Union City embraces bike lanes, other North Hudson municipalities remain opposed

While one city embraces bike lanes, a proposed protected bike lane on Boulevard East in Hudson County has been met with a lukewarm reception by mayors

Bike lanes have been a hot topic of discussion across North Hudson recently, and while Union City is embracing the idea, neighboring towns are rejecting a proposal for a protected bike lane on Boulevard East.

Union City

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“It’s with great pleasure that I announce the creation of new bike lanes throughout Union City,” Mayor Brian Stack said on April 7. The city already has bike lanes that run on Palisade Avenue from 2nd Street to 30th Street. Those lanes will be extended to 49th Street.

“The implementation of new bike lanes will help improve traffic flow, lessen the likelihood of injuries on sidewalks, and keep cyclists safer on our road,” Stack said. “Ultimately, we will have bike lanes on New York Avenue, Bergenline Avenue, Central Avenue, West Street, among other areas throughout the City.”

The continuation of the lanes on Palisade Avenue between 30th Street and 49th Street will be completed by the summer of 2022. According to Stack, additional lanes will be added to all main streets across Union City on an ongoing basis.

Proposed protected bike lane

Outside of Union City, proposals for bike lanes have hit a snag across North Hudson.

Cycling advocates continue their quest for a protected bike lane on Boulevard East from the Lincoln Tunnel in Weehawken, through West New York and Guttenberg, culminating at Braddock Park in North Bergen. However, they continue to face push back from local officials’ plans to install angled parking on Boulevard East in a number of municipalities.

Boulevard East has been designated a “High Crash Corridor,” with $19 million in federal funds allocated and a design for a protected bike lane on the east side of Boulevard East. Parking would remain on the west side of Boulevard East. Boulevard East is a Hudson County road but local officials still get a say, and they object to the loss of parking.

According to County Engineer Tom Malavasi, the plan by the North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority shows that in Weehawken, a total of 101 parking spaces would be lost if Boulevard East was transformed into a “complete street” including the protected bike lane.

In West New York, 57 spaces would be lost, in Guttenberg 15 spaces would be lost, and in North Bergen 44 spaces would be lost.

Advocates support the protected bike lane because it would discourage the use of cars, thus reducing traffic and the need for parking; cycling is a safer alternative to driving, especially with a protected bike lane; the protected bike lane would connect a number of parks, as well as the municipalities along it in general; some of the parking spaces lost are only due to unenforced parking violations by the township.

The advocates have previously addressed the municipal councils and boards of towns including Weehawken and West New York, and returned again to address the West New York Board of Commissioners at its April 6 meeting.

West New York

At the meeting, advocate Johan Andrade of Bike North Bergen, Cara Nasello of Bike Weehawken, and Emanuelle Morgen of Bike Hudson County and Bike Hoboken called for the town to embrace the “complete streets” proposal which would facilitate the protected bike lane.

Andrade said the additional parking spaces in the garages currently under construction would bring more cars and not solving the parking problem. He advocated for the “complete streets” plan which would include a protected bike lane. By providing a safe, alternate means of transportation to cars, less people would drive, according to Andrade. 

A rendering of the proposed protected bike lane via Bike Hudson County.

In West New York, of the 57 parking spaces that would be lost, 22 spaces would be from pedestrian safety upgrades, eight spaces would be from the proposed improved bus stops, and 27 from the proposed cycle track. Morgen proposed a pilot program of painting a non-exclusive bike lane on Boulevard East just to test it out.

However, the proposal contradicts with the town’s plan to put angled parking on parts of Boulevard East. Mayor Gabriel Rodriguez thanked the advocates for again speaking to the board on behalf of the aforementioned ideas, but did not appear to be budging.

“I can completely understand your concern with bike safety, it’s a concern of all of us,” Rodriguez said. “West New York is one of the most densely populated areas in the nation. This translates to a lack of parking in the community. We’ve taken it upon ourselves to create more parking spaces replacing surface lots with garages. To take away spaces from Boulevard East… not everybody would have access to those garages… While that [complete streets] plans sounds very sound, not everyone has the luxury to get rid of a vehicle or even two and acquire a bicycle.” 

Debate continues in Weehawken

At the March 23 meeting of the Weehawken Township Council, Morgen again addressed Mayor Richard Turner about the proposal. She alleged only 15 legitimate parking spaces would be lost to the protected bike lane part of the “complete streets” plan. Turner rejected that number, saying he had looked at the plan “15 times.” 

“To clarify, the total parking loss number is 101 spaces in Weehawken,” Morgen said. “Of these, 66 spaces are due to pedestrian safety improvements such as curb bump-outs, and 20 are due to longer bus stops. So let’s talk about those 101 spaces. That is the total cost of pedestrian and bicycle safety on Boulevard East… Last week, a 17-year-old Weehawken resident was walking across Boulevard East with a bicycle when he was struck by a motorist making a right on red.”

Turner acknowledged crosswalk safety could be improved: “We do have intersection issues. And we’re going to address them. But this has nothing to do with that. Because that would not be separate bike lane by the intersection. That is a very busy intersection and we have our engineers looking at how to correct that separate from a separate bike lane issue.” 

Morgen continued, listing the names of cyclists who have been injured on Boulevard East in Weehawken: “Michael Radoian. Max Haas-Heger. Ricardo Gonzalez-Rivera. Antonio Irizarry. Salleyh Ortega. Oscar Monroy-Quiroz. These are just a few of the names of people who have been struck by vehicles on Boulevard East since 2019, their names gathered from endless news articles about road violence in our area. And these are only the cyclists.

A map of the proposed protected bike lane on Boulevard East from Weehawken to North Bergen.

Morgen added: “Since the pandemic, cycling has increased 50 percent. Bike sales have increased 121 percent, despite supply chain shortages. Why? We can only guess at the reasons. Whether it’s convenience, pleasure, the environment, or efficiency, bikes are not going away. And to be honest, people on bikes have always been here… And ultimately it’s up to you whether 101 spaces on Boulevard East are worth the cost to preserve human life.” 

Turner not budging

Turner said that despite their several conversations, he has not budged. They have engaged at both the March 9 and March 23 meeting since the last coverage by the Hudson Reporter, as well as at other meetings before it.

“I don’t believe Mr. Malavasi is correct,” Turner said. “I’m setting up a meeting with him and some other county officials… Something is wrong with the number. I’m going to sit down with him and go over the numbers.”

Turner argued that anywhere between 225 to 275 parking spaces would be lost, with the number often fluctuating as the conversations continued over the months. He said that the protected bike lane, in conjunction with the other aspects of the “complete streets,” would eliminate hundreds of parking spaces.

“I’m not worrying about the $19 million in all honesty,” Turner said. “I think we like the Boulevard the way it is. We can make the crosswalks safer. The council likes the idea of a traffic light at Jefferson Street… We can do a lot to make it safer for pedestrians. But for bicycles, it’s a dangerous road… We can do something on the road side of the cars, but there’s no way we can do the proposal. People are not happy about it because where do they park?”

Turner argued that the engineering reports he had seen show no parking along Boulevard East at all, in contrary to the advocates claims that the plans would allow for parking on the western side. He said that people have two or three cars per household, which means that the demand for parking is high.

In response to the extreme demand for parking, Turner said the township has been allowing parking behind schools and the library. Weehawken even bought property at bottom of Sterling Avenue and Jefferson Street to avoid redevelopment due to the low availability of parking in the area.

In addition to issues with the protected bike lane and parking as well as other difficult areas such as bridges, Turner added that “no one likes” the “tiny” bike lane that Weehawken installed on Palisade Avenue in conjunction with Union City, despite the fact that Union City is expanding their bike lanes. According to Turner, many residents in the area of Boulevard East are “counting on [the council] to not allow this go forward.”

Jim Vance addresses the North Bergen Board of Commissioners about the proposed protected bike lane.

Other bike advocates including Andrade, Nasello, Beatrice Bofill of Jersey City, and Jim Vance of Hoboken among others, spoke in favor of the protected bike lane on Boulevard East. At times, it got heated as the advocates disputed the number of parking spaces that would be lost in Weehawken due to the plan. Turner ultimately said he would meet with Vance and the county engineer to again review the plans.

The Weehawken Township will likely meet next on April 13 at 7 p.m. in person at Town Hall at 400 Park Avenue, with remote viewing options. For more information, go to weehawken-nj.us.

North Bergen

At the March 9 meeting of the North Bergen Board of Commissioners, the topic of the protected bike lane on Boulevard East was first brought before the governing body by Vance.

“As long as anyone can remember Boulevard East has had a parking problem,” Vance said. “Citizens complain, politicians fret, and the parking problem just gets worse. It’s gotten so bad authorities turned a blind eye to parking in crosswalks, bus stops, adding dangerous conditions for motorists, pedestrians, bus riders for everybody, and the parking problem gets worse. And the traffic gets worse as well as the frustration, exacerbating unsafe conditions… It’s unsafe to walk on Boulevard East. It’s dangerous to bike. Bus service is not as good as one would hope it would be. It leaves almost everyone no option but to pay at the pump, forcing people to have to use their cars. It’s created a trap. That sounds like a transportation problem with me and it needs to be addressed in a holistic manner… Everybody knows how fast the traffic goes on Boulevard East. Trying to walk across it, it’s dangerous, biking on it is dangerous, and driving on it is dangerous.  

Vance argued the solution to the transportation problem was to embrace “complete streets,” despite the potential loss of 44 parking spaces.

“Yes we lose some parking spaces,” Vance said. “But by putting in crosswalks, painting the street, slowing the intersection down, and putting in bike lanes, you’re giving people options to reduce the amount of traffic.”

Sacco thanked Vance and said he would have Police Chief Peter Fasilis and the North Bergen Police Department’s Traffic Division look at the “complete streets” plans and determine its viability in North Bergen. However, no mention of it came about at the March 23 or April 6 meeting following that.

Regardless of the not-so-warm embrace of the proposed protected bike lanes, advocates are determined to have mayors accept the county plan using federal funds to build the bike lane on Boulevard East.

For updates on this and other stories, check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Daniel Israel can be reached at disrael@hudsonreporter.com. 

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