Plan in the works to make Springfield ‘more walkable’

Photo courtesy of Township of Springfield Officials recently gave a presentation on a new plan to revitalize downtown Springfield, making it safer and more ‘walkable.’
Photo courtesy of Township of Springfield
Officials recently gave a presentation on a new plan to revitalize downtown Springfield, making it safer and more ‘walkable.’

SPRINGFIELD, NJ – The township believes it is closer to realizing a vision for the downtown that will improve and revitalize the area, making it safer and more “walkable.”

Since 2010 when the Springfield Business Improvement District was formed to improve the streetscape of the local business district, the township has been working on a plan that works for the downtown area. However, while there have been many studies and plans completed since then, not a whole lot has changed in the Morris and Mountain avenues intersection area.

This time around, though, the powers that be feel the Morris Avenue Vision Plan final report, which focuses on several blocks around the Morris and Mountain avenues intersection, is possible.

The vision plan was created in conjunction with the township’s ongoing redevelopment planning process that recommended creating a vibrant downtown area that is attractive to residents, businesses and commuters alike.

The township officials are certain the downtown has the components needed to create a “great place with unique character,” complete with mixed uses, community facilities interconnected street and sidewalk networks and access to transportation.
Mayor David Barnett wholeheartedly agreed with this, expressing his thoughts on the final report.

“Springfield is making great progress towards improving our downtown as a great place for residents, businesses and visitors,” the mayor said, adding “the township has been interested in rehabbing the downtown area for years and this new vision plan is a welcome addition that will enhance our existing projects and plans.”

Barnett also praised the Springfield BID, pointing out that he was “very grateful” to local residents and businesses that provided input on this latest improvement venture.

Property owners within the BID pay an additional tax, or assessment, because their property falls within the designated BID area. BID’s and Special Improvement Districts are sanctioned and governed by state law; however, municipalities must follow state law in order to set up a BID or SID. The tax which property owners within the BID pay are usually used to make improvements that a municipality normally could not pay for within regular budget constraints.

These improvements include sidewalk, lighting and façade updating as well as additional aesthetic treatments, such as seasonal floral plantings.

The Morris Avenue Vision Plan was developed by several entities, including input from residents, BID, county and NJTransit. The final report focused on several important themes, specifically how to calm traffic and improve circulation.

Recommended was that a “complete streets” approach be taken to ensure the township’s network of roads were made safe and convenient for all modes of transportation and pedestrian traffic.

These improvements include curb extensions to widen sidewalks and calm traffic, upgraded crosswalks and traffic signals, improved signage, dedicated turning lanes and markings that clearly direct traffic safely so there is improved access to the downtown for pedestrians and bicyclists.

The report also focused on relocating and improving bus stops. The downtown area is a key NJ Transit bus transfer location and the relocation of stops, officials said, would create a safer bus hub that could be enhanced with bicycle racks, bus schedule information and upgraded shelters.

The vision plan also recommended improvements to parking operations, storm water control and redevelopment standards. However, this part of the plan would be integrated into ongoing planning efforts in the township.

While moving forward with redevelopment efforts has been slow, there have been some positive initiatives. So far the township has entered into redevelopment agreements on two sites and is layering design recommendations into those plans.
For instance, the vision plan compliments NJDOT’s plans to upgrade the traffic signals at Morris and Mountain avenues.

Additionally, the Springfield BID is finalizing a branding program for the Morris Avenue area that includes signs directing visitors to the area while enhancing the appearance of streets. Key strategists, such as Mike Scalera, co-chairman of the Springfield BID, were encouraged by the latest plan and felt the BID would benefit greatly from the recommendations in the report.

“Improvements to the streets and public areas around Morris Avenue would support our current efforts for redevelopment and to brand the area as a great place to shop, eat and open a business,” Scalera said.

The Morris Avenue Vision Plan is one of 18 local demonstration projects being undertaken by Together North Jersey, conducted from August 2013 to April 2014 through a number of workshops.

This included a number of information and input stations, and an interactive community vision survey. All of the data was also made available to the general public online for approximately three weeks in January and February 2014.

Interestingly, the Edward K. Bloustein School for Planning and Policy at Rutgers, along with several other agencies and organizations in the area, provided much needed expertise required to complete the vision plan.

Getting the Springfield BID and any proposed improvements off the ground has not been an easy process for this municipality. In fact, since 2010 the entire process of finding the right improvement niche for this area that is a heavy thoroughfare has been spotty.

In March 2011 the township received a $90,000 grant that enabled the township to get the right experts from local, county and state agencies to look at the BID. This year-long study looked at many facets of the downtown area, including traffic, pedestrian use of the downtown, lighting and signage. While officials were supportive of these redevelopment improvements, again things seemed to stall.

In Oct. 2012 the governing body saw a presentation showing how things could be improved in the downtown. The plan, called the Concept Footprint Plan, was presented by a local Warren firm but not everyone was onboard so it fizzled.

At the time BID leaders pointed out that full redevelopment of the downtown area actually involved 15 or more property owners, but actually would work with the cooperation of three key property owners who own multiple sites.

It was expected that construction could begin the following year, but that failed to materialize. The BID did continue to address a range of issues, including working on visual improvements, maintenance, promotion and marketing.
Now officials feel they may finally be able get this plan off the ground.