Hoboken is the country’s fourth most densely populated city, and we have the highest percentage of residents in the United States that rely upon mass transit.
Naturally, our residents rely heavily upon a healthy and reliable mass transit infrastructure, and they expect local officials to manage the development process in our city carefully so that it will not place further strains on our already strained transportation infrastructure.
Interestingly, as Hoboken residents shoulder increased fare hikes and service cuts on our bus and train lines, there is simultaneously constant pressure from developers to greenlight large-scale residential and commercial development projects in Hoboken.
Here’s the problem: developers and public transit agencies fail to appreciate that urban development and a strong and reliable mass transit system are inextricably linked. You simply can’t have one without the other.
The failure of these two groups – large scale developers and public mass transit agencies – to understand or address this fundamental reality can readily cause development in places like Hoboken to come to a grinding halt. The population growth associated with large-scale development requires substantial upgrades in mass transit investments and infrastructure, not cuts. Absent commitments to investment in mass transit infrastructure from developers through the redevelopment process, sufficient to accommodate projected population growth associated with proposed development, local municipal officials cannot responsibly permit development that places greater strains on mass transit. There is no other way around it.
A classic illustration of this dilemma is the Hoboken Railyards Redevelopment Project, where the interests of residents, developers, and two major transportation agencies, New Jersey Transit and the Port Authority, all intersect in a single project. As Transit Oriented Developments go – call it Jerusalem on the Hudson – multiple stakeholders must all get along in a small, shared, and highly valued space.
The residents in Hoboken and many suburbs in New Jersey depend upon reliable train service of New Jersey Transit, which brings commuters from New Jersey’s suburbs into the Hoboken Terminal, and the Port Authority and its PATH trains, where those commuters transfer en route to New York City. New Jersey Transit owns the terminal and the adjoining 36 acres, and seeks to sell the property to a large developer. Our municipal council in Hoboken adopted a Redevelopment Plan that will permit 2.3 million square feet in new commercial and residential development at the footstep of the Hoboken Train Terminal – a classic Transit Oriented Development.
The plan, if implemented, will result in thousands of new commuters and residents depending upon reliable PATH, New Jersey Transit and ferry service in order to live and/or work in the new area of redevelopment.
One would expect that in the midst of these very publicly announced development plans, transit agencies would proactively prepare for the impact of thousands of new commuters upon the Hoboken Terminal and communicate with local officials to identify all possible means to upgrade its mass transit infrastructure to accommodate population growth, including capital investments from a key stakeholder, the development community.
Regrettably, the opposite seems to be occurring. Sufficient measures are not being taken to increase service, and last year the Port Authority cut PATH service in Hoboken by 18% with no plans to restore or expand capacity. If the Port Authority is cutting service in a climate where we are already at nearly 100% service capacity, how can we responsibly implement a development plan that adds thousands of new residents who will also rely upon those mass transit options?
A similar phenomenal is taking place in the western and northern parts of Hoboken, where redevelopment areas foreshadow further population growth, but here our current residents rely upon buses and the light rail system. While developers are enthusiastic about moving forward with development, there are no assurances in place by New Jersey Transit as to where an additional light rail stop will be created in the North End, and how necessary increases in its bus service into the Port Authority bus terminal will be facilitated. Nor has New Jersey Transit expressed interest in determining the feasibility of incorporating the option of a future subway stop in the North End into the Hudson River Tunnel Project, which runs right underneath Hoboken’s North End.
At the same time, we do not know whether developers are committed to pay their fair share towards the upgrades required to accommodate further development. From a mass transit infrastructure planning perspective, this lack of communication and cooperative planning is concerning. Developers are not reasonable to expect local officials to green-light their projects unless and until plans for the mass transit infrastructure improvements are in place to accommodate further growth. Anything less amounts to irresponsible municipal governance.
Responsible municipals officials should exercise a high level of caution in permitting further development if transit agencies are not expanding services to accommodate increased ridership. It’s time to realize that cuts in service are also negatively impacting development. Developers would be well served to urge transit officials to invest in the mass transit infrastructure – and make their own investments – necessary to accommodate the growth they seek here in Hoboken and other parts of the state. Otherwise, they may find that the hands of municipal officials are tied by the failure of mass transit agencies and developers to adjust to the growing trend of urbanization and increased reliance on mass transit.
Original article: Hoboken Patch