In her 2015 State of the City address, Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer announced that construction would begin this spring on major improvements to Newark Street and Observer Highway. Last week, the city confirmed that construction would begin April 27th.
Newark Street is part of a major pedestrian artery connecting Hoboken Terminal, the city’s primary transit gateway, and Washington Street, the city’s central business district. It is heavily trafficked by pedestrians walking to and from Hoboken Terminal, especially during weekday morning and evening rush periods, leading to congested sidewalks, crowded intersections that spill into the street, and conflict between turning vehicles and pedestrians who have the right-of-way to cross.
One block south of Newark Street, Observer Highway is one of the primary streets connecting Hoboken with Jersey City and the Holland Tunnel. The “highway” in Observer Highway is a truism. The street is a wide, forbidding expanse for pedestrians to attempt to cross, with two travel lanes in each direction, parking lanes on both sides, and no traffic signals between Washington Street and Willow Avenue. These conditions set driver expectations for a fast, unimpeded, highway-like experience, which then lead to complaints that the street is an inadequate thoroughfare when traffic speeds don’t meet driver expectations.
Complete Streets design can do much to address the types of street conditions found on Newark and Observer. By appropriately balancing the needs of bicyclists, drivers, and pedestrians, a complete street sets better expectations for everyone. Clear markings for travel, turning, and bike lanes help drivers see the street as a shared space. Designated bike lanes provide a safe space for cyclists, and reduce the conflict with pedestrians that happens when unsafe streets force cyclists to use sidewalks. Curb extensions provide extra space for large volumes of pedestrians to wait safely at intersections, reduce the distance for pedestrians to cross streets, and make vehicle turns safer and slower by enforcing a wider turning radius.
These types of improvements are the focus of the Newark Street and Observer Highway project. Between Washington and Hudson Streets, Newark Street will be converted from asphalt to cobblestone, curb extensions will be added, and a public plaza with chairs, tables, and trees will anchor the southeast corner of the intersection with Washington Street. Between Marin Boulevard and Hoboken Terminal, Observer Highway will be reconstructed with one travel lane in each direction, designated turning lanes at intersections, traffic signals at Bloomfield Street and Park Avenue, curb extensions for shorter crossing distances, and a two-way protected bike lane. This project, together with the First Street streetscape and citywide wayfinding improvement project, are bringing significant improvements to three of Hoboken’s heavily used southern streets.