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Posts from the New Jersey Category


The Looming Transit Breakdown That Threatens America’s Economy


Categories of maintenance needs, in billions of dollars, for America’s large transit agencies. Graph: RPA

While federal transit funding stagnates, the nation’s largest rail and bus systems have been delaying critical maintenance projects. Without sustained efforts to fix infrastructure and vehicles, the effects of deteriorating service in big American cities could ripple across the national economy, according to a new report from the Regional Plan Association [PDF].

RPA focuses on ten of the nation’s largest transit agencies — in Boston, San Francisco, Atlanta, Philadelphia, New York, Cleveland, New Jersey, Pittsburgh, Washington, D.C., and Chicago. Between them, these agencies face about $102 billion in deferred maintenance costs. To bring the systems into a state of good repair will require about $13 billion in maintenance spending per year — more than twice the current rate of investment.

These regions house about one-fifth of the country’s population and produce about 27 percent of the nation’s economic output. They also carry about 60 percent of the nation’s total transit ridership, up from 55 percent 20 years ago. That’s a reflection of how transit has become increasingly important in these regions, with passenger trips growing 54 percent over the same period.

That level of ridership growth can’t be sustained if the transit systems aren’t maintained properly. RPA cites a 2012 report from San Francisco’s BART that says if the system is allowed to deteriorate…

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Study: Sprawling Areas Require 3 Times as Much Pavement Per Person

How much pavement area is required to service the population of an area is pretty closely related to population density, a Smart Growth America study found.

How much pavement area is required to service the population of an area is pretty closely related to population density, a Smart Growth America study found.

One of the big downsides to sprawl is the public cost of maintaining infrastructure that is extended over wide areas. A new study of New Jersey by Smart Growth America and New Jersey Future [PDF] attempts to quantify this relationship by looking at the amount of space devoted to roads in communities of varying densities.

Turns out there’s a very strong correlation: The most sprawling parts of the Garden State require more than three times the road space per resident and employee than the most urban areas.

The study divided New Jersey into 100-acre “cells” of a uniform size, then compared the number of people that live and work in each cell — “activity density” — to the ratio of land devoted to roads.

In the state’s most densely populated areas, with about 50 people per acre — places like Hoboken and Jersey City — about 130 square feet of pavement was allocated for each employee and resident. However, in some of the more sprawling areas — places with five residents per acre — the amount of pavement per person was more than three times higher: 423 square feet.

The two groups stress that the relationship was not linear. As municipalities became increasingly urban, the efficiency benefits from increasing density became less and less dramatic. The biggest efficiency gains were found when comparing sprawling areas to other sprawling areas that were slightly more dense, the study found.

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New Jersey Squanders Transit By Surrounding Stations With Sprawl


Too many transit stations in New Jersey, like Princeton Junction, are surrounded by parking and single-family housing, reports NJ Future. Image: Google Maps (h/t @traininthedistance)

New Jersey is the most population-dense state in the country, and many residents get to work via one of its several transit systems. But too many of New Jersey’s transit stations are surrounded by single-family housing, severely limiting the number of people — especially low-income people — with convenient, walkable access to transit. Some entire transit lines are out of reach for people of modest means.

New Jersey Future, a smart growth advocacy group, examined the neighborhoods around all 244 of the state’s rail transit stations, commuter ferry docks, and major bus terminals to get a sense of whether transit access is equitably distributed among residents.

In a new report, “Off Track? An Assessment of Mixed-Income Housing Around New Jersey’s Transit Stations,” NJ Future Research Director Tim Evans finds that transit access could be far more equitably distributed if New Jersey weren’t squandering the land near stations.

In 109 of the 244 station areas he studied, Evans found a higher percentage of single-family detached housing than the statewide average. In 54 of them, single-family detached homes make up more than 70 percent of the housing stock. That kind of land use severely limits the number of people who can have convenient access to high-quality transit.

As it stands, New Jersey’s transit abundance is going to waste, with nearly half its stations surrounded by spread-out housing. “The way you maximize the number of people who have transit as an option is by putting as many people within walking distance of transit as you can,” said Evans. “And the way you do that is by increasing housing density, not by building a lot of single-family detached housing.”

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Chris Christie Keeps Trying to Balance NJ’s Books on Backs of Transit Riders

Graph: Tri-State Transportation Campaign

That blue line is about to take another steep jump, but not the green one. Graph: Tri-State Transportation Campaign

Governor Chris Christie has really made a mess of New Jersey’s transportation finances. Since 2011, the governor’s “flipping the couch cushions” strategy has resulted in the state amassing an additional $5.2 billion in debt.

New Jersey’s gas tax has not increased since the 1980s and is the second lowest in the nation. Without new revenue, predictably enough the state can’t balance the books. This budget session, New Jersey Transit is facing a $60 million shortfall, and transit riders will soon be paying more for less. The state has proposed a 9 percent fare increase on top of service reductions.

The refusal to raise the gas tax is a hallmark of Christie’s political strategy. A 2012 report from the federal Government Accountability Office concluded that Christie killed the ARC transit tunnel across the Hudson because he wanted to siphon the money off for highways without hiking the state’s gas tax.

While the gas tax hasn’t budged since 1988, New Jersey transit riders got stuck with a 25 percent bus fare hike and a 10 percent rail fare hike in 2010.

A recent poll of New Jersey voters found 50 percent favor raising the gas tax. But that hasn’t convinced Christie to face reality.

Without new revenue, the state may be forced to cancel previously authorized projects, the Tri-State Transportation Campaign warns. And soon, New Jersey won’t even be able to pay the bill on existing debts. Something’s got to give — raising fares and cutting service can’t paper over Christie’s transportation budget mistakes much longer.


Camden’s Waterfront Abyss Wins the 2015 Golden Crater


From the Texas Panhandle to the Bay Area, from the shores of the Detroit River to the Gulf Coast of Florida — America’s cities are a pockmarked mess, blighted by asphalt parking expanses you can practically see from space.

Streetsblog readers submitted two dozen horrendous parking craters for consideration in this year’s Parking Madness tournament, and the editors picked 16 to vie for your vote as the worst of the bunch.

It was a competitive tournament, with many matches decided by just a handful of votes. In the end, no parking atrocity could beat the waterfront in downtown Camden, New Jersey, for all-around dreadfulness in the eyes of our voters:


Even hollowed-out Parkersburg, West Virginia — with a name that seemed destined for victory in this contest — fell short in the championship match. Camden emerged from the final poll with a 15-vote margin to claim the third annual Golden Crater title, joining Tulsa and Rochester.

Readers were swayed by two big factors in addition to the sheer size of Camden’s parking crater: the waste of waterfront space and the proximity to transit linking the area to neighboring Philadelphia, right across the river.

It also helped that Camden had a contingent of locals cheering it on, hoping that Parking Madness infamy will lead to positive changes. Joseph Russell described Camden’s parking crater this way when nominating it for the tournament:

My entry: the neighborhood-killing parking lots on the waterfront in Camden, New Jersey. Years ago, this area housed factories for companies like RCA. Ever since, they’ve been used as parking lots for the equally neighborhood-deadening L3 Building, which is essentially a fortress separating employees from the rest of the city. Residents of the Cooper-Grant neighborhood are trying to rebuild a viable neighborhood here, and the negative effects of these huge parking lots stand directly in the way of that goal.

And here’s what Russell told us after Camden won:

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The 2015 Parking Madness Championship! Camden vs. Parkersburg

Welcome to the World Series of asphalt. The Super Bowl of lifeless city blocks. Today is the Parking Madness championship — the culmination of our 16-city tournament showcasing the worst parking craters to scar America’s downtowns.

Are you excited? We are!

Streetsblog readers have winnowed the field down to two of the finest examples of poor urban land use you can find. When every level of government spends year after year prioritizing the movement and storage of cars, this is what you end up with.

Now there’s just one more vote to determine which city deserves the Golden Crater and the shame that comes with it (change-inducing shame, hopefully). Voting wraps up at 2 p.m. Eastern time tomorrow, and we’ll conclude this year’s tournament with commentary from special guest — drumroll, please — Donald Shoup!



Camden squashed Mobile, Detroit, and Fort Worth in earlier rounds to reach the championship match. Joseph Russell nominated this parking crater. He explains:

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Parking Madness 2015 Elite Eight: Detroit vs. Camden

Today it’s on to round two in Parking Madness, our hunt for the worst parking crater in an American town. Our first Elite Eight matchup features two cities struggling to rebuild in the wake of some serious urban disinvestment, and these parking craters certainly aren’t helping. It’s Camden vs. Detroit.


Screen Shot 2015-03-09 at 3.04.34 PM

The above image, submitted by reader Luke Klipp, is what carried Detroit over the California suburb of Walnut Creek in the first round. Klipp explains this area is right next to the Renaissance Center, where General Motors is headquartered. Klipp said:
Detroit’s waterfront is really sad when compared to its Canadian neighbor across the river, Windsor, whose waterfront is three miles of uninterrupted parkway. By comparison, Detroit has a couple parks near the Renaissance Center and then lots of parking right up to the waterfront.

Thanks to the talented Shane Hampton of the University of Oklahoma’s Institute for Quality Communities, we have historical photos to compare this area to what used to be.

Check it out:


This photo is from 1951. It looks like the area was already becoming a bit pockmarked. Detroit, being the birthplace of the American auto industry, may have been an early parking crater adapter.

Let’s look at the competition:

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New Jersey’s Response to Suicide Attempt: Close Bridge to Pedestrians


Without access to the Route 35 Victory Bridge, the path between Perth Amboy and Sayreville gets a whole lot longer. Via WalkBikeJersey/Google Maps

Today’s featured post from the Streetsblog Network is a case study in overreaction and unintended consequences.

John Boyle at WalkBikeJersey reports that after a suicide attempt on the Route 35 Victory Bridge, officials in New Jersey want to sever this important walking and biking link entirely:

On September 20th the body of 16 year old Giancarlo Taveras was recovered from the Raritan River after he jumped off the Route 35 Victory Bridge. The death of the teenager drew an outpouring of grief from the Perth Amboy community. As a result the annual suicide awareness walk over the bridge included more than 500 participants on September 28th. Then on September 29th a 19 year old miraculously survived his suicide attempt with a broken leg. That chain of events along, with pressure from the mayor of Perth Amboy finally spurred NJDOT to do something about the issue. Their solution — set up barricades and close the bridge to bicyclists and pedestrians. Along with a vague promise to put up a fence for the walkway at some point in the future.

The bridge closure severs the only pedestrian and bicycle access between Perth Amboy and Sayreville. A 2 mile bike ride over the bridge is now a 23 mile detour via New Brunswick and a pedestrian’s only option is to use the infrequent bus service that crosses the bridge.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Using examples from the Netherlands, A View from the Cycle Path explains why the “there’s no room for bike lanes” argument doesn’t hold up. The Dallas Morning News’ Transportation Blog has good news: The toll road that regional transportation officials justified with absurd traffic projections will probably be shelved. And Urban Cincy reports that Denver is trying to tackle the food desert problem with healthy corner stores.


Parking Madness: Newark vs. Dallas

We’re halfway through the first round of the 2014 Parking Madness tournament, with Kansas City, Detroit, Chicago, and Jacksonville having advanced to the next round.

Today’s matchup pairs two very different cities with the same problem: parking craters. A reader submitted the following definition yesterday: park-ing cra-ter (noun) is “ugly, and an inefficient use of space in a downtown area.” So which city has screwed up its downtown worse?

Let’s start out by surveying the damage in Newark, New Jersey’s largest city:


This location includes a lot of surface parking near the Prudential Center, the hockey and basketball arena that opened in 2007. It’s also near Newark Penn Station, a major transit hub where intercity trains, commuter rail, light rail, and a multitude of bus routes converge, notes submitter Michael Klatsky. What a shame.

Now let’s see what Dallas has cooked up for us.

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Driving Declines Spell Big Trouble for Turnpikes

Traffic on the New Jersey Turnpike has declined 10 percent since 2005. Turnpike officials had predicted it would rise 3 to 5 percent annually. Photo: Wikipedia

Traffic on the New Jersey Turnpike has declined 10 percent since 2005. Turnpike officials had predicted it would rise 68 percent by 2023. Photo: Wikipedia

What the New Jersey Turnpike Authority did in 2005 was no different than what almost every other state and regional transportation agency was doing at the time. It predicted that traffic volumes would rise at a healthy clip every year for about 30 years into the future. Then it estimated its revenues based on those figures and issued bonds for a $2.5 billion road widening project.

Today we know that traffic hasn’t risen at all since 2005. New Jersey’s projections weren’t just a little wrong — they were wildly inaccurate. The bonds were predicated on a 68 percent increase in traffic by 2023. It’s not going to happen: The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that turnpike traffic has actually dropped 10 percent since 2005.

Even so, Chris Puchalsky, associate director of systems planning at the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission, told the Inquirer that local leaders aren’t blinking.

This chart shows the combined 20-year traffic projections of state and local governments in recent years compared to actual traffic levels. Image: State Smart Transportation Initiative

This chart shows the combined 20-year traffic projections of state and regional transportation agencies around the U.S. in recent years — the colored lines — compared to actual traffic levels — the black line. Image: State Smart Transportation Initiative

“We need two or three more years of data” before reconsidering the assumptions, he said.

The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission made a similar gamble in 2007, when it predicted traffic would rise 3 to 5 percent annually and started issuing up to $900 million in bonds annually for road and transit projects around the state based on those projections. Rather than rising, the Inquirer reports, traffic has been flat. Pennsylvania hoped to repay the bonds with the increased toll revenues and by adding tolls to I-80.

But the additional traffic never materialized, and the Federal Highway Administration rejected the proposed toll on I-80. Now the turnpike is paying much less every year for state transportation projects, but it is still saddled with a rising debt load — $8 billion, according to the Inquirer.

Here’s the kicker. Nikolaus Grieshaber, the turnpike’s chief financial officer, told the Inquirer that Pennsylvania is revising its projections downward. It will now predict a traffic increase of 1.5 percent annually.

Nationally, vehicle miles traveled increased 0.6 percent last year, so Pennsylvania is still predicting its traffic will increase two and half times faster than the nation as a whole in 2013.