PLAINFIELD, NJ - Before people can enjoy a pedestrian mall for shopping and strolling Plainfield’s North Avenue by the main train station, vaults under the sidewalks must be secured. To that end, the City Council approved a $27,000 contract on Aug. 13 with Pennoni Associates for design work on vault closure and sidewalk repair.
The city received a $594,000 grant from NJDOT last year for the proposed pedestrian mall, and Pennoni Associates received $45,450 to design it, with new sidewalks, street trees, bike racks, benches, signage, crosswalks, lighting and planting islands. The vaults under the sidewalks became apparent when a couple of buildings were demolished, one years ago at Gavett Place and North Avenue, and another in 2010 directly across from the train station.
The mall centers on the North Avenue Commercial Historic District, which was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in March 1984. From the nomination form: “Most buildings in the North Avenue Commercial Historic District were constructed between 1875 and 1925. The buildings erected in this 50-year span have a vigorous, self-confident air. Plainfield merchants took pride in their city and their places of business. A predominant number of buildings from this 50 year period are intact and functioning.”
The district also includes the 1788 Quaker Meeting House and the main Post Office on Watchung Avenue to the east, as well as the ornate former United Trust bank building on Park Avenue to the west.
A somewhat wry note details what’s gone: “Missing from the District today are the horses (with their dung and flies), the wagons, carts and buggies which met the 88 trains that stopped daily in 1901. Also missing is the coal soot emanating from the 88 steam engines, a permeating soot which fostered the color black in outerwear and necessitated fresh paint and wallpaper every spring.”
The station today is part of NJ Transit’s Raritan Valley Line, which starts in Hunterdon County and goes through Somerset, Middlesex and Union counties to Newark Penn Station. Plainfield also has a second station, Netherwood, on South Avenue. A one-seat ride to New York’s Penn Station is the goal of an advocacy group, the Raritan Valley Line Coalition. The group did see an off-peak one-seat ride come to fruition, though it will be suspended temporarily as of Sept. 10.
At a May meeting to discuss the pedestrian mall, Plainfield Mayor Adrian O. Mapp envisioned people arriving by train to go to concerts, art festivals, restaurants and stores, saying Plainfield will become a venue where people go to shop, be entertained and play.
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