Washington St. redesign gets ‘green light’

Council votes on amended plan with fewer bike lanes; still narrows thoroughfare

The heated debate over whether Hoboken’s Washington Street has enough room for both drivers and cyclists ended in a compromise plan last week. On Wednesday, Feb. 17, the City Council adopted a redesign plan 8-1.
The new plan will still narrow the 17-block thoroughfare, retain parking spots, add on-street bike lanes downtown, possibly add “sharrows” uptown, and make numerous roadway improvements.
But after residents – mainly businesses owners – claimed “protected bike lanes” on Washington Street would hurt the character of Hoboken, deter double-parking, and hinder emergency vehicle response times, the redesign was modified.
The earlier design for protected lanes would have included a barrier that took away driving space in the street. Residents also saw them as hazardous for people exiting their vehicles.
Replacing the 6-foot protected bike lanes north of Eighth Street that run all the way to 14th Street will be sharrows or painted “shared bike lanes.” They would look like a pair of arrows above the image of a bicyclist.
On the roadway, instead of 17-foot wide vehicle lanes, the city’s downtown sector will now be altered to 11-feet to make way for the on-road bike lanes.
T&M Associates still needs to determine if uptown, which now has 15-foot vehicle lanes, can still have 60-degree angle parking. City Spokesman Juan Melli said that the engineers have not yet determined how narrow the uptown streets would be if sharrows are added.

“The way residents and business people use Washington Street, it would be foolhardy to completely eliminate double parking.” – Joyce Flinn
Bike enthusiasts, like Ronald Bautista of Bike Hoboken, called the plan “not optimal” for bikers. Chris Adair, a cyclist who has been living in Hoboken since 2002, told The Hoboken Reporter her use of the Class 2 bike lanes and sharrows depends on police enforcement to keep them accessible.
“I avoid Washington Street because there are so many double-parked cars, so I’ll have to wait and see how they manage them,” she said.
The Chamber of Commerce represents nearly 200 businesses in Hoboken, and its president, Richard Mackiewicz, told the Reporter the day after the meeting that now “all stakeholders have been given space to coexist on Hoboken’s main avenue.”

Class 2 compromise

Mayor Dawn Zimmer has said the redesign will help safeguard the city’s most dangerous street and increase mobility there. Washington Street was the scene of 308 car crashes from 2013 to 2015.
After many public complaints during a meeting on Monday, Feb. 8, the council’s transportation subcommittee decided on the Class 2 bike lane design. But some residents on Feb. 17 still complained about the new design, saying it cuts down more than 30 parking spaces.
In attempts to reach a middle ground, the City Council voted 8-1 to move ahead with a newly amended plan established during the meeting which would maintain the street’s roughly 500 parking spaces.
But some members of the public did not like the lack of advance notice. And Council President Jen Giattino voted against the design, saying, “I personally am not comfortable with nine council members, who are not engineers, sitting here designing Washington Street.”
Some highlights of the $15 million plan were commended by all: new water mains, green infrastructure, construction of an emergency power micro-grid to act as a backup system during Superstorm Sandy-esque storms, and new traffic lights with countdown timers.

Will need a different vote

A different kind of vote will be needed in the future for the plan to go forward. A $10 million bond issue, which would need six of nine council votes to pass, is expected to reach the dais by next month.
This would cover a 12- to 18-month construction schedule.
The other $5 million for the project was obtained from a low-interest loan courtesy of the New Jersey Environmental Infrastructure Trust (NJEIT).
Repaving, something residents are eager to complete on the streetscape, would be completed during the summer of 2017.

‘Class 2’ bike lanes on entire street also rejected

The council’s Transportation Subcommittee met Tuesday night following vehement objections the week prior over bike lanes with a physical barrier. The committee opted for lanes along the entirety of Washington Street indicated by 2-foot wide painted striping between moving traffic and parked cars.
But residents still complained about them at Wednesday’s meeting.
“I don’t know how many tens of thousands of dollars of taxpayer money you spent on these engineers proposing these things that if you took out a tape measure you’d see it doesn’t work,” said Hoboken resident Ilmar Klaussen, who brought his own tape measure to the meeting to emphasize his point.
However, the Class 2 redesign plan was not the plan residents had in hand as they arrived at City Hall.
A resolution to pass a “flexible plan” – which would make the bike lanes a topic of conversation for a later date – was put forth on the agenda by Mayor Dawn Zimmer’s administration. However, the “flexible design” resolution received no sponsors from any council member.
In its place was the Transportation Subcommittee resolution agreed to on Tuesday night, added to the agenda at the last minute. It was submitted so late, in fact, that City Clerk Jerry Lore was not able to place it on the online version of the agenda before the meeting. Lore provided physical copies at the meeting.
The subcommittee resolution authorized the bike design without barriers and the engineering plan for Washington Street. However, that design would mean the loss of 30 or more parking spaces along the uptown six blocks of the street.
Only three council members – Councilmen Michael DeFusco and Jim Doyle, and Giattino – voted “yes” to that plan.
At that point Councilman Ravi Bhalla proposed an amendment that would replace the well-defined Class 2 bike lanes uptown with sharrows which vehicles could share.
Despite some vexation from residents who said they were unable to “properly digest” the plan, the newly-amended redesign was passed.

Double-parking still illegal, still an issue

“As in every compromise, no one group got everything they wanted,” Joyce Flinn, a Hoboken business owner and resident, told the Reporter after the plan was passed. “The way residents and business people use Washington Street it would be foolhardy to completely eliminate double parking [which the original plan would have done]. Not just because of safety but also because of emergency vehicles getting through, senior citizens getting dropped off to go home, and the handicapped arriving at an appointment.”
Double parking, however, remains illegal, despite the number of people who do it.
Following the decision, the mayor said despite the plan’s enabling of double-parking, it is an issue that will inevitably need to be tackled.
“For the safety of our community, we need to work together to address our double parking issue, otherwise cyclists will be forced into the traffic lane again and again by all the double parked cars and the numerous car crashes will continue,” Zimmer said in a statement.


Parking possibilities

Parking could become a lot different in Hoboken per a recommendation made by Mayor Dawn Zimmer to revise the meter program in the city’s business district.
Although the Washington Street redesign aims to improve travel times by 12 to 15 percent, according to city officials, the mayor hopes to work with the City Council to implement short term parking and extend permitted parking time overall on Washington Street.
Today drivers can park their cars for a dollar an hour, with a limit of two hours.
Zimmer proposed a 20-minute grace period at metered spots for those running quick errands and an increase in the maximum allotted time from 2 hours to 4 hours.
However, prices would also increase.
As a starting point, she wrote in a letter to City Council members dated Feb. 12, the fees would reflect the following: $1 for the 40 minutes subsequent to the 20 minute free period, $2 for the second hour, $5 for the third hour and $10 for the fourth hour. Per the proposal, parking on Washington Street for four hours would cost $18.
“[The] pricing strategy is intended to encourage short term parking and to discourage longer term parking on Washington Street,” Zimmer writes in the letter.

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

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