If you loved the Newark Avenue pedestrian plaza that was established three years ago, you’ll love the new and improved version. Not only is the plaza expected to be expanded by two blocks to Jersey Avenue, but it will also incorporate new features, such as a children’s play area.
Mayor Steven Fulop signed an executive order on May 20 extending the plaza for a trial period over the summer, hoping to build off the success that local businesses have experienced since the original plaza was started in 2015.
The City Council voted to adopt an ordinance that would support the extension at its May 23 meeting.
“I believe in the importance of working to build a pedestrian-friendly city,” Fulop said. “Car-free plazas, like the one we have created on Newark Avenue, provide major benefits to both local businesses and local residents – they help to encourage a sense of walkability while boosting the local economy and growing the small business community.”
The executive order and the council ordinance calls for the closure of Newark Avenue between Barrow Street and Jersey Avenue for a period of 60 days, during which the city will monitor the expansion and solicit feedback from residents and business owners.
“The Newark Avenue Pedestrian Plaza has brought together the community and enhanced local businesses in big ways, and through the expansion of the plaza, we hope to continue to provide a pedestrian-only space that will continue to attract families, customers, and new small businesses, to Newark Avenue,” Fulop said.
“The Newark Avenue Pedestrian Plaza has brought together the community and enhanced local businesses in big ways, and through the expansion of the plaza.” – Steven Fulop
A test period
Through the extension plan, traffic will continue from Barrow Street through to Erie Street, now in a one-way traffic pattern heading north. The new plaza will also include the small portion of Bay Street that runs between Newark Avenue and Erie Street.
The trial period between May 21 to July 19 will give the city a more accurate read of the use and success of the second portion of the plaza, as restaurants and businesses can take advantage of additional outdoor space during warm weather and foot traffic increases.
If successful, the city expects to make this extension permanent in the fall, and is currently working out a plan to raise the street, build a playground on the plaza, and enhance the style and infrastructure. During the next year, the city has budgeted $1 million for these upgrades, and will work with the community on a permanent vision for the plaza.
Among the proposed upgrades will be a new playground area between Barrow and Jersey.
The original portion of the Newark Avenue Pedestrian Plaza began to operate in full effect in 2015, and has since brought dozens of new businesses to the area.
When the original pedestrian plaza was proposed, some residents as well as some public officials opposed it.
The city argued that creating the plaza will help boost local businesses – restaurants along that stretch of Newark Avenue can set up tables outside – and extend the popular Grove Street pedestrian plaza.
Not all positives
But as some critics pointed out, this expansion was not without the cost. Several medical practices located in the blocks eventually relocated out of the plaza area.
One of the biggest critics of the plaza proposal was Ward C Councilman Richard Boggiano, who believes shutting down the street to vehicles would aggravate traffic problems in the area.
“I was right,” he said. “Traffic down there is horrible.”
Boggiano, who voted against the ordinance, also said the mayor cannot legally close the streets by executive order.
“I also talked to some of the business owners down there,” he said. “Some of them said they weren’t told about this until the mayor issued his order.”
The plaza also had unexpected consequences involving after hour problems with patrons.
Earlier in May, Fulop proposed changes to the ordinance that were later adopted by the city council to reduce late-night noise from the area’s rooftop bars, as well as updates to the operating plan to help stagger the crowds leaving local bars at closing time.
“The proposed changes to the bars and restaurants on the plaza will help us to find that balance, and create a space that can be enjoyed by visitors and the community alike as we head into the busy summer season,” Fulop said.
Under the changes to the ordinance, bars and restaurants with rooftop service will no longer be permitted to operate outdoors after midnight, but can continue to serve patrons inside the establishment until closing time.
Currently, sidewalk cafes are permitted to operate until midnight on Friday and Saturday, with earlier closing times during weekdays. The proposed changes to rooftop bar operations aim to follow this standard, so that all outdoor activity is limited after midnight.
The changes would also require bars and restaurants to restrict re-entry after 1 a.m. similar to a ban enacted in Hoboken to help curb late-night activity and make closing time crowds more manageable.
“These are small, yet important, changes to operation of our local bars and restaurants that will greatly impact the community’s quality of life. Building a safe space that is respectful to our residents is our ultimate priority,” said Fulop.
The city has also increased police patrols to the area to help with after-hours crowds.
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.