IMPACT: Hudson County’s evolving transportation options

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Bikes await riders outside the Hoboken bus terminal
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NY Waterway ferry is an alternative commute to NYC
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NJ Transit buses move passengers within Hudson County
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The Hudson-Bergen Light Rail is often dysfunctional but usually on time
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Bikes await riders outside the Hoboken bus terminal
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NY Waterway ferry is an alternative commute to NYC
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NJ Transit buses move passengers within Hudson County
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The Hudson-Bergen Light Rail is often dysfunctional but usually on time

Two decades ago, Hudson County had no light rail system, and PATH stations were surrounded by huge parking lots that were more in demand than housing. There were no bike lanes or bike-share programs. There was more room on the bus and far more parking available, but that came at the cost of disinvestment during the previous three decades in an era of mass suburbanization.

Now, many of those suburban kids are living in Hudson County and working in Manhattan. The growing population will always need to get from point A to point B, and the modes of transportation are continuing to change.

River

The ferry system remains one of the best ways to get across the Hudson River. NY Waterway operates ferries in Weehawken, Hoboken and Jersey City, serving commuters from all over the region. Traveling on the water is often more enjoyable than the overcrowded, stuffy tubes that run underneath.

The biggest complaint about ferries is the price, which effectively excludes many who may otherwise want the service. It’s also difficult to access via public transit, except for the downtown Hoboken Terminal and Jersey City’s Essex Street station.

As long as the island of Manhattan is a center of commerce, people will need to get there, and demand continues to rise. SeaStreak, a private ferry operator based in Atlantic Highlands, is expected to make stops on the southern shore of the former Military Ocean Terminal in Bayonne on its way to Manhattan, starting late in 2019. It will be the only ferry in Hudson County not operated by NY Waterway.

Road

The percentage of Hudson County residents with cars is declining, while the population is increasing. There’s only so much room for cars in a crowded city. That’s why “multi-modal” transit is becoming the new norm.

Thousands of people get around by bicycle in Hudson County, albeit mostly in Jersey City and Hoboken, where local governments are investing in cycling infrastructure. Most cities, however, have a bike-sharing program. CitiBike operates in Jersey City while the rest of the county uses Hudson Bike Share.

Bicycles as a mode of transportation will only be feasible only if there is infrastructure to support it. Hoboken and Jersey City have painted bike lanes and have created some separated lanes. These bike lanes are tucked between the sidewalk and on-street vehicle parking instead of in the street, where motorists drive. Many of those cyclists rely solely on a bicycle to get around.

Uber and Lyft ride-shares are becoming more popular, especially where there are no reliable or convenient public transit options.

Getting in and out of Jersey City became easier this year when the Pulaski Skyway project finally finished, connecting Routes 1 and 9 to points west of Hudson County.

The combination of cars, density, and wide roads spells trouble for pedestrians. John F. Kennedy Boulevard, one of the widest roads in the county, has been devastating for pedestrians. On the boulevard, there are 44 schools, and tens of thousands of motor vehicles travel it daily. From 2014 to 2016, the corridor was the scene of more than 4,000 crashes, more than 1,100 injuries, and 12 fatalities. Officials have proposed solutions such as speed bumps, speed strips, improved signs, and speeding enforcement. None of those proposals, however, reduce the width of the road, which encourages speeding.

Buses help to reduce the amount of traffic on roads, but the bus system has its own problems. Unreliable schedules, overcrowding (especially in Hoboken, Jersey City Heights, and Union City) frustrate commuters daily. When it snows, even a little, buses are delayed. According to a 2018 NJ Transit audit report, buses are logging up to a million miles and are in dire need of replacement.

Under former Gov. Christopher Christie, the state reduced NJ Transit’s operating subsidy by $33 million. Meanwhile, the transit system saw a 30 percent increase in operational and maintenance costs in the last 10 years.

Commuters in Jersey City have demanded that current buses be replaced with electric buses to reduce carbon emissions. Hudson County has some of the worst air quality in the state. More than a quarter of carbon emissions come from the transportation sector.

Commuters are also demanding that rapid bus lanes be installed to improve commute times, which seem to be worsening by the year. Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop threw his support behind the idea at his 2018 State of the City address.

Rail

Rail lines, the most expensive form of public transit in terms of capital required to build them, is the most efficient way of getting around. Trains bypass all vehicle traffic and geographic barriers. But disinvestment in the PATH trains has resulted in overcrowding and delays.

Riders on the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail have similar complaints, especially during rush hour commutes. In evenings and on weekends, wait times for trains increase, inconveniencing commuters. Often, it’s faster to walk to a destination than take the light rail. Digital signs at stations that are supposed to show arrival times, and signs on trains that are supposed to show destinations are often not working.

Meanwhile, the Gateway Project, a planned expansion and renovation of the Northeast Corridor rail line between Newark, New Jersey, and Manhattan, has stopped dead in its tracks due to lack of  federal funding under Republican leadership.