WESTFIELD — Representatives from HBC|Streetworks met with Westfield residents at the One Westfield Place preview center on Monday for the first of several planned discussions about the potential impact that the firm’s proposed redevelopment plan could have on the community and its infrastructure.
HBC|Streetworks Vice President of Development Carolina Simon said Monday that traffic — and how to mitigate it — has been one of the most recurrent topics of conversation surrounding the project since day one.
“There is an alignment of interest here [between the community and HBC|Streetworks],” Ms. Simon said. “We are long-term property owners here in Westfield, as I imagine many of you are. We’re not just going to build something and walk away. We have to take into the account the quality of life that we are promoting for our residents and our potential tenants, so we have been careful in our analysis.”
John Canning, a traffic engineer from Kimley Horn, said Monday that while the current proposal (a mixed-use redevelopment project comprised of 138 residential apartments and 16 town homes for the 55-plus community; 69 traditional and loft-style apartments; more than 300,000 square feet of office space; 25,000 square feet of retail space; and two public parking garages) will undoubtedly impact the downtown traffic flow, its construction could actually help to alleviate some of the town’s existing challenges due to the improvements that the firm is prepared to offer in exchange for its requisite approvals.
“One of the key issues that we’re facing here is that the town hasn’t had the opportunity to invest in its infrastructure over the years, so there’s a lot of antiquated equipment and designs out there,” Mr. Canning said. “One of the things the town has been able to do, however, is to undertake a number of studies — a pedestrian and bike plan, an urban land-use and circulation plan, and a master plan.”
These studies, completed over the course of the past several years, Mr. Canning said Monday, helped to “identify issues and potential opportunities” within the downtown area.
The full Kimley Horn traffic-impact study, which, Mr. Canning said, was completed with other projects like The Sofia on Prospect Street in mind, will be released in approximately two weeks.
According to information provided by HBC|Streetworks, the initial study consisted of an analysis of 17 intersections and several major entrance/exit points of the proposed development. The examined sites included intersections in close proximity to the site, like South Avenue and Boulevard, North Avenue and Clark Street, North Avenue and Elm Street, and South Avenue and Central Avenue, as well as more distant intersections that may be impacted by the project, like Crossway Place and North Avenue, Prospect Street and East Broad Street, and North Avenue and East Broad Street.
Mr. Canning’s Monday night presentation consisted of a general overview of what certain intersections look like now, what they would look like in five years if the Lord & Taylor building were to remain vacant, what they would look like if the store were to be repurposed within its current zoning rights as a retail-only space, and what they would look like if the HBC|Streetworks proposal was to move forward. Traffic Impact Studies (TIS) were conducted at peak morning, evening and Saturday hours at each of the designated locations.
All told, Mr. Canning said, the completion of the project would result in approximately eight more cars on the road (which the traffic-impact study refers to as “trips”) each minute during the busiest hours of the day.
The study also considered the average wait time that a driver will experience at each intersection.
If nothing happens, and the Lord & Taylor site remains vacant, Mr. Canning said, motorists should expect to wait for about 20 seconds at each intersection — about what it is now. With the reoccupation of Lord & Taylor as a retail-only location, that number would increase to about 23 seconds. If the project as presented was to move forward, Mr. Canning said, that delay is expected to decrease to 19 seconds, given the number of improvements that HBC/Streetworks is prepared to make.
“What we’ve found is that the proposed project and the improvements that go hand in hand with it will have an overall benefit to the community,” Mr. Canning said, adding that the local infrastructure also stands to improve in terms of road connectivity, bicycle and pedestrian safety.
At North Avenue and Elm Street, HBC|Streetworks is proposing a realignment that would offer a traditional “four-legged” intersection — one that would see Elm Street ending in a clearly defined left-or-right-turn-only lane, with entrances and exits from the North Avenue train station incorporated into the signal. According to the TIS recommendations, the pedestrian crosswalk at this particular intersection should also be recalibrated to a new Leading Pedestrian Interval (LPI) standard, which would give pedestrians the opportunity to enter the crosswalk at an intersection three to seven seconds before vehicles are given a green indication.
Mr. Canning said Monday that as things currently stand, motorists can expect to wait for about two minutes to clear this particular intersection. That number, according to the projections, would increase by about 30 seconds if the Lord & Taylor site was to be repurposed into a retail establishment, but would decrease to 24.3 seconds if the redevelopment proposal was accepted.
For the south side of town (slated for the largest number of changes next to those proposed for the Lord & Taylor site), HBC|Streetworks is proposing that the crossing at South and Summit Avenues be converted to a typical four-legged intersection; that a new traffic signal be installed to allow easier access to South Avenue from the site’s proposed office complex; and that the signal phase be adjusted at the corner of South and Summit Avenues.
Other proposed improvements associated with the redevelopment include the installation of a new traffic signal along with several pedestrian improvements at the intersection of Clark Street and North Avenue.
When asked by the residents in attendance (approximately 15 people) why the study would only be released in full after the next scheduled informational session, Ms. Simon replied, “we don’t know everything.
“We are still assessing our data,” she said. “Things change. Someone might bring something up at the next session — like a problem or a concern — that we hadn’t considered, and we will want to make a note of that as we proceed.”
In addition to the other aforementioned traffic discussions, HBC|Streetworks is planning to host informational sessions about office space and sustainable construction in the coming weeks.