestion on the Ridge High campus itself, but could actually increase congestion on South Finley, by getting cars and buses off the campus more quickly but into a street that has limited capacity to absorb more traffic.  I also believe that both of these options could present safety risks.
  • Based on media reports, Carolyn Gaziano has proposed several actions that Ridge High could take on its campus that could solve, or alleviate, the problem. 
  • I have seen no substantive response from the BOE to Ms. Gaziano’s suggestions.
  • Other than installation of speed “tables”, new lane striping and signs directly in front of Ridge High’s main entrance — which were intended to address “weaving” across lanes, and would do little, if anything to alleviate congestion — I have seen nothing to suggest that Ridge High administration has taken any measures to solve its campus traffic problem.
  • As to my letters, the TC has acknowledged my correspondence, engaged in substantive discussions with me about my concerns and has been attentive and respectful to me when I’ve spoken at TC meetings.
  • I believe that Ms. Gaziano has attended every BOE meeting since the BOE’s consultant presented the results of his study on June 25, as this subject was either on the agenda or it was reasonably foreseeable that it would be raised during the proceedings.
  • On the other hand, my written communications to the BOE have pretty much been ignored and most board members appear to be bored when I’ve spoken at their meetings. On two occasions, it was my impression that the BOE president attempted to discourage public input by stating, in effect, “that we’ve been down this road a long time.” As a South Finley resident, however, my “road” began in late June, with the publication of the BOE’s traffic study and I have been diligently trying to convey my concerns to the BOE ever since. In my judgment, the BOE does not appear to be interested.
  • The BOE created a Citizen’s Advisory Task Force earlier this year to address the problems that resulted from the rerouting of buses through Homestead Village and identify potential alternatives. It included representatives from Homestead Village. 
  • One of my South Finley neighbors asked to join this Task Force. It is my understanding that he did not receive a response to his request.
  • More recently, I asked the BOE to establish another Citizens’ Advisory Task Force and include one or more representatives from South Finley in order to give us the opportunity to voice our concerns and explore potential alternatives.
  • I have received no response to my request.        
  • The BOE and the TC, at meetings on October 8 and 9 respectively, announced the formation of a Joint Task Force (comprised of members of the TC and the BOE) to address this problem.
  • Prior to the creation of this Joint Task Force, the BOE and its Facilities Committee was responsible for addressing the traffic problem and it controlled the scheduling of meetings, setting of the agenda and apportioning the amount of time devoted to this issue. 
  • It is my understanding that the Joint Task Force was formed at the suggestion of the TC, since the BOE’s Facilities Committee has a broad range of responsibilities that impact all township schools. A Joint Task Force, with a narrower focus and fewer members, would permit both the BOE and the TC to better focus on and give this problem the attention that it deserves. In my opinion, this Joint Task Force was reflective of a more collaborative approach to resolving this problem and a great step forward.   
  • At the October 9 TC meeting, Ms. Gaziano stated that all options would be on the table, members of the public will have the opportunity to offer input and the Task Force will publish its findings to provide greater transparency.
  • When BOE President Susan McGowan announced the formation of this Joint Task Force on October 8, no members expressed opposition and the Task Force actually held its first meeting on October 10.
  • Now —on October 15 and following the Joint Task Force’s first meeting — Superintendent of Schools Nick Markarian says that the BOE needs to “formalize” its participation in this Joint Task Force; the BOE will be unable to do so prior to October 29; and the next scheduled Joint Task Force meeting on November 5 (which would include members of the public) “remains highly tentative.”

Based on all of this, I don’t think that the TC can reasonably be accused of being “recalcitrant”, as a Patch reader suggested. But, to the extent that anyone might conclude that that characterization is fair, I would suggest that the BOE has been at least equally recalcitrant by apparently failing to fully address Mayor Pavlini’s concerns, disregarding suggestions put forward by Ms. Gaziano and John Carpenter and ignoring input from concerned residents.

Most people who have already offered opinions on this subject seem to agree on three issues: (1) the routing of buses through Homestead Village should be stopped as quickly as possible; (2) any action further impacting South Finley residents is not a viable option; and (3) to the extent that the TC maintains its position with respect to use of the Municipal Complex, the public deserves a full and complete explanation for its decision. I hope that that the BOE will do what it said it was going to do and move forward with the TC to establish a Joint Task Force and that the Joint Task Force, mindful of the three point made above, will move forward to develop and implement an effective strategy for solving this long-standing problem.  

Very truly yours,

Eileen Walsh

280 S. Finley Ave.,
Basking Ridge  

Parag Dhagat October 16, 2012 at 11:37 PM
my feeling is that after reading this 'letter' the likes of the ex-PTO presidents will reconsider and not vote out the TC come election day, and instead will require that the...BOE members and administrative staff take the initiative RIGHT NOW (Wednesday; 10-17-2012) to call an emergency meeting to “formalize” its participation in the Joint Task Force, and does it without a delay till 10-29-2012.
Laura October 16, 2012 at 11:45 PM
@Eileen- kudos on your thoughtful and comprehensive summary which will hopefully move solution forward.
SZ October 17, 2012 at 01:43 AM
Eileen - you should serve on the Task Force. You have done an excellent job of constructively outlining the events, summarizing the keys issues and focusing on the solution. Keep up the efforts.
rescue October 17, 2012 at 12:12 PM
The only solution is to allow staff/students to enter the upper parking lots through the municipal complex in the morning between 6:30 and 7:30. This will not affect the police because the cars are entering not exiting, it won’t affect the municipal employee or St. James because they don’t start until later, and it won’t affect residents because not one lives on Collyer. If the TC doesn’t want the busses dropping off at Cedar Hill then they should stop it. If they don’t have the authority to stop the buses from going through Homestead Village then they don’t have the authority to stop cars from going through the municipal complex. In which case, people should just start using the gravel road and force the issue. The township committee needs to take responsibility for the traffic issue at Ridge because they approved the expansion of Ridge and they were well aware of the traffic issues that it would create and they own all of the surrounding property. Enough of the “not in my back yard” attitude. They do work for us-the taxpayers.
callmecrazy October 17, 2012 at 01:28 PM
This letter is clearly written by an intelligent person who knows how to stay focused on the issues. Great Job Eileen, whomever you are. The BOE and TC should put Eileen in charge of gathering a couple more residents from around the school who should be on the committee. Rescue makes a good point as well. Lets all go to that neighborhood one morning and stop the buses from coming in! We should all help our neighbors. I certainly would not want buses coming through my street. and a little off topic here, the BOE seems to pick and chose when they respond and when they don't to emails, which is just not acceptable.
Laura October 17, 2012 at 01:48 PM
The roads in Homestead Village are public. TC has no authority to set who can use them. The parking lot of Cedar Hill belongs to the Board of Ed, they can set the rules for who can enter that. The driveway and parking lot at the Municipal Complex are town property, so the TC does have the authority to set the rules there. If people "just start using the gravel road", or driving across the field for that matter, they will be trespassing. BTW, a significant number of kids park on Collyer, and they, along with a lot of other walkers from neighborhoods north of the school, walk up that driveway. Increased traffic there would create the same hazards for walkers there that it does in Homestead Village, and should be addressed by any decision.
Parag Dhagat October 17, 2012 at 02:48 PM
Dear Rescue: You are playing the devils advocate here. 1) you do not provide your real/official full name (as many others....wrongly...and still others who use only first names/initials) while interjecting yourself into a Township affecting conversation.2) instead you use a handle (avatar/whatever) that calls itself 'rescue' but is more a 'rebel-rousing /anarchist/parallel-force-creator-personality'.3)exactly such anarchy (people should just start using the gravel road and force the issue type) may create future legal 'loopholes' through which 'outsiders' walk right through when attentions are diverted, eventually resulting in events not unlike what Liberty Corner is experiencing....or even worse! Ms. Walsh's lucid explanation, point-wise, clearly suggests how for the relatively smooth official process to proceed properly, requires a quick/urgent formalization by the BOE members and administration, instead of waiting till 10-29-2012!...and here you go rousing people to commit a police-ticket-ensuing-break-the-law type of event!..... as a sentient fellow human i can empathize with your frustration, but the methodology ...WRONG!
Parag Dhagat October 17, 2012 at 03:02 PM
we all want buses out of HV. The township may be better positioned to get the buses out of HV legally, only if the HV has a chance at, then does apply for and is granted privatization of the HV-roads as part of an HV-homeowners association...but that can happen only after the BOE moves FAST to first move the Peachtree Road entrance of BOE and Cedar-Hill school, out of HV! Until then, HV roads have to remain 'public' and may unfortunately keep experiencing 'traffic'...so again, who needs to be asked to move here...fast...BOE to begin with! remember...everything needs to be done legally/properly/not 'rescue'-type moves please!
claritas October 17, 2012 at 03:10 PM
I suspect that both sides are being boneheaded, but Ms. Walsh's letter is too confusing and vague to be very helpful. It's impossible for most of us to keep track of who said exactly what and who has ignored whom over these many months of discord, so let's get this information together in the same place at the same time. Could Ms. Walsh please specify the actions and suggestions that she said Ms. Gaziano and Mr. Carpenter proposed and the concerns contained in Mayor Pavlini's letter of Mar. 14 to the BOE? Also, according to Ms. Walsh, at the Oct. 9 TC meeting Ms. Gaziano stated that "all options would be on the table." This sounds like a softening of the TC's position. But the Bville News account of that meeting quoted her saying, “We’re going to be discussing everything, looking at areas of commonality, and seeing how to make it work for everybody,” which is not the same thing. Did Ms. Gaziano say both things that night?
n October 17, 2012 at 05:50 PM
Eileen Walsh is correct to say that TC didn't create the problem, but they haven't helped very much either, despite what was said at the TC meeting by Ms.Gaziano and concurred by Ms.Pavlini. The TC election is Nov.6th along with the BOE. This gravel road could be open in hours and be tested for several weeks. The BOE could have the buses rerouted with one call to the bus company. Yes, the wheels of government grinds slowly, but I've seen things happen in a flash with the right motivation. If you think that by kissing up to the TC & BOE is going to get things done & done faster......then I have a gravel road for sale. Don't fall for that tale, that by replacing people on the TC or the BOE, you will put an ill informed person in their place. That is what incumbents want you to believe.
Eileen W October 17, 2012 at 09:59 PM
I read of Ms. Gaziano’s suggestions in the local papers and/or The Patch and Ms. Pavlini’s letter is linked to minutes of a TC meeting. Re: Ms. Gaziano’s comments, my notes from the TC’s 10/9 meeting indicate she said the Joint Task Force would consider “every possible solution”, “nothing is off the table” and the group would “explore all options”. I believe I captured her words accurately and think my interpretation was fair. The extent to which use of the Municipal Complex is “on the table” probably depends on the extent to which the BOE addresses Mayor Pavlini’s concerns. Also, in the first letter I sent to the TC and the BOE, I supported the “municipal complex solution”; after further research, that option may be more complicated than I first thought. At this point, I don’t whether it’s the best choice or not. I do know that Homestead Village residents are anxious to get the buses out of their neighborhood and I am concerned that South Finley may again be the default option for solving Ridge High’s traffic problem. Hopefully, the BOE will quickly resolve any open issues concerning its participation in the Joint Task Force and the JTF will, with constructive public input, move quickly to find the best possible solution.
claritas October 18, 2012 at 02:07 AM
Eileen: Thank you for your response. I found Mayor Pavlini’s letter in the Mar. 27 TC minutes, but the link didn’t work. But I imagine the Mayor’s Mar. 14 letter says pretty much what the minutes state: “The Municipal Complex and Collyer Lane currently experience heavy pedestrian and vehicle traffic during the opening of the school day. These include: 1) municipal complex employee vehicle traffic, 2) other township vehicle traffic, 3) police cars, 4) cars dropping students off who then walk across Astor field, 5) students walking up from Collyer Lane parking, 6) student walkers, 7) St. James School and nursery school traffic. Routing busses into the Municipal Complex (on its narrow driveway) would, among other things, combine bus, car and pedestrian movement, recreating the very type of traffic and safety concerns that led the school to route bus traffic through Homestead Village in the first place. The resulting safety, traffic and emergency vehicle access problems would be unacceptable.” If this accurately summarizes the Mayor’s response on behalf of the TC, then I’m disappointed.
claritas October 18, 2012 at 02:07 AM
Eileen (Part 2): Trying to round up Ms. Gaziano’s comments from all the sources during the course of the year is a bit beyond my capabilities, but perhaps Patch’s intrepid reporter could pull that information together and inform us. Regarding your interpretation of Ms. Gaziano’s comment at the Oct. 9 TC meeting to mean that “all options would be on the table”: your interpretation is so much different than recent reports of the TC’s inflexible stance (I think Ms. Bonnefoi, the former PTO president, called it a “clear line in the sand”) that I hope the Patch reporter will follow-up and confirm that the TC is now willing to consider the MC property as part of a plan to fix the traffic problem. Though I see that you are now hedging your own support for a solution involving the MC, do you still believe “the public deserves a full and complete explanation for its decision” regarding use of the MC? If you think there is a viable option that does not involve Homestead Village, South Finley Avenue or the Municipal Complex, what would it be? Thanks.
c October 18, 2012 at 12:02 PM
This is exhausting all this about buses???
Eileen W October 18, 2012 at 02:46 PM
Yes, since the BOE's current proposal is different than the request that prompted the Mayor's letter. Many suggestions have been made during the past several months, directly to the TC and the BOE, that might be workable. I think the municipal complex option (and others) warrant further consideration, but I'm not now advocating any particular solution. But I do support a collaborative process that defines clear objectives, provides for public input in a more structured way, tries to find solutions to potential obstacles (rather than immediately dismiss an option as unworkable) and enables elected officials to arrive at a decision that works best for most, if not everyone, all as quickly as reasonably possible.
SD October 18, 2012 at 03:43 PM
Hopefully this will come up at the Bernards Township Candidates forum tonight and we can see how each candidate feels about bringing some traffic though the municipal complex. Or, see if they are at least open to giving it a trial.
n October 18, 2012 at 03:47 PM
@Laura, Yes, the roads in Homestead Village are public roads, but the TC has the power & authority to change & regulate the traffic patterns in HV. The TC can make some streets "one way" at certain hours, have "no right, no left, or no turn" signs installed, even lower the weight limit on the streets due to weight damage of the fully packed buses. The TC has been advised of these options during the TC meetings.
Candace Hull October 18, 2012 at 08:24 PM
While the Township Committee did not "create" the issue, availability of construction did and the ensuing ripple effect of traffic. What will happen when the quarry developments begins? Surely retired couples will not be buying those homes. This is a town problem that has been allowed to go unresolved. Homestead Village residents have every right to be concerned.
Laura October 18, 2012 at 09:16 PM
If it's true that the new parking spaces weren't supposed to be used for student parking in the original plan, but that now they are using them for student parking, didn't the BOE misrepresent the traffic situation when the construction was being approved? If they didn't allow so much student traffic in contravention to their own plan, maybe there wouldn't be such a problem. What's the point of having a plan approval process if it's disregarded, and why should the rest of the town, including HV, suffer for that?
Eileen W October 18, 2012 at 09:54 PM
Candace, I agree that HV residents have every right to be concerned. I don't believe that the buses should ever have been routed through that neighborhood and support HV's efforts to get them out.
Thomas Harrigan October 19, 2012 at 12:19 AM
I live(d) in homestead village and when I was in highschool I waked every day to school, I did not feel threatened by traffic and if traffic was backed up like it generally is on finley, I would feel even less threatened since the cars are not moving quickly and therefore risk is mitigated. In regards to people using other routes to enter the school, this is highly unrealistic because I have observed that when kids are dropped off at school their parents see the need to drop them within one foot of the entrance awning, which in and of itself is the main reason for the traffic, but also means that other drop off options are not realistic. I believe the best solution is a $1000 fine for drivers who do not obey the directions of the teachers who have to stand outside in the cold and rain to direct traffic(despite the fact that virtually everyone disregards their direction to get out at the first entrance). With a fine of this amount, people will both listen to the direction, mitigating the traffic problems, as well as reducing the school's budget shortfalls.

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