Study Highlights Transit-Oriented Development

Once upon a time, trolley lines built amusement parks at the end of their lines to encourage ridership.  The modern-day equivalent may be the “Transit Village”: development at transit hubs, where transit users can live, work, or shop just steps from their train or bus.  A report due out on September 24 by New Jersey Future assesses development opportunities at New Jersey transit hubs, according to reporting by Mike Frassinelli in the Star-Ledger (September 22).

Recently, NJ Transportation Commissioner Jim Simpson attended a ceremony to name an old railroad town (Dunellen in Middlesex County, on NJ Transit’s Raritan Valley Line) the state’s 26th Transit Village, a community built around a transit hub.  The forthcoming report from New Jersey Future has been 3-1/2 years in progress under the group’s research director, Tim Evans.  Some interesting statistics dot the report:

  • the highest population densities in the state can be found in Hoboken near Hoboken Terminal and the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail;
  • several Newark Light Rail stations are in areas where less than 1/3 of households have a vehicle;
  • stations with the highest home values include Millburn, Summit, and Peapack on the Morris & Essex Lines; and, unbelievably to some motorists,
  • there are NJT Rail stations where less than 1/3 of parking spaces are typically occupied (Point Pleasant Beach on the North Jersey Coast; Cinnaminson and Florence on the River Line Light Rail).

An example of a burgeoning Transit Village is Morristown on the M&E, with the newly-constructed Highlands at Morristown Station apartment building development.

River Line Repairs Enter Final Stage

In August 2011, Hurricane Irene struck the New Jersey area.  One of the casualties was the River Line light rail of NJ Transit, which operates between Trenton and Camden.  A hillside adjacent to the River Line tracks was extensively damaged, and the passing siding adjacent to the hillside was taken out of service.  Fortunately, the main track remained in service, albeit with speed restrictions.  However, without the passing siding, NJT was unable to operate rush-hour trains on the usual 15-minute headway; instead, the off-peak and weekend schedule of 30-minute headways has been provided ever since. (Three additional trains operate to Camden in the weekday morning rush, and three return in the evening, but only between Camden and Florence, not through the area damaged.)  To repair the damage required extensive engineering and construction work, removing the siding track and building a complex retaining wall to stabilize the hillside.  The repair work is now nearing completion; although NJT has not announced a date for resumption of full service, the final phase—reinstallation of the siding trackage—will begin on June 18, 2012.  Long-suffering commuters are hoping that full service won’t be far off.

The roadbed used by the River Line between Bordentown and Camden is one of the oldest railroad rights-of-way in the United States; service commenced by the Camden & Amboy Railroad in 1833, nearly 179 years ago!  At that time, the rail line formed a main route between Philadelphia and New York; travel involved a complex arrangement of stagecoaches and steamboats as well as the train.  Initially, the trip took 9-1/2 hours and cost t$3.  In 2012 money, it is estimated that is worth about $68.  Today, the River Line forms an economical route for travelers between New York and Philadelphia; total fare via NJ Transit is $18.30, including bus from Camden to Center City Philadelphia; the trip can be made in about 3 hours, depending on connections.  Alternatives include NJT to Trenton and SEPTA rail to Philadelphia, total fare about $25 and roughly 15 minutes faster; or Amtrak, 1-1/2 hours, $50 and up.