A palpable fervor filled the air of the city council chambers on Monday, Feb. 8 as more than a dozen residents took to the mic to condemn the city’s plan to narrow Washington Street for drivers, making way for bike lanes and ostensibly wiping out the ability to double-park. Each of those speakers received applause from most of the nearly 200-person audience.
“I don’t want to narrow Hoboken’s only artery, because I don’t want to give Hoboken a heart attack,” said resident David Kalmis at the meeting.
Mayor Dawn Zimmer’s proposed $15 million redesign of Washington Street would repave the street and upgrade the water lines, but it would also narrow the travel lanes on each side of the roadway from 17 feet to 11 feet, making room for a four-foot bike lane on each side with a two-foot “rubberized” buffer, according to T&M Associates.
Commuters of all modes of transportation will find out this Wednesday, Feb. 17 if the plan, which needs a 5-4 vote of the City Council to pass, will advance.
Even many of Zimmer’s supporters have opposed the plan, so Wednesday’s meeting could be heated. Zimmer failed to address the comments in her State of the City address this past Wednesday (see bottom cover).
Another vote to bond for the redesign – a matter that needs a six vote “super majority,” could come up as early as the fall.
“What is so horrible about double parking?” -- Ernie Reyes
While many approve with the redesign’s safety installments such as synchronized traffic lights, countless have criticized efforts to rid of double parking, saying sometimes it’s necessary to do so, even if illegal.
Other issues came to the forefront during the meeting, including people possibly hitting bicyclists when they exited their cars, and emergency vehicle response time being negatively affected because of the narrower roadway.
Toward the end of the meeting, hundreds cheered on longtime city activist Dan Tumpson when he suggested making bike lanes a ballot question.
As for parking, an always vexing topic in Hoboken, city officials have assured the public that the city’s roughly 500 spots on the street will be retained. The plan would add angled parking on the east side of uptown streets to make up for any parking loss, and relocate fire hydrants to corners in some areas for easier access.
City officials say that double parking for businesses wouldn’t be necessary because the plan adds loading zones and short-term parking spaces. Officials also say that double parking isn’t safe.
Criticizing a ‘complete street’
Mayor Dawn Zimmer says a “complete street” approach – with a designated area for pedestrians, cyclists, and cars – generates business and improves safety.
The city did not respond to inquiries by press time, including whether the bike lanes might instead be placed on Sinatra Drive or elsewhere, as residents have suggested. Others have wondered how many parking spots will be lost on some blocks, even if “net parking” is retained. And will the engineers make adjustments to the current concept before Wednesday’s meeting in response to public objection?
It is also unclear whether the bike lanes meet federal guidelines. According to a report released by the Federal Highway Administration last year, seven-foot bike lanes are recommended for thoroughfares like Washington Street. The report also states that three-foot buffers are recommended adjacent to parking. The information can be found at www.fhwa.dot.gov/environment/bicycle_pedestrian. The lanes proposed in the Washington Street redesign are four-foot-bike lanes with two-foot buffers.
Business owners at the meeting said that cyclist shoppers are a rarity.
Armando Luis, who owns Sparrow’s Wine and Liquor Co. said, “The biking lane between the sidewalk and the parking spaces is a bad idea. It is an idea that will probably paralyze my business.”
A Washington Street crash analysis from T&M Associates between 2013 and 2015 said there were 308 car crashes. Since 2013, one person has died on Washington Street (an 89-year-old woman last year) and 10 were injured after being struck by cars.
According to their analysis, 25 of the crashes from 2013 to 2015 involved cyclists and pedestrians, 63 involved same direction sideswipes, and 82 involved cars striking parked vehicles. The engineering group says the latter categories (sideswipes/car vs. parked car), which add up to 145 accidents, may be attributed to double-parking.
“What is so horrible about double parking?” business owner Ernie Reyes said at the meeting. “You’ve all done it, I’m sure.”
Only a few people supported the bike lanes at the meeting.
“I take Hudson Street [when commuting to the PATH station] because even though my apartment is closer to Washington Street, it’s too dangerous for me to do it [on Washington Street]. So I just go on the street that is safer,” said Alexandra Aiello, who lives on 11th Street. “However it’s not that direct, and…I hear people say where are the biking shoppers? Well I’m one of them.”
Councilmembers said they’d keep an open mind going into Wednesday’s meeting.
See the letters page for the many letters received this week about the issue.
Steven Rodas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.