In hopes of reducing truck traffic and of increasing pedestrian safety along a busy stretch of Kennedy Boulevard near Journal Square, Jersey City plans to make St. Pauls Avenue one-way westbound between Kennedy Boulevard and Tonnelle Avenue. Said the city’s chief fire officer, however, the move could hamper Fire Department capabilities.
Currently, many trucks and other out-of-town drivers entering Jersey City from the west use St. Pauls as a short-cut to the Holland Tunnel.
Some speed up to beat the light at St. Pauls and Tonnelle, thereby endangering pedestrians crossing there and at the Kennedy Boulevard intersection where there are two schools.
Michael J. Manzella, city director of transportation and planning, outlined the proposed changes at a community meeting hosted at M.S. 7 on January 26. They got a mixed reaction from the approximately 50 people attending.
Along with the shift in traffic movement, Manzella said the plan calls for a 20-miles-per-hour speed limit and installing speed humps and curb extensions on St. Pauls between Skillman and Tonnelle Avenues. The city would also create adjacent east- and west-bound bike lanes on St. Pauls between Kennedy and Tonnelle.
The city piloted closing off St. Pauls to eastbound traffic for a week in November 2022 by diverting local traffic to side streets off of Tonnelle. Based on a relatively small sample of neighborhood residents surveyed, Manzella said that many “felt safer” with the one-way westbound option which, he added, also generated less traffic noise.
He added that the principal of P.S. 31, situated on the west side of Kennedy at St. Pauls, opined that the one-way experiment “enhanced the safety” of staff commuting to and from her school.
Moreover, Manzella said, adopting this strategy would enable the city to provide 35 parking spaces along the length of the street.
But Jersey City Fire Chief Steven McGill worried that a plan implementing road barriers would be “detrimental to our response times” and, with cars often double-parking in bikeways, make it more difficult for the department’s rigs to navigate. Also, he said curb buildouts make it harder for firefighters to access hydrants.
Municipal Court Judge Irwin Rosen called the one-way proposal “a recipe for disaster,” saying it would make conditions “extremely difficult” for emergency responders to access the neighborhood.
Moreover, Rosen said, “government by survey isn’t the way to go” suggesting instead the city put officer there to direct traffic if not right away then when commuters begin coming to the new county courthouse on Newark Avenue now under construction.
Still, one resident said, in order to try and mitigate traffic hazards, “we have to start somewhere,” particularly when “reckless” drivers speeding through the neighborhood pose dangers to residents, young and old alike. He cited a recent case of a car barreling through a stop sign and clipping a woman’s foot and, last summer, of a motorist ignoring a blinking signal and swerving around an intersection, striking a 5-year-old riding a bike and taking off without checking on the child’s condition.
“This is not about driver inconvenience, it’s about drivers driving dangerously,” another resident said. “It’s only a matter of time before a child gets hit by a car and dies. This is literally about somebody not dying.”
Manzella said that some of the traffic might ease after the state Department of Transportation completes reconstruction of the Broadway ramp off Rt. 7. But he acknowledged that that’s unlikely to happen until 2025 or 2026.
Meanwhile, unless the city undertakes another survey of area residents or modifies the plan now in place, Manzella expects the City Council to introduce an ordinance to move forward with the changes. No budget for the project has yet been formulated, he said.
Photo courtesy of Google Street View