Thursday, February 20, 2020

Brunswick Pike Streetscape: 15 years in the making.....

In checking the records in our engineering department, the earliest documentation we found about  the Township's efforts to improve the streetscape along Brunswick Pike date to 2005.  For those involved in all things "Lawrence" back during that time, you may have a personal recollection of discussions on this topic before 2005, but for our purposes I am putting 15 years as the time-frame...and counting. 

We have never been closer to realizing the completion of a plan to improve the portion of road from the Brunswick Circle to Lake Drive then we are right now.  Records that I have reviewed indicate that our Township officials and officials from NJDOT were able to reach agreement (2010) on a plan with the stated purpose to create a pedestrian friendly urban streetscape that promotes commercial development.  This would include slowing traffic speed, improve pedestrian circulation and connectivity, as well as add aesthetic elements to provide context for a "Main Street" environment.

Presently, what we see now at that section is (for the most part) the completed work by the NJDOT that made fairly substantial improvements (i.e., the round-a-bout at Whitehead Rd, on-street parking, wider grass medians, pedestrian crosswalks, etc) which provide the "bones" for the Township to complete the final improvements in creating a "Main Street" type of environment.  

For those of you who may not be aware, this section of road (U.S. Route 1) is owned and maintained by the State of New Jersey.  Our deal with the State was to take it over after it did its part in making the improvements as I described above.  With that work (essentially) completed, the Township immediately applied for and received a $60,000 grant for the study and design of a streetscape.  This work has been completed, and we are now in the process of having the "community conversation" about the plan to obtain feedback from the stakeholders (i.e., our residents).  The link to the "Brunswick Pike Streetscape Project is here for those of you with an interest in reviewing it.

We recently had a public discussion of the plan at our Growth and Redevelopment Committee meeting on February 11, 2020.  At the meeting, I think it is fair to say that the general consensus was positive, with many residents expressing thoughtful opinions.  We plan another public meeting on March 11, 2020 at 5 pm at the Slackwood Fire House, and hope those who are interested attend.   

Clearly, this has been a very long process, but our commitment to get this done as soon as possible is strong and sincere.  This section of our town deserves the attention and the improvements we seek to make. Though there may be some people that say the plan falls short of expectations or possibilities, my response is that the improvements we intend to make are thoughtful, significant, reasonable and fiscally responsible (our search for grant monies is continuous for this project).  It is very easy to do more....but to do more....means to spend more.  At this time, it is my opinion that the financial commitment that will be made for this improvement is justified, and will be an improvement for all in our community to enjoy and have pride in.

If you have hit on the link I provided to the streetscape plan, you will see on page 35 the conceptual rendering for the round-a-bout.  It is a series of wind turbines.  These turbines will also be functional by providing the power source for the decorative lighting in this area.  It represents our community's commitment to sustainability and to our future.  It also provides a clean site line through the round-a-bout for better navigation through it.  

It's my hope that our community can rally behind this project, and appreciate the importance of making the strategic improvements we can and should throughout our town in a responsible way.  Fifteen years is a long time.  Let's do this thing!!!

P.S.  Once the Township takes over the ownership of this section of road, we will be reducing the speed! This was a consistent concern expressed at the last meeting, and it will be addressed. 

P.S.S.  Once this project is completed, Colonial Lake Park is expanded and improved, and the Lawrence Shopping Center is firing on all cylinders.... we have the makings of a successful reclaiming of an area that was...……… lacking for far too long. 

Thursday, February 13, 2020

"Lawrence, we have a problem!"

                                                                     Act 1, Scene 1

A man in a crisp, white collared shirt with an Oakland Raiders tie, tight against his neck, is at the control board with a headset on and a thin microphone extending from his ear to his mouth (like J-Lo at the halftime for the Super Bowl).  A distant voice comes through his headphones with a panicked tone.  Listening hard to make sense at what he is hearing, the man's face begins to tighten and show signs of stress.  He places his hand on the microphone and says, "Please repeat what you just said to me."  The voice comes through louder, yet each word is said slower and more emphatic.  The man, with his forehead now glistening with sweat, calmly presses a button that will broadcast his voice to his entire team, and says, "Lawrence, we have a problem!"  End of Scene 1.

Just so everybody knows, I am the "man" in this scene and you all are the "team."
(Trying not to be an alarmist, but being one at this point) As a community, we are absolutely failing in our recycling efforts.  If it continues, this will effect us financially.....setting aside the environmental impact for this discussion.  I hope I have grabbed your attention. 

I just completed a meeting with the officials from Waste Management.  This is the company that hauls our recyclables from the condo and town house associations throughout the community.  At this point, the collection bins are showing up to 80% contamination (i.e., 80% of the volume is not recycled and is ultimately discarded as trash).  This is a crazy, alarming percentage!  (I am told under 15% is the target).

The main issue is that residents are putting their recyclables in plastic bags...and then throwing the bags in the bin.  Maybe the intention is good...and the thinking is..."well, its a PLASTIC bag so it must be ok"...but this simply results in good recyclables not actually being recycled.   These bags are NOT being opened at the facility and picked through to separate good from bad recyclables.  It's all deemed bad because its in a sealed bag.  What is the solution you ask?  First, we need to care about following rules.  Second, if you need to collect your recyclables in a bag in your house, just open the bag and dump  the contents in the bin.  Easy peasy!  If the bag isn't too ruined, re-use the bag for the next batch of recyclables you collect, and be proud at how responsible you are to your community and to your own bottom line. 

The second most common violation is PIZZA BOXES!  Stop already! (he says respectfully but forcefully....).  I admitted to being a violator a couple months ago and have now stopped and feel wonderful.  Pizza boxes go in the regular garbage.  Don't ask why?  Don't think..."It's a box, so it must be a recyclable."  It's not.  What is the solution you ask?  Just accept that this box is not a box that is recycled.... like I accept the fact that my Oakland Raiders were once a storied football franchise and now, not so much.  But I do still bleed silver and black!

The third most common violation is throwing away bottles and jars with food contents still in the container.  This ain't good people.  The bottles and jars are crushed, food stuff seeps out and then contaminates the clean recyclables.  The clean recyclables are then considered contaminated and thrown in the regular trash dump.  What's the solution you ask?  Rinse the jars and cans out before placing them in the plastic bag (see above for follow up on the plastic bag usage).

Now, I don't want this to be just about me picking on the condo and town house associations.  I write this today only because my meeting today was on this issue.  Residents that have curbside pick up are now seeing red tags on containers that are not being collected.  I reported on that particular meeting several months ago.  This is a part of a new enforcement program to improve our recycling efforts.  While you drive on our roads on collection day, just think how many plastic bags you see in those yellow containers!  The red tags provide the reasons why the container was not collected.  I would venture to say that the main reasons are the ones I discussed above.  Side Note:  Please try not to call me to complain that your container was not collected...we both know why it wasn't!  

We are in crisis mode people!  The recyclable program is not what it used to be.  Remember when we had to separate everything?  Remember when there were more things that were recyclable?  Well its all changed now.  Waste Management's contract is over in November of this year, and they have told us they have no interest in renewing the contract.  They have lost thousands and thousands of dollars each month from our contaminated recyclables.  This will certainly be a problem for those associations should no one bid for this work.  If bids are received, trust me when I tell you that the costs per ton will be much higher than what we paid in the last contract. 

And, yes, for those who wonder whether there has been any communication to the associations about the problem with its recycling.  Many, many times.  It just seems that people are choosing to do things in the easiest manner for themselves....and we simply can't sustain that attitude and keep costs down and be responsible environmentally.  We all have to start caring more about following the rules of recycling.  It takes a little effort....emphasis on the word "little."  And anyone who thinks the Township should have officers patrolling for these violators... I ask that you accept my honest response as true, "that's simply not realistic."

You may have noticed we are using our electronic display boards to help with educating on these issues.  "No pizza boxesNo plastic bags."  If we were to eliminate these two items we could make a substantial improvement in our program.  Now listen, we still have the residents throw away stuff like bowling balls (yup, it happened), diapers (yikes....) and furniture, etc., in the large bins at the associations.  Those things unfortunately will continue to happen because the individuals that do it, do it knowing full well the items are not recyclable.  But we can change our own habits because we care enough to do so.  

The associations will be receiving a letter shortly that will let them know that the current bins will be changed from large, open containers to locked and sealed tops with small openings large enough to fit bottles, cans and cardboard, but too small to shove full plastic bags through them.  Now, this will create a moral dilemma for some people.  Will they take the extra step and open the plastic bag and discard the contents through the slots or will they simply throw the bag and the recyclables in the regular garbage bin?  I hope we can turn this all around.  Education is key...and that's the purpose of this article.    

Interesting fact:  "Houston, we have a problem" is a popular but erroneous quotation from the radio communications between the Apollo 13 astronaut John "Jack" Swigert and the NASA Mission Control Center ("Houston") during the Apollo 13 spaceflight, as astronauts communicated their discovery of the explosion that crippled their spacecraft.  What was really said was "Houston, we've had a problem."

Another interesting fact:  Easy Peasy comes from a 1970's British TV commercial for Lemon Squeezy detergent.  A little girl points out dirty, greasy dishes to an adult and then the adult produces Lemon Squeezy and they clean the dishes quickly.  At the end of the commercial the girl says "Easy Peasy Lemon Squeezy!"

My Deepest Apologies to Rich and Frankie and their families.

On the front page of the Trentonian newspaper today there was an extremely odd and poorly written article that was intended solely to dispar...