Word on Washington St.

Vote coming about redesign; businesses say ‘no’ to bike lanes

Businesses and residents along Washington Street — “the most dangerous corridor” of Hoboken according to city officials – have had a mix of responses to a plan to redesign the 17-block-long thoroughfare.
“It will affect business because a lot of customers double park,” Ray Alatiyat said Wednesday afternoon. Alatiyat has owned an electronics store on Washington Street for the past 14 years. “I think the city should leave Washington alone as it is besides repaving it.”
But Mayor Dawn Zimmer says the plan, which will alter the 17 feet of travel lanes on each side into 11 feet, will boost business, while also making the city safer.
Instead of a wide Washington Street with two lanes and enough space to double park, the street will have one lane going north and the other south, one bicycle lane on each side, and two lanes for parking.
The proposed redesign will include loading zones, new traffic signals, bus “bump-outs,” ADA ramps, curb cuts for pedestrian safety, new LED lights for light poles, new water mains, and road repaving.
The city plans to set up a new micro-grid, which acts as a backup system among the city’s most critical buildings in the event of a power outage like that caused by Superstorm Sandy in 2012.
The city’s initial concept for the plan eradicated more than 12 of the 500 parking spots on the street, but the city will now add angled parking on the east side of uptown streets and relocate fire hydrants to corners. The hydrants will also be easier to spot now.
The addition of loading zones and short-term parking spaces is intended to give people the ability to park when running quick errands. Each block, under the current plan, will receive two loading zones (community members can suggest at upcoming meetings if any blocks need more or fewer).
The city will host a community meeting on Monday, Feb. 8 at 7:30 p.m. in the City Council chambers to discuss the final design for the plan. The plan will be placed on the Feb. 17 City Council agenda as a resolution for a final vote.

“We shift from what really is the ‘Wild West Washington Street’ into everyone having a place in the street, and that makes it easier for all modes of transportation.” – Mayor Dawn Zimmer
“Washington Street is Hoboken’s most dangerous corridor, with more than 300 crashes between 2013 and 2015, including a pedestrian fatality,” said city officials.
Last year the City Council approved a $5 million low-interest loan from the state to install new water lines along Washington Street. The city will now look to amend that plan to include an additional $10 million bond for the comprehensive redesign plan.

Rancorous Friday meeting

At a sometimes rancorous meeting with the business community on Friday in the basement of City Hall, as many as 50 business owners and community stakeholders blasted the plan. The room was largely in consensus that the plan should not incorporate bike lanes, that double parking is not an issue that needs mending, and the changes will ultimately deter customers from coming to the city.
“I think you would get compromise from 92 percent or 100 percent of people in this room if they would look at this project and say ‘You know what, we’re going to rethink this and take the bike lane off Washington Street,’ ” said multi-business owner Eugene Flynn, to which the crowd applauded.
John Sisti, of Hudson Place Realty, who also cycles in the city, suggested the waterfront as a better option for the bike lanes.
“I think the biggest identified concern is the bike lanes and whether they would be better suited on Bloomfield and Hudson [Street],” President of the Hoboken Chamber of Commerce Richard Mackiewicz told the Reporter after the meeting.
During the meeting, T&M Associates presented transportation-related figures as to how the city commutes. According to T&M there are 9,000 vehicles, 14,000 bus riders, and 18,000 pedestrians in the mile square city today.
Many in attendance were confused as to why the presentation did not show the number of bike riders, since the bike lanes are a major aspect of the project.
Melli later said there are 3,000 registered bike share members but could not say how many people in total ride bikes on Washington Street.
“I do understand the concerns of the business community, but what we’re trying to do could actually help [them],” said Zimmer. “Retail expands dramatically…when you have a complete street approach. Some stats show that most of spending is when you’re on a bike or when you’re walking.”
Ronald Bautista is a lead advocate for Bike Hoboken, which has been doing its part to promote safety on the streets for two-wheel commuters. He believes the plan is a welcome change.
“The project is not to limit cars. It’s about giving people an option,” said Bautista, noting that protected bike lanes will take bikers off the sidewalks.
Freeholder Anthony Romano, who was a police officer for over three decades, attended the meeting. He doesn’t believe there’s a need to add bike lanes nor eliminate double parking on “busiest corridor of the city”
“Everyone keeps saying traffic calming. With the installation of the new system of traffic lights, there’s your immediate calm,” he said, noting that narrowing the street for safety purposes is not necessary.

‘Wild West Washington Street’

“The idea of the complete street is that everyone has a place,” Zimmer told the Reporter in an interview last week at City Hall. “We shift from what really is the ‘Wild West Washington Street’ into everyone having a place in the street and that makes it easier for all modes of transportation.”
In addition to utilizing curb space more efficiently, Zimmer says the plan aims to improve firefighting, add the city’s first loading zones, improve water service, and overall cultivate a safer street.
“Washington Street is one of the top 15 most dangerous streets in Hudson County,” Zimmer said, noting it is the most dangerous in Hoboken. “We’re a walking community. We’re a driving community. We’re a cycling community. So we want to make sure it’s safe for everyone.”
The comprehensive $15 million redesign is the next step in a conceptual plan initially drawn up in 2014 by New York consultants RBA Group. Clifton-based company T&M Associates, which is also working on the First Street Revitalization Project on the city’s county road, is spearheading the final design.
Zimmer expects once community input is taken into account, revisions are made, and a final plan is voted on, the project will go out for bid by late summer or early fall.

Two phases

The project is divided into two phases.
The first phase, which encompasses everything in the roadbed, is projected to last 18 months. It could begin before year’s end if the final design is approved this month and a bond is passed in the fall.
A timeline for phase two has not been established yet, Zimmer said. It will involve less-rigorous fixings like improvements to seating, new trash/recycling bins, and bike racks.
According to T&M Associates’ Group Manager, Jaclyn Flor, the repaving of Washington Street would not be completed until the summer of 2017 per the current construction schedule.

Parking hubbub

Zimmer noted that another possibility for businesses parking is initiating a valet parking service for workers in the area.
The city is considering using a portion of the BASF site between Madison and Adams Street near 13th Street for an employee-only parking area.
Last September, the City Council passed a $16.7 million bond to help acquire six acres of land in the northwest for a park and a parking garage. The patch of land, owned by chemical-giant BASF (formerly Henkel/Cognis), has been designated for the creation of the Northwest Resiliency Park.
There are currently two options for the garage at the site, which would require additional bonding as well: a four-level garage with 600 spaces for $11 million, or a six-level garage with 900 spaces for $16 million.
The city is working with property owners to acquire the parcel.

Bike-friendly for business

Despite the snow and frigid temperatures, Zimmer says bike share usage has not lagged.
Research compiled by the city has shown that business has climbed substantially when bike lanes were installed in cities like Oregon, San Francisco, and New York City.
According to the current plan, the bike lanes would wrap around bus stops on the side of the curb to not infringe on traffic. Sections on the corners where bus stop curb cuts meet bike lanes, the sidewalk would be 5 feet, according to T&M transportation planner Michael Manzella.
Some were concerned at Friday’s meeting about people exiting their cars on the passenger side and colliding with a biker and people not using the bike lanes. In addition, business owners said they do not think people who shop ride bikes.
The city has attempted to enforce biking on sidewalk restrictions but it’s legal as long as the biker is not exceeding 5 miles per hour.
“It’s not about how we make it easier for drivers,” said Ronald Bautista, a lead advocate for local organization Bike Hoboken. “It’s how we make it easier for people to move around. The lanes will allow people to move around without driving. The traffic flow overall will improve with the upgrades of the traffic signals and that’s going to be positive for the city.”
Still, those at Friday’s meeting said residents accustomed to double parking to drop off an elder relative and delivery drivers needing to make a quick stop will be negatively affected.

Steven Rodas can be reached at srodas@hudsonreporter.com.


Emergency vehicles

The sirens of police cars, ambulances, and fire trucks are often heard blaring as they head down Washington Street, so how will tapering the street per the current proposal affect emergency response times?
City Spokesman Juan Melli says part of the redesign incorporates new optimized traffic signals and a new GPS system on vehicles. He said the plan takes response times into account – especially in the case of larger emergency vehicles.
“The plan includes a GPS system that goes on fire trucks and Washington street fire houses so if there is an emergency there’s that GPS system [that] preempts traffic lights so that they can flow through,” he said. “We’re [also] making sure bump-outs are designed in a way that…fire trucks can go through.”
When a fire is reported, fire fighters will have a physical button they can press that activates the traffic signals, creating a green lights all down Washington Street in order to flush out cars on the corridor while maintaining red lights on side streets.
However, at a meeting in the basement of City Hall on Friday morning, Hoboken Fire Captain and firefighters’ union representative Michael Stefano said the system is flawed.
Stefano noted that, at times, multiple fire trucks respond to a single fire which brings into question who gets priority when a fire is taking place. In addition, he brought up that at times other fire engines – chiefly from Jersey City – come to Hoboken to assist and would not have the preemption system at their disposal.
Vijay Chaudhuri, Mayor Dawn Zimmer’s chief of staff, said at the meeting that the city is working with both Hoboken Police Chief Kenneth Ferrante and Fire Chief Anton Peskens to plan the redesign.
“I always have concerns about response times and specifically with the Washington Street redesign I’ve had several meetings with the city and engineers, bought my concerns to them and they’ve always been open to my suggestions,” said Peskens. “One thing I took away from the meetings is that nothing in the current plan is permanents. If something is not working we can make adjustments.”

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