February 10, 1993
The locally preferred light rail system being approved for final environmental analysis will be a tremendous transportation, economic and environmental improvement. Unfortunately, the system will have 13,000 park-and-ride spaces. Though improving access to public transportation is a great idea, park-and-ride lots are not the best way to go about it. The provision of parking increases automobile use, which will create more congestion and pollution, thereby risking public health and the flow of Federal transportation funds to the state. There are ways to provide transit access without the tremendous downsides inherent in the park-and-ride strategy.
To compound this problem, the short drives to park-and-ride lots are under cold start conditions. When a car engine is not warmed up, it runs less efficiently and thus produces more pollution. Auto emissions for drives of less than two miles are significantly higher: Nitrogen Oxide, 26%; Hydrocarbons, 73%; and Carbon Monoxide, 109%.(1)
Combining these problems will make it hard to attain the air quality goals of the Clean Air Act. If these goals are not attained, Federal transport funding to New Jersey may be cut off.
With these considerable drawbacks in mind, NJ Transit should plan the final light rail system without park-and-ride facilities.
Extend the light rail system. The bulk of the people who will use the park-and-ride lots have origins within a mile of the many railroad tracks in Hudson and Bergen Counties. The rail system should be extended into these communities, most of which are less than 10 miles from the park-and-ride lots.
Integrate bicycles and trains. In the Netherlands, bicycles are used for 35% of all station access trips and 10% of station egress trips.(3) Even though only 3% of transit access trips in New Jersey are made by bicycle, there is tremendous potential for bicycle access. When asked "would you ever (even part-time) consider commuting from home to this station by bicycle," nearly 50% surveyed transit riders responded yes. Forty percent of those surveyed felt the one improvement that would most encourage them ride to the station is secure bike storage.(4) While the US has been investing in costly park-and-ride lots, European transit operators have invested in bicycle access. Across the whole of the Netherlands, there are fewer than 25,000 automobile park-and-ride spaces. That's barely one-fourth the number of guarded bicycle parking spaces. Over the next 20 years, the Netherlands Railway plans to increase bicycle parking spaces by 75%. Despite rates of auto ownership very similar to the United States, less than 20% of Dutch rail access trips are made by car. It's clear, if you reap parking you will sow traffic.(3)
Most Hudson County residents don't own cars, so these three strategies will provide them the opportunity to get into Bergen County. Thereby, the system will be less peak-direction oriented, making operations more cost effective by providing reverse-peak ridership.
Park-and-ride lots may seem like a great way to quickly bolster ridership on the LRT. But by building these lots, NJ Transit will be shooting itself in the foot. The Board needs to plan now for integrated and expanded transit operations to provide a long term ridership base for its system, mobility for travelers and traffic reduction for New Jersey's suburbs and cities.
(2) Hudson River Waterfront Transportation Corridor Draft Environmental Impact Statement, USDOT and NJ Transit, p. 4-33.
(3) Michael Replogle, "Bicycle Access to Public Transportation: Learning from Abroad," ITE Journal, December, 1992.
(4) William Feldman, The Use of the Bicycle as a Collector Mode For Commuter Rail Trips, NJDOT, June, 1980.
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