By Ron Leir
With the winter – and sledding – season right around the corner, Kearny residents who live on or near Afton St. are trusting the traffic – with some adjustments – to “flow gently,” as the song goes.
In the spring, some residents petitioned the town to change the flow of traffic on Afton, from the current two-way between Belgrove Drive and Passaic Ave., to one-way west, down the hill.
Last Wednesday, about a dozen residents from the neighborhood gathered at Town Hall, along with Mayor Alberto Santos, several Town Council members and Police Chief John Dowie, to hash out the issues and to hear an analysis of the proposed change of direction by consulting traffic engineer Brian Intindola.
His assessment, after taking traffic counts during morning and peak hours, is that, “Afton’s functioning as it should. The overall lines [of traffic] don’t seem to make a case for one-way.”
And, he said, the street’s 30- foot width should offer enough clearance, with parking on both sides, for up to 3,500 cars per day – and current traffic counts show only about half that volume now.
Changing Afton to one-way, Intindola said, could cause a “disproportionate hit” to Peden Terrace, a side street that drivers access to drop off and pick up children at Garfield School. Resident Judi Albrecht readily agreed, saying: “If you make [Afton] one-way, it’s going to be worse on Peden.”
What the town should be doing, Albrecht added, is “pave more streets.” The mayor answered that the town was doing what it could but was limited by the high costs of resurfacing.
In any event, the engineer concluded, “I can’t come up with a compelling reason to have Afton [between Belgrove and Passaic] one-way.”
“The biggest problem is when it snows,” said Brenda Sagitas, who lives on William St., one of the side streets off Afton on the hill section of the block. Sagitas was one of the spring petitioners.
Because the town doesn’t “plow curb-to-curb,” and because parked cars stick out further from the snow-packed curbs, drivers struggle going up and down that hill and “people argue,” Sagitas said. “You cannot get up and down that hill.”
Given those conditions, Sagitas said that neither she nor her husband Tom will leave their parking spot. “We don’t go out because we know we’re not getting back.”
Another potential safety hazard, she and other residents mentioned, are the kids, from in and out of Kearny, who use that section of Afton as a sledding route when the snow piles up.
And, Sagitas said, there are people who park “at the yellow curb at Belgrove and Afton. That’s not enforced.” That infraction, she said, makes it tougher for traffic to negotiate a right turn onto Belgrove from the south side of Afton.
“If we post for [snow] emergency [no parking] earlier,” said Chief Dowie, “we’re not going to have to have so much enforcement. Generally, it’s the same people. … You’ve got to do it for the first snowfall to show you mean business.”
Santos said the town should consider “leaving those signs out until the snow abates on the south side of Afton” as ample warnings to discourage would-be parkers and head off likely tows.
The mayor said he empathized with some of the more unfortunate victims of snow tows. “I’ve had longtime residents on Belgrove come to me in tears because they were out of town when it snowed and their cars were towed,” he recalled.
“Let’s try to solve [the Afton traffic concerns] by using other measures and if they don’t work, I guess we’ll come back here and meet again,” Santos said.
Those other measures, as pitched by Councilwoman Carol Jean Doyle, are, as of now, focused on extending the no parking zone about 40 feet west on the south side of Afton to the driveway access to Veterans Field and moving the stop bar back a bit – both designed to afford easier right turns from Afton to Belgrove – and to restrict right turn on red at that intersection, which would require a town ordinance to implement.