Lower speed limits, more transportation options, infrastructure upgrades, and park improvements were some of the highlights of Mayor Ravi Bhalla’s second State of the City address in Hoboken on Jan. 27.
Bhalla reiterated the city’s goals outlined in the Vision Zero initiative, noting new proposals to achieve the goal of zero traffic-related injuries and deaths by 2030, including possibly reducing the speed limit on city streets to 20 mph; adding more than five miles of bike lanes on Hudson Street, Garden Street, and Park Avenue as well as connecting the city’s bike network along Observer Highway to Jersey City; repaving and restripping of the bike path on Sinatra Drive below Fourth Street; and the ongoing work of the Vision Zero Taskforce to detail a plan to help achieve Hoboken’s goal.
“The unfortunate reality is, if a pedestrian is struck by a vehicle traveling 30 miles per hour, they are four times as likely to die from an injury than if they were struck by a vehicle traveling 20 miles per hour,” Bhalla said,noting his transportation staff will review the feasibility of lowering the speed limit citywide.
“While this may take motorists an extra minute or two to get from one spot in town to another, that extra minute if it can save a life is really worth it in my book,” he added.
Bhalla also highlighted the city’s micromobility, noting he is working with the state on adding a light rail stop at 15th Street and will be expanding the HOP bus service by adding two new HOP buses, increasing service during peak periods.
Scooters were mentioned as an option to address residents’ transportation needs this year, but the mayor noted it would be possible only “if and only if companies are willing to meet our rigorous safety, operational, and technological requirements that result in a safer and more orderly program.”
A recommitment to open space
Bhalla reiterated his commitment to obtaining Union Dry Dock from NY Waterway for public open space.
“While you may not have heard many updates recently, please rest assured that we are making real progress behind the scenes with both New York Waterway and the governor’s office,” he said. “I’m very optimistic … that we will finally see a positive ending this year that preserves Union Dry Dock for public, open space.”
Bhalla noted the ongoing construction of Northwest Resiliency Park, which will store millions of gallons of water from storm surges, the opening of 7th and Jackson Street Park, the renovation of Madison Street Park, and the ongoing planning of Cove Park.
He announced that this year the city will renovate dog runs at Church Square Park and Stevens Park as well renovate Legion Park to include modern playground equipment for children with special needs as well as renaming it for the late Tom Olivieri.
This year the city will launch the “friends of parks” program similar to the Central Park Conservancy.
He reaffirmed the city’s commitment to the Climate Action Plan launched last year to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, noting that the city purchased 100 percent renewable energy for its municipal facilities last year and the ban on all carryout plastic bags as well as Styrofoam in March.
Bhalla said the city is revitalizing areas of town, including Hoboken’s Northwest area through community meetings to create a redevelopment plan. Upgrades are planned for the city’s aged water main system.
He highlighted last years agreement with SUEZ and the city’s capital investment in replacing 2,000 linear feet of water mains and service lines.
“By the end of the year, we will have replaced over 2.7 miles of our water main system,” he said.
He added that the city is repaving 50 blocks of roads this year.
Bhalla said the city is keeping an eye on spending as the city reportedly faces a municipal budget deficit of about $7.5 million this year.
“While taking a fiscally responsible approach to spending and prioritizing as much alternative funding for City projects as possible, the unfortunate reality … is that this year, we have a tougher than normal budget due mainly to rising fixed costs,” Bhalla said, noting an increase of $1.5 million in healthcare costs and benefits, an increase in the pension bill, and increases in salaries.
“We’re tightening our belts, working to reduce spending, and doing more with less.”
He said that the city has reduced costs by cutting the legal budget by using in-house attorneys, instituting a hiring freeze at city hall, and rightsizing departments, including downsizing his own office.
He also noted that many of the city’s quality-of-life upgrades in parks, infrastructure, and transportation used state and county grants as well as public-private partnerships.
“In the coming months, there will be difficult decisions ahead, but I look forward to working with the Council to find smart, realistic solutions,” he said.
He said that while this year may have bumps in the road, he is confident the city will move forward together.
“Because,” he concluded, “for Hoboken, and for all of us – as the great Frank Sinatra once said – the best is yet to come.”
To watch the address go to the city’s twitter feed at: https://twitter.com/CityofHoboken/status/1221948734776328193?s=20