Tackling Traffic Apps Could Curb Summertime Safety Concerns

By Gina G. Scala | Jan 08, 2020
Photo by: Ryan Morrill

Ship Bottom, NJ — For years, the southern portion of Shore Avenue area in Ship Bottom has been used as an alternate route, mostly by locals, for heading south on the Island via Barnegat Avenue to Central Avenue and finally the Boulevard as far south as 28th Street. That’s no longer true, and while it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly when the not-so super-secret backway onto LBI became more popular, one thing is certain: Navigation apps appear to control the fate of traffic on small, residential roads such as 10th, 11th, and 12th streets.

Google Maps, Waze, Apple Maps and Here WeGo are just a few of the many smartphone navigational apps that have changed the way Americans travel local and interstate roads daily. The features may vary, but the end result is the same: get the motorist from point A to point B by avoiding traffic snarls from accidents, roadwork and volume.

And they’re doing it, according to Ship Bottom Councilman Joe Valyo, by taking motorists “down small roads” and shaving, in some cases, as little as five minutes off the estimated arrival time.

Valyo has pointed to navigation apps as at least one reason residents of 10th Street in Ship Bottom spent last summer dealing with an uptick in traffic and speeding on their residential road. The issue stems, in part, from 10th Street’s proximity to the entrance of the barrier island from the Causeway bridge system, the sole ingress and egress roads to LBI from the mainland. A quick right off the Causeway onto Shore Avenue, then 10th Street, a residential road, is the first left. It intersects with Barnegat and Central avenues and Long Beach Boulevard before dead-ending at the ocean beach.

These shortcuts eliminate seven traffic signals, between Ship Bottom and Long Beach Township, excluding the state Department of Transportation signals on Eighth and Ninth streets in Ship Bottom, said Valyo, also the borough’s emergency management coordinator.

“Right now, no one needs to take a shortcut because there are no (working) traffic lights and the speed (limit on Long Beach Boulevard) increased,” he said. “In spring, that’s when the shortcuts come into play.”

During the peak months on LBI, causes of traffic congestion in Ship Bottom, the gateway community to the barrier island, are often threefold. First, it’s the outbound traffic from the south end of the Island hoping to beat the lights and traffic on the Boulevard. Those motorists cut across Central Avenue, which is one-way, before turning right onto Barnegat Avenue. Barnegat Avenue has two traffic signals where it intersects with Eighth and Ninth streets, the inbound and outbound Causeway. That’s where the traffic gets tricky as motorists coming onto the Island and turning left at Barnegat Avenue often block or nearly block the intersection so the motorists going straight are unable to get through. That, in turn, causes a snarl for motorists on the south side of Barnegat Avenue.

“That’s what light are for: traffic flow,” Valyo said, noting if more motorists would sit through the traffic-signal cycle on the Boulevard, they would get to their destination sooner. “The problem with a lot of this is telling people; everyone is so tuned into apps.”

But the problem isn’t unique to Ship Bottom. In 2017, officials in Leonia, a Bergen County borough with around 9,000 residents, closed 60 public roads to non-residential drivers during rush hour as a result of apps such as Waze and Google Maps. At the time, it was widely reported that traffic apps rerouted roughly 2,000 New York City-bound drivers onto side streets as a timesaver to the New Jersey Turnpike.

Last year in Ship Bottom, a borough with a year-round population of less than 1,300 people, 6,500 motorists made the first right off the Causeway onto Shore Avenue before swinging a quick left onto 10th Street between Aug. 23 and the day after Labor Day. That’s more than 600 vehicles per day, though it’s unclear from the data how many of those motorists live or were visiting homes on the residential street.

The data was compiled by the Ocean County Sheriff’s Office using new technology, according to Mayor William Huelsenbeck. It was in response to traffic safety concerns raised by 10th Street homeowners who reside in the borough that is just 454 acres, or less than one square mile, with 1.36 miles of oceanfront.

Ken Reuter, who first brought the issue to the council in June 2019, told officials he was shocked by the number of vehicles that traveled the residential road for those 11 days, noting those numbers would be higher in July and August.

“That’s the end of the season,” he said at the September council meeting. “Tenth Street has become the annex to the Causeway.”

To immediately combat the overuse of 10th Street, the town, on the recommendation of its engineer, lined the street to make it seem narrow. It’s the widest residential roadway in that area of the borough. By striping the sides and adding double-yellow lines down the center of the street and a retractable sign in the middle of the lines, motorists would naturally slow down. The retractable signs were never added because of rumblings that the striping wasn’t working the way it was intended, and by December, the double yellow lines had been removed from the roadway.

Borough officials in October adopted an ordinance restricting trucks from 10th, 11th and 12th streets as a route to the south end of the Island. There were no restrictions, by ordinance, on the residential streets off Shore Avenue on the south side of the Causeway. Motorists, including large delivery-type commercial vehicles and trucks belonging to local landscaping businesses, attempt to bypass summer traffic by cutting through the residential area.

“We can’t put police on every street,” Valyo said, noting too many signs become part of the problem of distracted driving. “In my mind, we need to push back on the (traffic) apps. If we could tackle destination apps, it would drastically improve the quality of life on back streets.”

As of late last year, a satisfactory resolution to the increase of traffic on 10th Street had not been found, although officials continue to work diligently on finding a solution. Residents have been making a case for speed bumps on the residential roadway, saying it would not only curb speeders, but also curtail motorists from using the street as a bypass from Ninth Street. Huelsenbeck, however, continues to say speed bumps have not been recommended as a viable solution by anyone he has spoken with regarding the issue, including the state Department of Transportation.

— Gina G. Scala


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