Despite mixed support from local neighborhood associations, the Jersey City council has authorized a study to model safety improvements along Grand Street after the controversial Observer Highway rehabilitation in Hoboken.
Grand Street is located not far from the Jersey City/Hoboken border. Observer Highway runs along the other side of the border.
Department of Public Works officials said talks with officials in Hoboken painted a positive picture for potential safety by implementing a similar plan along Grand Street.
The Hoboken rehabilitation added bike lanes, but had raised some criticism in that town. The narrowed road lanes create gridlock during rush hour, and have – according to critics – inspired even more dangerous driving habits, as impatient drivers attempt to get around traffic snarls.
Critics claim that changes on Observer Highway benefit lightly used bicycle lanes, while creating more difficulties for car traffic, and predict similar problems along Grand Street if implemented.
But Bike JC – a group dedicated to promoting safe bicycle-riding in Jersey City – liked other changes along the now bicycle friendly Hoboken road.
The Grand Street plan would reduce four lanes to three with one lane going each way, with a center lane for making left hand turns. This would provide room for a dedicated bicycle lane to be created at the shoulder.
Bike JC said they used Hoboken’s Observer Highway as a model because it had created a safe place for bicycle riding as well as reduced dangerous car traffic.
But the plan has received mixed support from neighborhood associations along Grand Street. They are concerned about increased traffic using side streets if there are heavier traffic jams along Grand Street similar to those after Hoboken changed the configuration of Observer Highway last year.
“This is what is being done elsewhere. This is the standard.” – Candice Osborne
In making their argument for change, representatives for Bike JC said creating safe zones for cyclists on the street would get the bikes off the sidewalks.
Joe Punia, from the DPW, said the study would not commit the city to make the changes, but would review the potential safety impacts and total costs for the length of Grand Street.
The council approved hiring an engineering firm to prepare a concept development and assessment report with Stantec Consulting Services at a maximum $169,000.
Council member Candice Osborne supported the proposal, saying the design is in keeping with what other municipalities are doing.
“This is what is being done elsewhere,” she said. “This is the standard.”
These changes would include a center turn lane for making left hand turns off of Grand Street. While there currently are such lanes near Jersey Avenue, other intersections near Grove Street do not have them, creating a backup of traffic.
Punia said the reduction of lanes from four to two could allow the city to install curbside bike lanes protected by cars parked along the traffic lanes.
Bicycles are only part of the problem. Grand Street near downtown has become a speed corridor for drivers seeking to reach the waterfront from the Columbus Avenue exit of the New Jersey Turnpike.
Even with four lanes Grand Street frequently backs up, especially near supermarket and hospital exits. Some officials do not believe a reduction in lanes will improve this.
Punia said the city will hold public outreach to the community as well, since Grand Street travels through a number of neighborhoods.
DPW may get enforcement powers
The council also introduced an ordinance at the April 26 meeting to expand the ability of Division of Neighborhood Improvement inspectors to issue summons for quality of life violations such sidewalk cleaning, solid waste storage, collection and disposal, snow and ice removal, and graffiti.
“We brought back the Neighborhood Improvement Division and are giving those inspectors the ability to enforce quality of life complaints citywide, as we know how important this is for our residents,” said Mayor Steven Fulop. “Clean streets is something we have made a priority, whether adding inspectors, working with community groups or launching the Stop the Drop program, we are continually looking at how we can increase the ways in which we improve the quality of life for all residents.”
Councilman Daniel Rivera, who is the main sponsor of this initiative, said, “This division and these inspectors are crucial to the overall well being of Jersey City residents and now they will have full enforcement ability. We want them to both enforce the municipal code but also work with residents and business owners so they understand the ordinances and work together with the city to keep our neighborhoods clean.”
City pushed to give Jersey City residents preference for affordable housing
An ordinance proposed by Rivera and Councilman Jermaine Robinson would alter future agreements with developers to require affordable housing units become part of a city abated property to give first choice to Jersey City residents.
Introduced at the April 26 meeting, the Affordable Housing Compliance Ordinance establishes the city’s first ever policy for how affordable housing should be marketed, establishes a priority for Jersey City residents, and creates a waitlist process, as well as annual monitoring mechanism.
The ordinance would set up rules for developers similar to those that already exist for developments funded by federal or state governments.
The ordinance would not apply to those projects that are funded by the state or federal government, just those where the city requires affordable units as part of an abatement or redevelopment zoning.
“With the several hundred units of new affordable housing coming online, we wanted to make sure that Jersey City’s residents are the focus of that housing and that there is a concrete policy in place to market and monitor the application and waitlist process,” said Rivera. “There has been an emphasis on building new affordable housing, and now this step will make sure all those residents who want a chance to live in that housing know about it and are given the priority.”
The ordinance establishes a waitlist process that will be maintained by the developer and monitored by the City’s Office of Abatement Compliance, who will also monitor on an annual basis all affordable units to ensure that the tenants are Jersey City residents and in full compliance with the affordability measures.
The developer must also provide the city with its marketing plan for review whenever a certificate of occupancy is issued. The city will recommend that private developers of affordable housing advertise 30 days in advance the available units not only in English, but also in the other top five languages spoken in the Jersey City public schools: Spanish, Arabic, Urdu, Gujarati, and Hindi.
“Our community is a diverse one, so we wanted to make sure that all residents were aware of the affordable housing that exists and that they are offered the opportunity to live there,” said Robinson. “We have seen the great progress that is taking place throughout the city, but it is our responsibility now to make sure that all residents throughout the city have full access to this new affordable housing.”
Fulop said his administration has invested more than $6 million of Affordable Housing Trust Fund dollars and nearly matched the 1,255 affordable units created or preserved during the entire eight years of the previous administration. And construction is underway on two separate 80/20 mixed-income projects in downtown – the first in three decades – which will bring 165 units of affordable housing to the city’s waterfront district.
Al Sullivan may be reached at email@example.com.