On December 15th, I attended a virtual meeting of a Stakeholder Advisory Committee on the Essex2045 plan for the next 20 years of transportation in Essex County. In a study funded by the North Jersey Transportation Planning Association, Mercer Planning Associates, the consultants running the program, had conducted surveys and hosted 2 pop-up kiosks and participated in 2 safety fairs with University Hospital. The events were held in October and early November in Orange, West Orange, Irvington, and Newark. In West Orange and Irvington, a complex intersection was chosen and a demo “parklet” was outlined as a feature to gauge the reactions of passers-by. Study personnel were on the scene to explain the project and gather reactions on sticky notes. Overall, those reactions were positive, with more than half wanting to keep the demonstration projects installed permanently. Many people were pleased to see attention paid to underserved locations, emphasizing the need to make interventions in these areas a priority.
The slide presentation included results of the online survey, in which respondents were asked to “put a pin in” their home, work, and other locations (a total of 1,836 locations were pinned). Questions were also asked about current practices and interests, about what is on people’s minds as they plan for the future. Currently, respondents mostly drive alone (39.2%), but the number preferring to do that in the future is substantially lower: 19.8%. Relatively few people currently take transit (12.3%); that number increases to 15.8% in the future—and I suspect that with increased frequency and liability, as well as a door-to- door solution, that number would increase further. In fact, there were almost equal calls for new transit (23.2%)and more frequent transit (22.9%). There is interest in biking in the future (1.7% current; 7.4% future interest), and electric vehicles have appeal, with almost 10% of respondents interested in their use in the future, though less than 2% use electric vehicles currently.
Pedestrian safety is a big concern of Essex County residents, with vehicles failing to stop or yield and excessive speeding each cited as concerns by 22.8% of respondents. Almost twice as many (41.4%) called for bike lanes. After the presentation, the group discussion included emphasis on how these could be addressed; the general public often thinks only of enforcement, but planners have other tools: “traffic calming” includes means to naturally encourage lower speeds, such as roundabouts, bumped-out curbs at intersections, and speed bumps.
One of the concrete suggestions for which the Lackawanna Coalition has advocated in the past, and will consider a resolution to support, is the reopening of the Ampere Station on the Montclair-Boonton line in East Orange. The station was listed on the National Register of Historic Places as part of the Operating Passenger Railroad Stations Thematic Resource, a list of 53 New Jersey Transit stations entered into the New Jersey Register of Historic Places and National Register of Historic Places in 1984 for their architectural, historical, and cultural merit. However, service to Ampere Station was discontinued in 1991, and after deterioration and a fire, the station building was demolished in 1995. A decade later, in 2005, East Orange considered rebuilding and reopening the station. A study at that time suggested applying for Department of Transportation transit-village funds. We would like to see service restored to this community.