About 30 Hoboken residents attended a public meeting on Monday night to discuss what they consider major issues associated with a massive renovation and redesign project of Washington Street that is expected to begin sometime in 2014.
The meeting, which was moderated by the urban design firm RBA Group and city officials, was set up as what one RBA employee called an “idea mill.” It is one of several meetings that the administration of Mayor Dawn Zimmer will hold before the City Council is asked to approve RBA’s project proposal. The meeting was split between a presentation on Washington Street’s existing conditions, and residents’ ideas for its reimagination.
Residents discussed issues with parking, bike lanes, and pedestrian safety. A couple with an infant discussed their desire to see cyclists off the sidewalk, while a local cyclist said he’d like to see bike lanes painted in the street so that he and others could safely vacate the sidewalks.
A presenter from RBA, which has been conducting online surveys and research on Hoboken infrastructure in anticipation for the project over the past few months, revealed that 80 percent of Hoboken residents said they cared most about the street’s appearance and safety.
Other areas of concern for Hoboken residents, according to RBA’s statistics, include Washington Street’s historic preservation, the implementation of green infrastructure, and diversity in the types of businesses that exist there.
“I can understand why cyclists are nervous about being in the street, but it’s very dangerous for pedestrians.” – Stewart Mader
What do residents think?
Brian Wagner, a local cyclist who has taken up the cause for installing bike lanes on Washington Street in recent years, attended the meeting and spoke about increasing safety not only for residents on bicycles, but also on foot.
“Our group, Bike Hoboken, did a survey a few years ago, and 87 percent of our members said that if there were bike lanes on Washington Street, they’d come off the sidewalk,” he said.
Wagner also noted that any plan should include an extensive repaving of the entire street. Cyclists and motorists alike have complained about potholes and bumps for years.
Several young parents who attended the meeting were also interested in getting bikes off the sidewalk, though for a different reason.
Stewart Mader, a father of a young infant, said that pedestrian safety should be the city’s priority.
“I can understand why cyclists are nervous about being in the street, but it’s very dangerous for pedestrians,” he said, while his wife noted that pushing a baby carriage with bicycles around can be a daunting task.
Marty Anderson said maintaining the same availability of parking should be a priority. He disagreed with the idea of sectioning off additional space for cafes, due to concerns that homeless people would use those areas as shelters during less busy hours of the day.
Complete streets policy
A representative from RBA said the methodology for the redesign would be based on the city’s Complete Streets policy, which was adopted in 2010. The idea behind the policy is to ensure that any construction done to Hoboken streets is planned with the mutual safety of pedestrians, cyclists, commuters and motorists in mind. The planning process going forward, the representative explained, would be decided within the boundaries of the policy.
Still, the planners were quick to point out that they had divided their preliminary research into two geographic sections – Washington Street north and south of Eighth Street – and that separate strategies could be developed for each. These plans could still adhere to the Complete Streets policy, but could embrace each neighborhood’s respective differences, downtown’s nightlife and commerce scene and uptown’s quieter, residential atmosphere.
Slave to the traffic light?
Digital video footage collected at each corner on Washington Street (except for the intersections with Observer Highway and Fourteenth Street, which are both county roads) showed the chaotic and often adversarial relationship among Hoboken’s pedestrians and motorists. The footage counted each pedestrian crossing Washington Street and collated data on the average vehicle and pedestrian traffic for different times of day and days of the week.
Gordon Meth, RBA’s traffic engineer, explained that the video and the data collected from it could help residents decide how they wanted to attack issues of pedestrian safety. He proposed new traffic lights as a possible aspect of the project, joking that replacement parts for some of the city’s existing signals haven’t been available since 1948, but also noted that residents might decide that having a signal on every corner isn’t necessary.
Meth also said that safety could be increased by installing buttons on each pole that would change the light when pressed. Some Hoboken intersections are equipped with such buttons, and those are the streets that have seen the fewest accidents.
Because the signals are pre-timed, pedestrians don’t want to wait for the light to change and they jaywalk to save time, putting themselves and motorists at risk, Meth explained.
Still time to weigh in
RBA’s survey for Hoboken residents will be available online until Jan. 1. The group has already received over 100 responses but is hoping for more before the end of the year, said one employee. Following the deadline, RBA will take into account the concerns of residents and the priorities of the city and construct a preliminary design plan, which could be presented as early as March.
To take the survey, visit www.surveymonkey.com/s/WashingtonStreetRedesign.
Dean DeChiaro may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org