NEWARK, NJ - A federally funded traffic study that’s in the works may recommend a pedestrian plaza for Halsey Street and the elimination of several driving lanes in exchange for bicycle lanes in the city’s downtown.
The North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority is collaborating with the city on a Newark Downtown Circulation Improvement Study, which is set to be released in May. The study is looking to improve traffic flow in one of the busiest sections of Newark and will consider new developments that won't crop up in the Downtown area until 2025.
Jersey City-based Sam Schwartz Transportation Consultants is working on collecting data for the study. The presentation given at city hall by a representative from the firm received mixed reviews from residents Tuesday night.
Some at the meeting raised concerns about the pedestrian plaza slated for Halsey Street. Kai Campbell, who works at Burger Walla on that road, didn’t think closing off that street to traffic would increase business. He said the contrary would happen since it would make parking more difficult on other nearby roadways, like Washington Street.
“Comparing it to Grove Street or Newark Ave. or something like that, is completely missing the mark,” said Campbell, referring to the pedestrian plaza that cropped up in downtown Jersey City about five years ago. “Those places have been built up over the past 15 years and the culture is very, very, very different.”
Lou Luglio, the representative from Sam Schwartz Transportation Consultants, said any potential pedestrian plaza would most likely not shut down the entire roadway for an extended period of time.
“The city would work with the merchants on the street. It would not be an entire month,” Luglio said. “It would be selective days where you could have outdoor seating, you could have a restaurant type of facility or others.”
Tuesday was the third public meeting held to receive feedback about the preliminary study and its recommendations.
Under the study so far, major roadways in Newark’s downtown, including Raymond Boulevard, would lose driving lanes to make room for bike lanes. In some cases, two-way streets would turn into one-way streets and vice versa.
For example, the study so far recommends eliminating one eastbound lane on Raymond Boulevard between Lock Street and University Avenue in exchange for two bicycle lanes going in each direction on the road.
There will be lower car ownership in the city’s downtown since residents moving in will rely on Penn Station or ride-sharing apps to get around, Luglio predicted. Some developers are also considering investing in one car that could be reserved by multiple tenants for short trips, he added.
Luglio said there is definitely an interest to bring CitiBike, a bike sharing program, to Newark. The program is already implemented in Jersey City and New York City. But unlike those areas, Newark’s bike lines are severely disjointed and few and far between.
Luglio estimated that anywhere from 10 to 15 percent of roadways throughout all of Newark have bike lanes. In the Downtown area, he estimated about 20 to 25 percent of roads incorporated bike lanes. However, many of them do not connect to transit hubs.
Aimee Jefferson, president of the nonprofit group Brick City Bicycle Collective, said the presentation didn’t include much data about how the proposals would affect traffic. She still found some benefit from the recommendations.
“There are bike lanes that are there right now, but they aren’t connected,” said Jefferson, a Newark resident. Other cyclists at the meeting learned that some bike lanes could potentially be fully or partially protected, while others would not.
Some residents were concerned with how the bike lanes would interact with the buses, especially on Raymond Boulevard. That street is a main thoroughfare used by buses leaving Penn Station going eastbound towards Broad Street.
Others questioned if cyclists would be put in danger since the bike lanes would go through points where buses stop to pick up passengers.
“I don’t see the buses coping with the bike lanes,” said Juan O’neill, who has lived in Newark for about 50 years.
Dion McCutcheon, a 48-year-old lifelong resident who uses Raymond Boulevard to get to work, lamented about taking out a lane on that roadway. He did, however, like the idea of changing a one-way roadway near Lincoln Park into a two-way street for traffic.
“If you take that other lane out, it's going to be horrible trying to get to work in the morning,” said McCutcheon about the proposed changes to Raymond Boulevard. “...That's from my experience, working for 10 years, taking that lane.”
The city does not have to officially adopt the recommendations in the study, a city spokesman said. But the city is working to get more funds for bicycle lanes, said Newark Traffic and Signals Department Manager Kimberly Singleton.
1. Eliminating parking on the northbound side of Jefferson Street between Ferry and Market streets in exchange for one bicycle lane.
2. Taking away the southbound lane entirely on Pacific Street between Elm and Thomas streets. The road would turn into a one-way street going northbound and use the eliminated car lane to add a bicycle lane.
3. Turning the south area of Lincoln Park from a three-lane road going eastbound with one lane of parking into one lane going eastbound. The recommendation would make the parking spots horizontal rather than vertical.
4. The north area of Lincoln Park would go from three lanes going in one southbound direction to four lanes (two lanes each for north and south). Parking spaces would remain the same, but they would be smaller to accommodate for more lanes.
5. Park Place between Broad Street and Park Place would go from being a three-lane road going one way in the northbound direction to one lane.
6. Central Avenue between University Avenue and Broad Street would go from two lanes going in each direction (four lanes total) to one lane going in each direction. Parking spaces would be included on one side of the road, while two bicycle lanes going in either direction would be on the opposite side.
7. Raymond Plaza East at Ferry Street and Edison Place would go from two lanes going in each direction (four lanes) to two lanes going in either direction (one in each direction). Parking spaces would be added on the northbound side of the road.
8. Raymond Boulevard between University Avenue and Market Street would turn from a four-way road with two lanes going in either direction to a two-way road. Each lane would go in either direction and bicycle lanes would be added on either side of the street.
9. Sussex Avenue at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Summit Street would go from having parking on either side of a one-way roadway with two lanes going westbound to a one-lane street that only allows a right turn. Parking would remain only on one side of the road. The decrease in the street size would increase the size of the adjacent park.
10. University Avenue between Lackawanna and Central avenues would turn from having parking on a one-way road with two lanes going southbound to a one-lane roadway with parking and a bicycle lane.
11. Raymond Boulevard between Lock Street and University Avenue would turn from a four-lane roadway with two lanes going in either direction to having three-lanes with a bicycle lane in each direction. One car lane would be designated for the eastbound side, while two would remain for the westbound side.