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Mayor Dawn Zimmer
By Dawn Zimmer
Mayor, Hoboken

Hoboken is widely known as the birthplace of baseball and Frank Sinatra, but it’s also home to inventions like the zipper, ice cream cone and instant coffee. Perhaps due to its geography, Hoboken has also been a leader in transportation-related innovations including the first steamboat, first streetcar and first railroad in New Jersey. And with more than 40,000 residents but just 3,800 on-street parking spaces, innovation will continue to be critical to addressing our parking and transportation demands.

Unfortunately, anyone who has strolled down our vibrant, shop-filled streets might presume we also invented double-parking. (We did not, but we have perfected it.) Despite efforts to improve the parking situation, Hoboken is still sometimes referred to as the land of “restaurants, bars, and double-parked cars.”

In part, that’s because in the past, the answer was always to increase supply by building expensive structured parking or requiring developers to create parking. That approach has been costly and hasn’t worked. Today, residents who search for parking after work find themselves in a stressful game of musical chairs.

Since assuming office about a year ago, my Administration has brought a fresh perspective to our congestion and parking problems. Instead of trying to build our way out of the problem by increasing supply, we are pursuing an innovative, comprehensive approach to attacking the demand side of the problem. After all, we can’t expect residents to consider driving less if they don’t have better alternatives.

Due to our proximity to Manhattan and access to mass transit, many residents own a car but commute to work by train or bus. Their cars take up space along the curb, unused all week, except to run the occasional errand or to visit out of town friends or family. For them, we believe there is a better option that could save thousands of dollars per year and eliminate the stress of finding parking.

That’s why Hoboken recently entered into a public-private partnership with Connect by Hertz to launch “Corner Cars,” the first true city-wide car-sharing service in the nation. The New York Times calls the program, which distributes vehicles within a five minute walk of more than 90 percent of residents, a “bold new experiment” to ease congestion. 

Corner Car vehicles have reserved street parking spaces throughout the city, and residents can rent them for as little as $5 per hour including gas, insurance and maintenance. As a result of a competitive bid process, Connect pays Hoboken $100 per month in rent for each parking space, but we anticipate much greater benefits to the city. As counter-intuitive as it may sound, by “taking away” about 40 on-street parking spaces, we expect the parking situation to improve. Surveys of members of car-sharing programs in Hoboken and other cities indicate that for each car-sharing vehicle, about 17 other households decided to give up their own vehicle. Instead of each vehicle taking away a parking space, it’s creating a net 16 more spaces. The total effect on parking demand is equivalent to building a 700 car garage, but without costing taxpayers millions of dollars.

Though Hoboken is a dense, urban environment, car-sharing also makes sense for suburban families who often struggle to maintain the costs of owning a second or third car for infrequent use. Placing a car-sharing vehicle or two at neighborhood community centers is very likely to convince nearby residents to reconsider the high cost of vehicle ownership. And car-sharing also benefits low-income residents by offering them a new mode of transportation that was previously too expensive.

But car-sharing only addresses some of the reasons why people might own a vehicle, and therefore it’s just one facet of our efforts to improve congestion and parking. Despite the Mile Square City’s compact size, many residents still choose to drive even for short trips within town.

To meet this need for intra-city trips, we’re making major improvements to our shuttle system. Formerly the CrossTown shuttle, “The Hop” is our mini transit system which now offers our long-time riders twice as frequent service with three routes instead of one. To appeal to a new generation of transit riders, our rebranded, GPS-enabled shuttles can be tracked on our City website (http://hobokennj.org/thehop) or via text messaging. 

We are also working aggressively to make our compact, walkable city even more bicycle and pedestrian-friendly. Last year we began painting bicycle lanes on our streets, which have the added safety-enhancing benefit of calming traffic by narrowing the perceived width of the road. An expanded bike lane network is also in the works. During Bike to Work Week, we announced a new policy allowing City Hall employees to park their bikes indoors and challenged area businesses to do the same. By installing new bicycle racks at the hospital, supermarkets, shopping districts, parks and other locations throughout town, we are doubling our bicycle parking capacity to more than 600 spaces and making it convenient for residents to get around on two wheels. 

With funding from the NJ DOT, we are widening the sidewalk and narrowing the street crossing distance near our train terminal. This will improve safety in an area with daily pedestrian volumes exceeding 10,000—one of the highest pedestrian traffic areas in the state. Through federal funding, we are transforming other high pedestrian volume areas into more inviting and safe pedestrian spaces. By focusing parking enforcement and through inexpensive measures to prevent parking near intersections, we are keeping crosswalks clear and improving visibility and safety for drivers and pedestrians.

Beyond these measures, we are installing multi-space meters to maximize on-street parking and working with businesses to encourage bicycle deliveries. We’ve also developed a virtual hailing system. Residents can “hail” a cab by phone to wherever they are and then evaluate the taxi based on the quality of service received.

These steps are part of Hoboken’s comprehensive efforts to provide convenient, attractive, and money-saving viable alternatives to owning or driving a personal vehicle. We urge other governments to consider similar measures. Solving 21st century congestion and parking challenges will require a willingness to innovate and think beyond traditional approaches of the past.

 

Article published in New Jersey Municipalities, November 2010

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