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More room to roam

Hoboken to pilot "open street" program

A portion of Jefferson Street will close to vehicular traffic as part of a pilot to help people socially distance while out and about.

Most Hoboken residents have been staying at home and self isolating since mid-March, heading the advice of state and city officials to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

To help residents get at least some fresh air while staying a safe distance away from others, Mayor Ravi Bhalla announced the creation of an “open street” pilot program, which aims to ease social distancing constraints as well as gradually reopen some city and county parks.

Open street pilot

This weekend, Hoboken will close a portion of Jefferson Street, from Fifth Street to 11th Street to all vehicular traffic on Saturday and Sunday from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m. so that pedestrians and cyclists can have more room and maintain a social distance of at least six feet from one another.

The opening of Jefferson Street attempts to alleviate overcrowding of other public spaces and will serve as a pilot, which if successful, could be repeated or expanded in the future.

“We are pleased to open up Jefferson Street to Hoboken residents to help facilitate social distancing,” said Mayor Ravi Bhalla. “This space will help reduce the stress in our parks and waterfront, with the goal of making it safer for outdoor activity with the warmer weather. While we continue to advocate for residents to stay at home whenever practically possible, I recognize the mental health benefits of fresh air and outdoor space, and I’m confident this space will promote responsible outdoor activity.”

The Hoboken Police Department will dedicate approximately five Traffic Control Officers (TCOs) to Jefferson Street, to assist residents who need to access their vehicles or enter their garages. Residents will not need to move their cars if they are parked on Jefferson Street.

All congregating will be strictly prohibited, and face masks should be worn at all times.

Bhalla said some residents have asked why the city chose not to close down Sinatra Drive instead of Jefferson Street since Sinatra Drive abuts the linear park and waterfront walkway.

In fact, in March an online petition sponsored by the Fund for a Better Waterfront, Bike Hoboken, New Jersey Bike Walk Coalition, The Climate Mobilization, Hoboken, VonHof Cycles, and Bike JC requested just that.

But after garnering more than 650 signatures on Change.org, the sponsors suspended the petition out of respect for the “mayor, city hall, elected officials, first responders, and our health care professionals who are in some cases risking their lives to help our community make it through this pandemic with as few deaths as possible.”

Last August, Hoboken brought back car free Sundays along portions of Sinatra Drive as “Sinatra Summer Streets” to maximize public space for recreation along its Hudson River waterfront.

Bhalla said that while he is 100 percent in favor of closing Sinatra Drive during normal spring and summer days, “I want to take extra precautions to ensure Sinatra drive does not become a destination for nonresidents and result in additional overcrowding.”

Due in part to the nice weather, he said last weekend the city saw a higher than usual volume of traffic, and the city doesn’t want to make the waterfront even more of a destination for those who don’t live in Hoboken.

In the past, Hoboken’s waterfront has attracted tourists from all over the world who come to take in the views of the Manhattan skyline.

Trip advisor lists the Hoboken Waterfront Walkway and Pier A Park as “Traveler Favs” and the city’s top two attractions.

Passive park time

The closure of Jefferson Street to vehicular traffic follows the mayor’s announcement that the city reopened some city and county parks on May 8.

Passive recreation, such as walking and taking in scenery are permitted at Church Square Park, Elysian Park, Southwest Park, Stevens Park, Columbus Park, 7th and Jackson Park and Plaza, Harborside Park, Maxwell Park, Pier A Park, Shipyard Park, ShopRite Green Plaza, Sinatra Park amphitheater, and 14th Street Viaduct between Grand and Adams streets.

Congregating in groups, and organized sports in the parks are prohibited.

“Based on the recent data demonstrating a downward trend in new, confirmed cases in Hoboken, and the important benefits of outdoor activities on mental health, we are moving forward with the first phase of a gradual parks re-opening,” said Bhalla.

“I urge residents to practice social distancing of at least six feet and wear a face mask or face cover at all times in our parks. If these critical precautions are observed, we can keep our parks open for the long term and consider opening additional open spaces. If these rules are not respected, and the safety of our residents is jeopardized by residents congregating in groups, we will need to revisit whether or not parks can remain open.”

As of May 6, Hoboken had a total of 525 known positive COVID-19 cases and 23 deaths.

Residents are encouraged to use parks during early morning, late afternoon, or early evening hours to avoid peak periods of anticipated high volume.

Residents may gather with immediate household members in open lawn areas but remain at least six feet apart from others.

All playgrounds, athletic fields and courts, restrooms, gymnasiums, dog parks, spray areas, gazebos, and community gardens in the select parks will remain closed until further notice, reflecting guidelines provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

For updates on this and other stories check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Marilyn Baer can be reached at Marilynb@hudsonreporter.com.

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