The City Council will vote on a $1 million bond ordinance next month that could jump start the redesign of Hoboken’s landmark streets. Bustling Washington Street and scenic Sinatra Drive could receive upgrades, mainly intended to improve the pedestrian experience, and Observer Highway, a major entry route into the city’s downtown that often jams during rush hour, would be transformed into a tree-lined boulevard with traffic improvements.
The bond ordinance was introduced earlier this month in a 6-3 vote. Five votes were cast by members typically aligned with Mayor Dawn Zimmer’s administration, plus Councilwoman Beth Mason, one of the mayor’s most persistent critics.
The $1 million bond ordinance will have to undergo a public hearing and a second vote and will require six council members’ approval to be adopted.
“Hoboken is a pedestrian-friendly place. It’s fantastic, but we need to make sure that it’s safe.” – Mayor Dawn Zimmer
City officials said that the $1 million bond ordinance will help the city more effectively apply for grants.
The city will require another bond ordinance to help pay for the construction of Washington Street, which is estimated to cost $9 million, if the designs go to plan.
Councilman Tim Occhipinti – who voted against the ordinance in first reading – said that although he agrees Washington Street needs renovations, he disagrees with the funding process.
“I think this should have been a budgeted item,” said Occhipinti, later adding, “It’s constantly the administration saying, ‘We want to borrow on the credit card to pay for everything,’ and I don’t think that is fiscally responsible.”
Occhipinti also said he feels the administration should apply to the Department of Transportation for a grant.
“We definitely have the bonding capacity to do this,” said Mayor Dawn Zimmer.
“It became clearer and clearer that one of the really important aspects of [securing] external funding sources is being in a shovel-ready position,” said Parking and Transportation Director Ian Sacs. “That’s why the intent of this bond is to get the design component far enough along so that we can apply more confidently for [grants].”
If the bond is adopted, the administration will hold a series of community meetings to solicit input.
“We’re entirely hopeful all the council members are behind this,” said Zimmer.
“We are dramatically changing the way these roadways function to better serve all roadway issues,” said Sacs. “This is not something that would typically come out of an annual maintenance program. That is why we need external funding sources, and why the city needs to kick in [the costs] for design aspects.”
Washington Street: ‘Not as safe as it should be’
Washington Street is the main artery of the city’s business district, where the majority of the shops and restaurants in the city are located. Officials said the street is in need of various improvements, some designed to increase pedestrian safety, like installing more lighting along the street.
“At night the lighting is not that good,” said Zimmer, who said the city looks to install countdown timers at every intersection. “We need to have the countdown [timers] to make it much safer. Hoboken is a pedestrian-friendly place. It’s fantastic, but we need to make sure that it’s safe. Right now it’s just not as safe as it should be.”
The city also hopes to repave the entire street, which will require phasing construction work over time.
“[Repaving] is something that I’ve been thinking about for a couple of years,” said Zimmer. “Many people in Hoboken agree and believe that we need to repave [the street].”
According to Sacs, a few-block stretch of one (north or south) side of Washington Street will be done at a time. Traffic will be redirected through the other side of the street.
“[That way] you can get construction work accomplished, but at the same time not disrupt businesses and people’s ability to get back and forth along [the street],” said Sacs.
A friendlier Sinatra
Officials also discussed their intentions to make Sinatra more pedestrian and bicycle-friendly. The current bicycle lane and pedestrian walkway only parallels the downtown portion of Sinatra Dive.
“The waterfront is something we need to make sure is designed in a way that’s enjoyable for everyone,” said Zimmer. “While we [do] have a beautiful walkway, it’s not so easy to go biking and jogging along our waterfront. It’s a little bit dangerous.”
“We need to figure out how to slow down the cars and do a design that makes it safe and comfortable for everyone.”
Zimmer said she would like to install a Class 1 bicycle lane for joggers and bicyclists to ride the entire stretch of Sinatra Drive.
The plans are part of an ongoing intention to create a green “band,” or “loop” around the city in the form of a large, continuous bike lane.
In the works
The city currently has $2 million in federal funding to improve Observer Highway, and $240,000 to update Newark Street between River and Washington streets. Like Washington Street and Sinatra Drive, both roads are scheduled for measures that aim to increase pedestrian safety.
Plans call for the conversion of Observer Highway to “Observer Boulevard,” which would include adding traffic signals at Park Avenue and Bloomfield Streets, pedestrian crossings and countdown timers, a dedicated left turn lane, a pedestrian path, parallel parking, and a two-way bicycle track – the latter of which will contribute to the green “loop.”
The Newark Street project includes creating a “pocket plaza” at the corner of Washington Street, expanding sidewalks to separate pedestrians from vehicles, and adding more crossing signals.
Both streets will likely see the installation of curb extensions, which round out curbs to calm traffic and reduce the distance pedestrians have to travel to cross a given road.
Three community meetings have been held for both the Observer Highway and Newark Street projects. Visit hobokennj.org to view the design plans.
Stephen LaMarca may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.