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NJ Transit can do better than rely on park-and-ride lots

While Shirley DeLibero is doing an excellent job as NJ Transit's Executive Director, there are problems with her insistence that park-and-ride lots be used for transit access. Making it easier to get to public transportation is an important objective. This need can be met without the downsides of a parking based-strategy.

Park-and-ride access generates traffic from which comes congestion, accidents and noise pollution. To compound these problems, car engines run less efficiently before they warm up. Thus, for many trips, the short drive to a park-and-ride lot produces only slightly less air pollution than driving the whole way.

NJ TRANSIT THINKS building parking lots fulfills their responsibility for getting people onto its system. The agency is supposed to provide accessible transportation for everyone, not just people who have cars to get to the station. Unfortunately, NJ Transit seems to miss this point. The solution involves encouraging people to walk, bike and ride transit to train stations, goals obtainable through several interrelated measures.

Urban design plays a significant role. Municipal zoning should seek mixed- use development around stations, including a combination of residences, offices and stores. Better traffic engineering is needed. Every street must have sidewalks plus bike lanes or adequate space for cyclists rather than squeezing in as many car lanes as possible. Crosswalks have to be placed wherever people will be walking and signals must be timed for frequent pedestrian crossings.

BICYCLE ACCESS should be easy. A state Transportation Department survey found that nearly 40 percent of transit riders would consider biking to the station if secure parking was provided. Many sturdy bike lockers should be purchased and rented to cyclists at a modest fee. A locker would be installed at station only when a rider rents one. Each locker would be for the sole use of that cyclist.

Such a program reduces both the need to buy lockers that won't be used and the vandalism of empty lockers. NJ Transit's Bike Aboard program now permits two bicycles to be carried in most off-peak trains. The program needs to be expanded to the Morris and Essex Line, allow more bikes per train and eventually provide peak-hour access.

Van and bus shuttles are the solutions for the less agile and those who live farther away. These feeder services should be dedicated to meeting trains, even if it means pausing for late ones. Slack time should be scheduled between the train's arrival and the departure of the shuttles, providing riders with the time to do an errand in town.

EXISTING BUS LINES must be better linked with stations. Integrated regional maps and schedules can inform riders of possible destinations. Shuttle vans could operate on a door-to-door basis, providing subscribed and/or flexibly reserved service, aided by modern computer mapping programs and wireless communications. The vans can even be privately owned and operated, perhaps assisted by low-cost liability insurance and loans garnered by NJ Transit.

Such a system not only would make it easier for people to get to trains; it would allow people on the trains to get to a wide variety of suburban destinations. Transit thus would become more cost effective by boosting both reverse-peak and suburb-to-suburb ridership. If, on the other hand, park-and- ride lots are built, the critical mass needed to support these modes of transportation will be wiped out.

TOWNS CONSIDERING park-and-ride lots as an economic development strategy should think twice. While the drivers are likely to patronize local shops on their way to/from the station, the rest of the time, the cars sit there, wasting space. Land next to transit stations is incredibly valuable and would be better for mixed-use development of residences, offices and stores.

Such places are used by people during broad periods of each day, enlivening the area and generating jobs as well as sales, income and property taxes. In addition, traffic volumes generated by park-and-ride lots may precipitate roadway designs that preclude attractive, pedestrian-friendly, town centers.

These concerns are shared by many municipalities along the Morris and Essex Lines faced with ridership increases expected from the upcoming Midtown Direct service. Officials and residents are so reluctant to expand parking capacity and [Ms] DeLibero so determined to do so, that she is threatening to use eminent domain to build garages. [Ms] DeLibero should pause, take a closer look at other possibilities and implement them.

Daniel Convissor is a transportation policy analyst and student at SUNY Empire State College who lives in South Orange. He has a web site (http://www.panix.com/~danielc/) covering transportation and public policy matters.



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    Author: Daniel Convissor
    Title: Transit Can Do Better Than Park and Ride Lots
    Section: Speaking Up
    Publication: The Newark Star-Ledger
    Date: 29 May 1996


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    Last updated: 4 April 1999