By Jay Cook |
MONMOUTH BEACH – A 5 mph speed reduction on a stretch of Ocean Avenue, for only part of the year, may seem like an inconsequential change.
But for officials in tiny Monmouth Beach, it’s a victory worth celebrating, the result of a years-long battle to better protect pedestrians and beachgoers on the 1.7 mile stretch in their town.
On Monday, April 30, crews from the state Department of Transportation (DOT) were removing the 40 mph speed limit signs to swap in new 35 mph markers. The seasonal speed limit drop along Route 36/Ocean Avenue in Monmouth Beach is in effect from May 1 to Sept. 30.
“It’s a big relief and we’re very pleased,” Monmouth Beach Mayor Sue Howard said this week. “It’s going to go a long way to improving the safety conditions on that stretch of the highway.”
A speed reduction on the borough’s slice of Ocean Avenue had been studied about a decade ago. But Monmouth Beach Police Chief Thomas Walsh recommended the state revisit the speed limit again, now that the newly reinvigorated Ocean Avenue corridor has been almost totally rebuilt following the devastating Super Storm Sandy in 2012.
“Long Branch is being all built up along Pier Village, Sea Bright’s businesses are coming back, more and more people are coming to visit the beach areas,” said Chief Walsh. “It’s that combination of things, bringing more people.”
DOT staff conducted field studies on a Friday and Wednesday in July 2017 to study the motorist and pedestrian traffic along Ocean Avenue, according to a DOT report obtained through an Open Public Records Act request.
The investigator used radar technology and found 85 percent of motorists travelling in and out of Monmouth Beach were traveling at speeds of 40 to 41 mph on those days.
The DOT staffer documented 125 pedestrians and 104 bicyclists either using the shoulder or crossing Ocean Avenue on those days. There are eight beach access points, four public and four private, along the state highway. Two beach clubs – Monmouth Beach Bath & Tennis Club and the Monmouth Beach Bathing Pavilion – are also located on Ocean Avenue.
Despite most motorists adhering to the speed limit, there were 47 total accidents during a three-year stretch from 2014 to 2016 on busy Ocean Avenue, according to Monmouth Beach crash data. Thirty-six of them, or 76.5 percent, occurred between May 1 and Sept. 30. Of those, one involved a pedestrian and two involved bicyclists.
The data “doesn’t surprise me at all,” Walsh said.
Pedestrian safety has been a priority for Walsh during his tenure on the Monmouth Beach police force. When he was a special officer in the summer of 1995, a 32-year-old mother and her 3-year-old daughter were struck and killed at the Ocean Avenue/Valentine Street intersection. News reports after the accident said the driver attempted to illegally pass a car towing a boat when the fatal incident occurred.
Residents later successfully petitioned to have a traffic light installed at that intersection.
“That sticks with me and it’s why I’m passionate about it,” said Walsh. “I unfortunately had to witness it firsthand and see how dangerous it could be.”
Howard, the mayor, also said the 40 to 35 mph seasonal speed reduction in the neighboring borough of Sea Bright should have just reinforced Monmouth Beach’s case. On the other end, the speed limit is 40 mph in Long Branch.
“Obviously it’s been very difficult,” Howard said. “It took years of petitioning them to do the studies and make a decision while we were making the case.”
In an effort to quell concerns from residents and to further protect them, Walsh said during the summer months an officer is always at the Ocean Avenue/Valentine Street intersection supervising beachgoers as they head to the borough-owned pavilion.
He’s also been proactive with monitoring speeding through secondary and tertiary streets throughout Monmouth Beach. Residents will notice Evolis Radar speed signs along Griffin Street and Riverdale, Patten and Tocci avenues, installed in September in an effort to lower vehicle speeds around Monmouth Beach School. A trailered message board is stationed at different intersections in town and Walsh said the borough police utilize a “covert, small little device” called an Armadillo traffic data collector to monitor speeds when police aren’t present.
Walsh said the speeding crackdowns borough-wide are strictly meant for safety and not designed to be ticket-generating schemes.
“If everybody was going 35 (mph) and I wasn’t giving out tickets, I’d be a happy man.”
his article was first published in the May 10-17, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times.
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