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The Newark Subway run by New Jersey Transit (NJT) has much potential and is underdeveloped. It started as a replacement for the Morris Canal which was abandoned in the mid 1920’s. At that time, several cities, Newark, Bloomfield, Clifton, and Paterson purchased the canal route to be used for a main line for light rail network extending from Newark to Paterson. The Depression intervened, Public Service of New Jersey made the decision to convert its trolleys to electric buses, and only Newark completed its section. But what a system! Three other important light rail lines used the Subway as way to efficiently and quickly transverse the downtown city streets. The #29 Bloomfield line ran up the avenue all the way to Verona. The #21 traveled from West Orange and used entrances at Warren and Orange streets to enter the subway. And the #23 exited on a secret ramp (Shhh! It’s STILL there!) and traveled down Central Avenue to the Highland Avenue station in Orange. The 21, 23, and 29 were converted in the 1950’s to busses.
What was interesting about all three was that these routes didn’t dead end into small suburbs but connected with other rail lines at their outer terminuses. While the Highland Avenue on the New Jersey Transit’s (NJT) Gladstone Line still exists in Orange, the #21 connected with the now abandoned Erie West Orange Line and the #29 connected with the lost Erie Caldwell branch. This INCREASED the utility of the lines because a person living in the middle had reasons to go in BOTH directions. There was a destination AND a connection to other systems.
Which leads us to the topic at hand, the northwest terminus of the Newark Subway (New Jersey Light Rail). It ends just a block short of Bloomfield avenue at a shelter surrounded by parking lots, abandoned factories, a neighborhood, and a storage center. Four blocks to the north and one block to the south along Grove Street are the backs of strip malls. It connects with four bus lines. If you didn’t know it was there, you would miss it driving down Bloomfield Avenue.
But, if the light rail was extended ½ mile to the west and north, it would terminate at the NJT’s Watsessing Station on the Montclair Line in Bloomfield. Now there would be an obvious west end connection to Montclair, Montclair State University (MSU), Wayne, Dover and Hacketstown. And for the people in those communities they have an alternative route to jobs in Bloomfield. The area around the Watsessing station still retains the early 20th century buildings. These are mixed use building with commercial on the lower levels and apartments above. The area has several antique stores, botegas, fitness centers, restaurants, and there is a Home Depot just three blocks north. Next, by adding a station just after crossing Bloomfield the extension could provide a connection with all the new housing that is being built at the intersection of Bloomfield and Watsessing. Behind that is another vacant brownfield bounded by MacArthur and Arlington that would be perfect for Transit Village styled apartments or condominiums or cooperatives. And finally, it would cross Bloomfield Avenue at grade providing an announcement: HERE IT IS!
It’s also time to start think about where we would like the Newark Subway to go.
The original plan from the 1920s was to use it as a super transit-way to connect Newark and Paterson off of the city streets. That vision is still possible with the underutilized and abandoned rail lines that still exist. The West Orange line is intact in the east almost all the way to Secaucus. And the right-of-way is undeveloped all the way to West Orange. Next, there is an under-utilized line that runs from the North side of Newark through Belleville, Nutley, the Highway 3 commercial area of Clifton, to downtown Paterson. It intersects with the aforementioned West Orange line. An “easy” and useful extension would be to run some of the trains east from the Branch Brook Park Station to the Newark line located just a block east of Washington Avenue in Belleville. The line would then turn north paralleling the Washington Avenue supporting that main-street commercial district. At Avondale the line would turn NW to bisect Nutley and give them rail transportation options. It would continue to Clifton’s Highway 3 Commercial strip and on to a terminus at the Paterson train station downtown. In Paterson, the line would connect directly with NJT’s Main Line allowing for connections all the way north to Port Jervis and south to NYC.
Finally, there is real utility in returning light rail trams to the city streets in Newark. Buses are very useful but if I pointed out a random bus, could you tell me where it is going? How about if it wasn’t present when I asked? But a light rail system announces its presence with its infrastructure. You KNOW that there is a trolley the runs on this path because you see the rails in place. It states that the city has invested in that area and that attracts businesses large and small. They know that their workers and clients can get to their business and not have to worry about parking.
When I travelled to Europe, the light rail systems I used were visible examples of civic pride. They were an investment in the community that all ages and abilities could access and enjoy. The large trams were structured to carry bicycles enhancing the utility of the bicycle. It wasn’t just ride and park, it was ride, ride, ride! (bicycle, tram, bicycle).
The trams helped complete the streets.
Let us complete the streets Essex!
by Charles Sontag, PhD
Have you ever noticed how difficult it is to get down certain streets, especially during the daytime? The light turns green and everyone accelerates quickly trying to make the next light. Sure enough, as you approach, the light turns amber and drivers give the pedal an extra pulse to burn through the intersection. Why? Because if you adhere to the speed limits, these lights set-to-catch will stop, stop, stop you at endless intersections wasting your time and wasting your fuel as you brake, idle, and resume. It encourages you to speed with many consequences to safety & mobility, increasing stress, injury and even killing.
I’ve noticed that Bloomfield Avenue in Bloomfield, Glen Ridge, and Montclair are a challenge to traverse efficiently during the day. If I obey the speed limits, I am stopped at Ella (The school, I accept this), Orange, get through JFK but stop again at Municipal, resume to watch the light drop as I reach the six corners, and at Ward, and at Hillside, Ridgewood, Highland, & Maple. Out of twelve signaled intersections, I get stopped at nine IF I obey the 25 mph limits. But if I accelerate to 35 mph, I might get through 6 corners, Ward, Park, Hillside and Ridgewood.
I notice a lot of people travelling a lot faster than 35 mph on Bloomfield and they seem to do it for the same reason I do.
Sadly, this timing of the lights is probably done in the name of traffic calming; I would assert that it really is traffic throttling. The county could time the lights so that as you approach them doing the speed limit, they would turn green. But the county doesn’t do that during the day. And people circumvent the “gotcha signals” through speeding. The consequences of this paired action & reaction are many and varied.
(1) Speed kills. Getting hit by 2 tons of steel and plastic is dangerous, even in a protected vehicle. According to the UK Department of Transport Traffic Advisory Leaflet 7/93 (TAU, 1993), report, if a vehicle that is moving 20 mph hits you, you have a 5% chance of being killed. The death rate increases to 45 % at 30 mph impact speed and 85% for 40 mph impact speed.
How fast did I accelerate to sneak through the lights? How fast do other drivers go? If I’m being naughty, I drive 35 mph and am regularly passed by swifter drivers. What happens when they hit a pedestrian at that speed?
Well, read the police traffic reports from prior years.
Oct 12, 2015, an older gentleman was hit and killed next to the IHOP on Bloomfield Ave.
June 6, 2012, a 69-year-old Montclair man died after being hit near the Starbucks.
June 25, 2016, a Verona artist was hit, killed, and the driver ran off without accepting responsibility.
The three most dangerous streets in Essex County are McCarter Highway, Bloomfield Avenue, and Broad Street in Newark.
(2) Speed dissuades. A fast moving 2-ton car is a powerful disincentive to a bicyclist and pedestrians. Add in the commercial vans, pick-ups, busses, and 18 wheel semis, and the streets becoming ominous and forbidding. Dill & McNeil (2012) determine that men are on average are willing to accept more risk, women are more likely to go out of their way to ride on “Bike-only lanes and boulevards.” In Denmark, women take 55% of all bicycle trips. In the USA, women take 33%. This is why women are used as “Indicator species” in determining road safety. If they feel unsafe, will they let their children ride on the streets?
In order for the Streets to be Complete and accessible to all we recommend several changes.
First, and easiest, is to synchronize the lights to reward drivers who are driving 25 mph.
(1) Drivers will begin to adjust their driving habits to the new patterns and not feel a need to speed yet will increase the level of service. Which leads to our second prediction.
(2) The death rate from accidents will fall because the drivers will be travelling slower.
Second, expand the campaign that Montclair began to enforce laws that protect pedestrians in walkways in Newark, Bloomfield, Glen Ridge, and Verona. Together with the first recommendation we predict that:
(1) The death rate from accidents will fall because the drivers will be more vigilant and there will be less ambiguity in the crosswalks: you must stop.
Third, begin putting in BUFFERED and in some areas, PROTECTED bicycle lanes on Bloomfield Avenue. This system can be expanded to perpendicular streets like Grove and Mountain in Montclair, Ridgewood in Glen Ridge, Broad, Franklin, and Belleville in Bloomfield, Park and Prospect in Newark. This infrastructure will encourage interested-yet-concerned bicyclists like women and parents with children to cycle on these important arterial roads.
By increasing the visibility of bicyclist and pedestrians while giving motorists an incentive to obey the speed limits, we can begin to achieve streets that are accessible and efficient to all: COMPLETE STREETS.
by Charles Sontag, PhD
Thank you Mary Ebeling for the comments, suggestions, and corrections.
Photo courtesy of People for Bikes