The Hoboken City Council voted unanimously at their meeting Wednesday to allow a New York-based bike-sharing company to begin a pilot program for a period of six months starting in May, making Hoboken one of the first New Jersey municipalities to implement bike-sharing. Users can pay $37.50 for the six-month period, or an hourly rate. They can also leave bikes in certain locations in Manhattan.
The council also looked at two other hotly discussed issues in town: Ensuring that the city doesn’t lose power during storms, and approving soil studies at a proposed park.
Hoboken will now be the first city in Hudson County to offer a bike-sharing program. The city was also a pioneer in its Hertz rental car-sharing program that began three years ago.
Bike and Roll, the company running the bike program, manages similar programs in New York City, Washington D.C., Chicago, Miami, and San Francisco.
Twenty-five high-tech, built-to-share commuter bikes manufactured by SoBi (Social Bicycles) and 20 standard bikes will be rolled into town for the pilot program, which will allow somewhere around 150 residents to register for unlimited use of the bikes. Tourists and other residents will also have access to the bikes on an hourly basis.
A representative for SoBi, Patrick Hoffman, said that Bike and Roll hopes to have 150 to 200 bikes in town if the pilot is a success.
Bike and Roll’s annual rate in New York, $75, will be halved for Hoboken residents who wish to register for six months. The Hoboken hourly rate has not yet been set, but hourly rates in New York City range from $12 to $20. The program will come at no cost to the city, aside from the concession of some public space for the sharing stations, but it will receive half of Bike and Roll’s Hoboken-based profits.
“We get criticism up here a lot for arguing too much about too many little things.” – Councilman David Mello
Councilman-at-Large David Mello, who sponsored the resolution that approved the program, said before the vote that he thought the program would diversify the town’s transportation options.
“We get criticism up here a lot for arguing too much about too many little things,” said Mello. “This is wasn’t one of them. This is a fantastic program.”
Most of the other council members seemed impressed with the program, though others expressed some skepticism with the process by which Bike and Roll arrived in town.
The city had already discussed bike sharing, so 4th Ward Councilman Tim Occhipinti wanted to know how Bike and Roll had heard of the city’s proposal. A company representative said, “They told us,” referring to the city.
“My only concern is that there was only one bidder for this process; you guys were the sole responders,” said Occhipinti. “I would have liked to see some other proposals.”
However, he voted in favor of the resolution, along with the other seven council members.
Some members of the public expressed concerns with the program, including Helen Hirsch, an elderly woman who uses a walker. She was concerned that the bikes would be used on sidewalks despite a city ordinance barring such activity, perhaps posing a danger to the city’s slower-moving residents.
“Does this program make any sense except for the fact that the mayor wants some bicycles?” she asked. “I used to ride a bicycle, and I prefer walking, frankly.”
Soil problems at 1600 Park
The city encountered yet another bump on the road to completing its park projects (see related story inside). The city has been preparing the long-awaited 1600 Park Ave. park between the Park Avenue and Willow Avenue bridges near the Weehawken border. But recently, Musto Lighting, the subcontractor tasked with installing the industrial lighting above the planned athletic field, discovered that the soil in the area might be too soft to guarantee the lights’ stability.
On Wednesday, Richard Arango, a vice president at the Remington & Vernick Engineers, the firm handling the project, appeared before the council to request $20,000 to conduct various soil and boring tests to further assess the soil. The $20,000 would be added to Remington & Vernick’s existing $460,000 contract. The contract was originally signed at $196,000, but has more than doubled due to several change orders in the park’s construction.
Multiple council members, mainly 3rd Ward Councilman Michael Russo and 2nd Ward Councilwoman Beth Mason, lamented the continued delays in the project. Both council members said they would vote against the resolution, with Russo telling Arango that “his firm would have to eat this cost.”
However, after extensive conversation with Mello, Councilman-at-Large Ravi Bhalla and Council Vice President Jennifer Giattino, Russo and Mason agreed to pass the measure, but not without receiving something in return. An amendment was added to the resolution stating that the council will conduct an investigation into the “financial expenditures and professional services rendered to all parties involved from the commencement of the project.”
After suggesting that someone in City Hall “wasn’t doing their job” when the original bids were put out and the contract signed, Russo said he wants the ability to subpoena members of the public and the administration. To “give it some teeth,” the subpoena clause was added before a vote to allocate the funds to conduct the soil studies was passed.
In an effort to protect the city against future Sandy-like storms, the council passed a resolution to support PSE&G’s “Energy Strong” plan, a $3.9 billion plan to overhaul electrical and gas infrastructure throughout New Jersey.
“We can no longer live in the fantasy that this type of storm isn’t going to happen again,” said Jorge Cardenas, the energy company’s vice president of asset management and centralized services.
Cardenas gave a presentation on the overhaul, which would spend $1.7 billion on protecting substations like the ones in Hoboken that were flooded in the storm and $340 million to strengthen overhead power lines.
Of the three substations that serve Hoboken, two will be strengthened and one, located on Marshall Street in the low-lying southwestern neighborhood, will be removed completely.
Additionally, three-quarters of Hoboken’s overhead power lines will be replaced with more durable systems. New, composite poles will replace the existing wooden poles at a shorter distance apart than they are presently, and wires will be thicker.
Mello and 3rd Ward Councilman Michael Russo expressed disappointment that the energy company has no plans to move Hoboken’s overhead infrastructure underground, a request Mello said has been made in town for many years. The Energy Strong project allocates approximately $60 million to move 20 miles of overhead distribution underground, although Cardenas said Hoboken had not been considered in those plans.
“We’re going to consider each town,” said Cardenas. “Based on history of outages, we’ll decide where to do it.”
Mello responded that he thought the criteria for deciding which wires were placed underground should be expanded, pointing out that during Hurricane Irene there were several instances of fallen live wires coming dangerously close to heavily flooded pockets of town.
Cardenas said that nearly 6,000 jobs will be created via the plan, many of which will be offered to Hoboken residents.
Members of the council were quick to thank Cardenas for his presentation, but pressed him on exactly how Hoboken will be prioritized in the project’s timeline, which, if it is approved by the state, will start in June and take approximately five years to complete.
Cardenas said that if Hoboken is one of the first areas to be worked on, the work might be done in approximately two years.
Some council members questioned how the project might affect the gas and electric bills of Hoboken residents. Cardenas explained that bills will go down about 3 percent in 5 years, and stay the same until then.
Dean DeChiaro may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org