Winter Weekend Population Hike Signals Need to Revisit Traffic Safety

One of the best days on Long Beach Island comes in the fall when an Ocean County road crew works up and down Long Beach Boulevard to turn working traffic signals to blink, marking the official beginning of the off-season on the barrier island. Things have changed over the years, of course, including when the traffic signals turn to blink in some communities, but perhaps the biggest change is traffic.

Yes, even in the off-season there is traffic on LBI; not bumper-to-bumper snarls commonplace on summer weekends, but the steady flow of cars and trucks that makes it difficult to turn left onto the Boulevard without having to sit for several minutes on a side street. The traffic signal at West 28th Street in Ship Bottom was, at one time, a reprieve for waiting motorists and those attempting to cross the Boulevard on foot or bike. That ended in 2018 when Ocean County officials decided to turn the traffic signal to blinking after conducting a study.

At the time, it left the Ship Bottom Borough Council divided on whether the traffic signal should remain active, and for the first time in a quarter-of-a-century, Mayor William Huelsenbeck cast a vote. Under Ship Bottom’s form of government, the mayor doesn’t vote unless there is a deadlock.

“There are a lot more people here on winter weekends,” Barbara Bishop, a borough resident who opposed turning the West 28th Street light to blinking in 2018, told the council at its most recent meeting last month. “We have to fix the traffic lights.”

Bishop said she’s spoken to dog walkers and others who try to cross the Boulevard, either by vehicle or on foot, and “people can’t get out of the street.”

The issue, she said, isn’t unique to Ship Bottom. Trying to get into and out of St. Francis Center and Church, in neighboring Long Beach Township, at church time is next to impossible. Toss in daycare drop-off, and even pickup in the afternoon, as well as other events at the community center, and “there should definitely be a light there.”

In addition to bringing her concerns and frustration to the council, Bishop brought solutions or ideas for a solution to keep traffic flowing in the off-season and improving traffic safety. One idea is to turn off all the lights on the south end of the Island and then pick a select few that, in addition to the state-owned and -operated ones at the Causeway Circle, would remain on permanently.

“The circle,” Bishop said referring to the ones near the Arlington Beach condo complex, “28th Street, St. Francis, the Acme (Market), and somewhere in Beach Haven. I really think it’s a dangerous situation.”

Councilman David Hartmann agreed.

“No one south of 28th Street will want it (working traffic signals),” Huelsenbeck said, adding, “I don’t think the county is going to change it.”

The issue of turning the 28th Street light to blinking arose in 2017 after some discussion at a mayors association meeting where the county was asked to reconsider turning the traffic signal back to blinking for the off-season. When the decision was made nearly two decades ago to keep the traffic light active, it was done so without the benefit of a study, according to the mayor. In fact, the light remained active in the off-season only after a letter from the borough was sent to the county asking for a review of all traffic signals between 10th and 28th streets.

Every year for as long as anyone can remember, the county turns almost all the remaining lights on the Island to blinking the Monday after Chowderfest. Only the lights at Eighth and Ninth streets in Ship Bottom are active. Their status is determined by the state Department of Transportation because those two roads are considered a part of the Route 72 corridor, which the DOT owns and maintains.

– Gina G. Scala

Reposted from The Sandpaper, Feb. 5, 2020