Law & Justice

Guest Column

Opinion | A Fare Deal: Modern Public Transit for Newark, NJ

NJTransit bus outside of Penn Station in Newark.

In a recent interview with Chris Matthews, gubernatorial candidate Phil Murphy was asked about the stalled Hudson River tunnel project. Murphy, smiling broadly and with peppy confidence, remarked: “I believe one of the ways you get New Jersey back on its feet is by taking complete advantage of our God-given location -- and there is nothing more important than our connection to New York City.”

Somehow the front-runner for New Jersey’s highest elected office -- a governorship almost unrivaled in power for its ability to select a cabinet without legislative approval -- had spoken about critical transportation needs without mentioning Newark, its largest and oldest city.

New Jersey’s connection to NYC is incredibly important. Yet Murphy's remark's feed the common perception of the Garden State as a kind of spaghetti dish of highways and rail, whose primary purpose is to funnel human capital to and from another state.

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But this is all wrong. Because people live here, too. And they take the bus.

Twenty-five percent of Newarkers do not own a car. More than eight percent trek to work on “super-commutes” exceeding 90 minutes, compared with the national average under three percent. According to the New York Times, “... commuting time has emerged as the single strongest factor in the odds of escaping poverty. The longer an average commute in a given county, the worse the chances of low-income families there moving up the ladder.”

As an educator and advocate in the Newark community for over a year, I am reminded of my students and their families. For them, economic inequality doesn’t begin to cover the problem. As David Dudley of City Lab notes, “Mobility is boringly fundamental: If you can’t get across town to pick up your kids, or get to work, or go to a job interview, the whole house of cards that is urban living comes apart.”

Local barriers caused by transit inequality conspire to rob this community -- 80 percent black or hispanic, disgraced by years of disinvestment, neglect, and institutionalized racism -- of life’s most precious commodity: time.

Our next governor should form a coalition of stakeholders -- beginning in Newark, the state's oldest, largest, most diverse city -- to lead a statewide smart growth initiative prioritizing fast, frequent, reliable public transportation. 

This initiative would cull its objectives from best practices around the country.

It would establish a pilot program to achieve 75 percent bus shelter coverage citywide; benches, shelters, and legible signage add dignity, clarity, appeal, and utility for all residents.

It would enlist stakeholder support for physically separated bus lanes on high-density corridors; separated lanes protect routes from traffic, replicating the speed and reliability of light rail at a fraction of the cost.

It would redesign transit maps to illustrate local bus integration within the larger transit network; clear and ubiquitous wayfinding encourages broader ridership, generating foot traffic for small businesses and mixed-use neighborhoods.

Most of all, a modern transit vision would restore rider dignity, assert civic identity, and shape a fairer economy.

Brendan Latimer grew up in Point Pleasant, NJ. For the past year he has lived and worked in Newark, NJ as a full-time AmeriCorps service member, delivering small-group tutorial instruction in AP English literature, with additional roles as a teacher's assistant and debate coach. Brendan is also a citizen planner and transit advocate. He graduated St. John's University in 2014 with a bachelor's degree in English Literature.

The opinions expressed herein are the writer's alone, and do not reflect the opinions of or anyone who works for is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the writer. Click here to submit a Guest Column.

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