On the Road to "Smarter" Transportation
Municipal Land Use Center, The College of New Jersey
Executive Assistant, Municipal Land Use Center, The College of New Jersey
DOT's new "NJ Fit-Future in Transportation" program is an effort to employ smart growth priniciples, apply context sensitive design, promote alternatives to automobile travel and to connect local land use decision-making with state transportation planning.
Traffic congestion and its relationship to growth is on just about everyone’s mind who lives or works
in New Jersey. With the help of a grant from the New Jersey Department of Transportation, and the participation of the Project for Public Spaces (PPS), the Municipal Land Use Center (MLUC) produced a series of workshops to disseminate valuable information about a paradigm shift at DOT that involves a new approach to transportation and land use planning.
DOT’s new “NJ FIT-Future in Transportation” program is an effort to employ smart growth principles, apply context sensitive design, promote alternatives to automobile travel and make important connections between local land use decision-making with state transportation planning. This approach is
an acknowledgement that simply adding more lanes to relieve traffic
This approach is
an acknowledgement that simply adding more lanes to relieve traffic congestion has not worked.
congestion has not worked. Instead, it advocates taking a more collaborative approach with local decision-makers in shaping future development patterns and addressing transportation needs in a coordinated and timely manner.
This new approach was showcased at a series of four workshops held at different locations in Central Jersey between October and December. The workshops helped to explain the ways that NJ FIT can benefit New Jersey’s municipalities. Each workshop featured a different specific area of interest.
Ewing Township Business Administrator Jim McManimon speaks to attendees at the November 4th "NJ Smart Choices" workshop about proposed redevelopment.
Introducing a New Approach to Transportation DOT Commissioner Jack Lettiere, who spoke at two of the four workshops, characterized the new approach as one that “can start to turn the tide so that local decision-makers will not think just about water, sewers and ratables, but also consider transportation early on in the decision-making process...” Lettiere added that, “ We’re trying to redefine what transportation really is in New Jersey. How we use the land, what we put on the land, how we connect those things... We have to find new ways to solve these problems. NJ FIT is about linking the source of the problem with its solution; that is, linking land use and transportation. It’s no longer just about how we move people, but rather what the place looks like when we’re finished. NJ FIT is a way of starting to change the thinking of communities so we can all be a part of the solution.”
In presentations at all four workshops, NJDOT Director of Project Planning, Gary Toth, reinforced his Commissioner’s words by saying that building our way out of congestion is no longer feasible. Toth pointed to studies that showed that metropolitan areas are more congested than ever despite the biggest public works program in history to construct our current road system. Factors that contribute to worsening traffic congestion include separation of land uses, disconnected streets, persistent sprawl and increased dependence on the automobile. Coupled with our aging infrastructure, congestion creates both health and fiscal burdens for New Jersey’s municipalities that now need to be addressed in innovative ways.
Aware that funds for major transportation investments are already limited and increasingly scarce, DOT wants to invest in areas where sound land planning practices will support and preserve public investment. DOT is committed to assisting communities that are interested in planning more wisely by better integrating land use decision-making with transportation planning. Toth emphasized that other state agencies such as the Office of Smart Growth within the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs and non-governmental entities such as The Municipal Land Use Center at The College of New Jersey can help by providing additional expertise and technical support to municipal decision-makers.
The Municipal Land Use Center was established in February 2004 at The College of New Jersey to collect and disseminate valuable information, to highlight best practices and to provide technical assistance. Its mission is tied to promoting the improved integration of land use decision-making and transportation planning and therefore coincides nicely with the philosophy of NJ FIT.
To prepare for the four workshops, the Municipal Land Use Center conducted focus groups in five different central Jersey counties. Each workshop was then carefully tailored to meet the expressed needs of the different locales. At each workshop, a Vice-President of the Project for Public Spaces discussed the concept of “place-making,” stressing the importance of public access and linkages, the nature of uses and activities, the comfort, image and sociability of difference public spaces.
Raritan—A Different Kind of Bypass To illustrate local examples of how this approach was working, local public officials were called upon to make brief presentations of projects within their communities. At the first workshop held on October 4 at Raritan Valley Community College, James Humphries, Raritan Township Planner, discussed the South Branch Parkway plan. That plan emerged from the re-examination of a decades-old proposal to build a by-pass near the Flemington Traffic Circle. The new plan calls for a down-sized, two-lane roadway which will provide a regional alternative to existing Route #31. A series of inter-connected streets will help carry traffic and reduce pressure on the major highways thereby obviating the need for the by-pass road.
Stockton—Taking on Traffic Calming The second speaker was Mayor Gregg Rackin of Stockton Borough. Mayor Rackin talked about a traffic-calming plan that had been completed with DOT assistance on Route #29 which runs through the center of the borough. The borough is now seeking funding to implement the plan from the Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission with DOT endorsement.
Gary Toth, Director of Project Planning and Development, NJ DOT and Martin Bierbaum, MLUC Director, answer questions at the Middlesex workshop.
Somerset County—Shared Parking and More The third speaker at that session was Bernard Navatto, Jr., chairman of the Somerset County
and Borough of Somerville Planning Boards. Mr. Navatto spoke about the redevelopment of the Landmark Shopping Center in Somerville. That project has incorporated shared parking, along with mixed-use retail and residential space. The borough employed an innovative revenue allocation financing mechanism with the assistance of the New Jersey Economic Development Authority (NJ EDA) to help finance the project. Within a Revenue Allocation District (RAD), revenues which are collected through special assessment or other specified payments may be earmarked to fund aspects of the redevelopment project.
Highland Park 2020—Economic and Environmental Sustainability The second workshop was held in New Brunswick in Middlesex County on October 13. It featured Mayor Meryl Frank of Highland Park, who talked about the process of creating a vision of a sustainable community-”Highland Park 2020.” After a field visit and place-making exercise, workshop participants learned more about the steps the borough is taking to maintain its unique community character and bolster its economic viability while planning for an environmentally “green” upgrade to its main street, which is also State Highway Route #27.
Metuchen—Enjoying a Transit Village Transit Villages were the topic of the third workshop on November 4 at The College of New Jersey, which featured speakers from New Jersey Transit, a representative of the development community and Mayor Ed O’Brien of Metuchen. Mayor O’Brien pointed to the positive changes that have taken place in his community as residents take great pride in the walkability of the Metuchen downtown and its proximity to the train station.
Transit-Oriented Development Vivian Baker, Director of NJ Transit Project Development Planning, spoke about the NJ Transit approach that follows a predictable path from public education to visioning to planning and then implementation. She stressed that transit-oriented development is respectful of open space, access and choice. Dialogue with local communities was an essential aspect of the New Jersey Transit approach, which could transform rail stations into valuable community assets while also increasing ridership.
Anthony Marchetta, Vice President of LCOR, provided a developer’s perspective on the redevelopment potential of areas in close proximity to train stations. He focused on the success of South Orange Village. He emphasized the importance of good design, cultivating public support at the outset, and recommended that local public officials in municipalities with train stations consider creating a redevelopment district with flexible zoning standards to encourage transit-oriented development.
Eatontown and Ocean—Clearing Congestion on the Coast The fourth session, held in Monmouth County on December 5 at the Hominy Hills Golf Course focused on municipalities in the coastal zone. Mayor Gerald Tarantolo of Eatontown and Mayor Dan Van Pelt of Ocean Township in Ocean County presented the dramatic changes planned in their respective communities and the ways that the DOT was supporting those efforts on State Highway Route #35 in Eatontown and State Highway Route #9 in Ocean Township.
Grants Available The Municipal Land Use Center demonstrated its additional support of the NJ FIT approach of encouraging the integration of land use decision-making with transportation planning by announcing a request for proposals (RFP) to award grants to municipalities in the five-county region—Hunterdon, Somerset, Mercer, Middlesex and Monmouth. The Center’s “Creating Livable Communities” program will award grants of up to $50,000 to municipalities implementing integrated land use and transportation planning projects consistent with NJ FIT principles or projects advancing municipal sustainability strategies. Significantly more funding is available for multi-jurisdictional projects. The Municipal Land Use Center will follow-up with voluntary proposal-writing assistance workshops. Further information about these grants is available from the Municipal Land Use Center at 609-771-2832. In addition, a complete transcript of the four workshops’ proceedings is accessible on the Municipal Land Use Center’s website at www.tcnj.edu/mluc or on the project’s website at www.njsmartchoices.org.
As published in New Jersey Municipalities, February 2006, pages 64-70.
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