Jersey City officials are expected soon to unveil their plan for improving Grand Street, considered one of the most dangerous streets in the city, with a $2,079,331 grant from the state Department of Transportation’s fiscal year 2019 municipal aid program.
“This year the state received 681 applications,” said DOT Commissioner Diane Guiterrez-Scaccetti in her March 25 letter to the city confirming the grant.
“The engineering department has been studying the various options and are expected to present the one of their choice to the city council shortly,” said Councilman James Solomon.
Grand Street runs for two miles from the Bergen/Lafayette area to the Hudson River waterfront. It is considered a vital transportation corridor connecting diverse and growing neighborhoods. But Solomon said cars travel down it at high rates of speed, running traffic lights and putting both pedestrians and bike riders at risk.
In 2017, the City Council authorized a concept development study aimed at making Grand Street safer and more accessible for pedestrians, cyclists, transit users, and motorists.
The study, according to city officials, used advanced street redesign techniques to enhance safety conditions along Grand Street and improve the balance between all transportation modes.
In numerous community meetings, Mayor Steven Fulop promoted the bike lane aspects of the project, saying a protected bike lane would be expanded to other major roadways once it is installed on Grand Street.
“This is all part of our pedestrian safety plan towards VisionZeroJC – safer streets lead to a better city for pedestrians,” he said.
Bike JC, which has been pushing for the project, suggested the studies use Hoboken’s Observer Highway as a model because it was rebuilt with a safe lane for bicycle riding and reduced dangerous car traffic.
But the anticipated improvement of Grand Street has received mixed support from neighborhood associations. They are concerned about displaced traffic using side streets if there are heavier traffic jams along Grand Street, similar to what happened after Hoboken changed the configuration of Observer Highway several years ago.
Waiting for the details
Ward C Councilman Richard Boggiano said he has concerns about the plans. Even though the changes do not take place near Journal Square in Ward C, he fears they will have a ripple effect in other parts of the city.
“We are all in Jersey City and these things affect everyone,” he said.
He said the creation of the Newark Avenue Pedestrian Plaza in Ward E caused traffic to back up Newark Avenue into his ward.
“The changes on Grand Street could create potential traffic jams in other places in the city,” he said. “I’m waiting for the presentation from the engineering department.”
Solomon said he is also waiting for the details. “But I’m in favor of the concept,” he said. “Grand Street is dangerous and we need to do something there.”
There have also been conflicts between bike riders and pedestrians on Grand Street. To avoid the risk of fast moving traffic, bike riders seek the relative safety of the sidewalk. Neighborhood association people claim pedestrians have been injured by bicyclists.
One of the Grand Street study proposals would allow room for a dedicated bicycle lane to be created at the shoulder.
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.
Various possible changes
The concept study has given the engineering department several options for the project.
One plan would provide four vehicle lanes, two in each direction, between Communipaw Avenue and Grove Street. This would have no impact on current parking spaces and would not affect bus routes.
The first alternative would reduce four traffic lanes to three, with one lane going in each direction, a center left hand turn lane, and a bike lane along each shoulder. This would reduce the available parking spaces from 350 to 284, and reduce the number of bus stops from 32 to 19, but would construct 19 bus shelters.
The second alternative plan would create three lanes, one west bound and two east bound, two-way bicycle lanes on both sides, and reduce parking spaces to 179.
A third alternative would provide one lane in each direction with a center turn lane, but would allow 103 more parking spaces as well as buffered direction bike lanes with east bound lanes diverted eventually to York Street.
Mayor Fulop appears to support the buffered or protected lanes alternative.
Protected bike lanes are separated in some way from adjacent lanes of car traffic, sometimes by lines of parked cars or by a median.
But this would add cost to the project. One estimate suggested it add an additional $200,000 to the overall project.
A fourth alternative would create one lane west bound, two lanes east bound with turn lanes, and would have a total of 362 parking spaces. It would have a shared use path on the west end and direction bike lanes on the east end.
“We actually expected to get the presentation already,” Solomon said. “But one complication is that the Municipal Utilities Authority will have to repair sewers in the area first. We wouldn’t want them tearing up the streets after we’ve done the changes.”