City Hall
City Hall

Ward A Councilwoman Denise Ridley and Ward B Councilman Rich Boggiano are questioning whether an ordinance banning off-road vehicles from city streets makes sense given the likelihood that it would not be enforced.

Spurred by a seeming epidemic of reckless ATV and dirt-bike riders, at Monday’s caucus meeting the City Council considered banning the vehicles from public streets and, in addition, prohibiting the use of  skateboards, scooters, or roller skates on pedestrian plazas.

Both prohibitions, which are to be given first readings as ordinances on August 17, will be offered as means to promote pedestrian safety.

Ridley wondered how effective any effort to regular ATVs or dirt bikes would be given the police department’s policy not to engage in chases of such vehicles below certain speeds.

Boggiano added, “Either you enforce the law or don’t. Why bother having any laws then?”

Referring to the Newark Avenue pedestrian mall, he also griped, “It’s all about downtown.”

Council President Joyce Watterman reminded Boggiano that the city can assign officers hired with Urban Enterprise Zone funds to patrol the plaza area and stop improper riders. She did not say why these officers would be any more likely to enforce pedestrian safety ordinances than the officers who have been patrolling the area already for some time.

Boggiano also spoke up about a new bike lane in his ward: the one on Newark Avenue between Dickinson High School and the I-78 overpass that has a cutout for a bus stop. According to Boggiano, the revised traffic pattern has resulted in three or four accidents.

“It’s a disaster going down the hill,” he said. “I want that changed. People in that area are really upset, and I’m taking the heat.”

The Jersey City Times reached out to James Lee, president of Safe Streets JC, which advocates for zero traffic fatalities in Jersey City, for his assessment of the situation. Lee said the cutout for the bus stop has forced cars to slow down. “I’m not saying the design is perfect,” Lee added, but he said it’s helped more than hindered. Prior to the new design, he said, “there were crashes into buildings; there was a tree crashed out.”

The council is expected to expand its bikeway program in Wards A and B. The city is seeking a state grant of $558,825 to build a protected two-way bike lane along all of Manhattan Avenue (which runs from from Tonnelle Avenue to the west to Central Avenue to the east).

Between 2008 and 2017, the city logged 58 bicycle crashes that killed 10 people and seriously injured 18 at intersections on Tonnelle, Central, and Summit Avenues, the Council noted.

City Engineer Paul Russo said the city expects to have “something out” by the end of the winter about a new bikeway in Ward A (about which Ridley said she has not been consulted). Residents would be invited to critique the proposal once it is issued, Russo added.

The city is also hoping to revive travel by sea. Having acquired the land where the Port Liberte Ferry Terminal sits earlier this summer, the Council this week is expected to authorize seeking requests for proposals for ferry service between Port Liberte and Manhattan and for maintenance of the terminal.

Working with a newly hired city forester, the Council said it would hire Davey Resource Group of Flemington, NJ, to inventory approximately 7,000 city trees “to better maintain existing trees and plan future tree plantings” and to update a professional management plan based on that inventory (as well as on data from prior surveys).

To finance the work, the city will tap a $50,000 matching grant from the state Department of Environmental Protection’s Urban and Community Forestry program plus $4,100 from the city’s municipal capital account.

Davey has worked for the city before. Most recently, it inventoried 13,000 trees from 2018 to 2021, a process that revealed huge inadequacies in the city’s budget for tree maintenance and prompted Davey to recommend the city prioritize all forms of tree maintenance over tree planting.

Finally, the Council addressed the issue of home ownership for low-income residents. With the aid of a federal HOME Investment Partnership Program allocation, the city plans to fund a first-time homeowners program called the Golden Neighborhoods Homeowner Program to eligible applicants who fall between the 60% to 80% average household median income bracket.

According to city administrators, “Target households earn between approximately $40,000 and $60,000 (and) there are 12,334 households in this range. A home is considered affordable if it costs between $120,000 and $180,000 or three times the household’s income. There are (fewer than) 1,200 homes in this range, leaving over 11,000 households without access to affordable homeownership.”

With the median home value in Jersey City listed at $373,000, that price “is beyond the reach of residents earning the median household income,” administrators noted. “In order to assist with an affordable mortgage rate, households in the 60%-80% median household income ranges would need the home prices to be reduced by $100,000 to $250,000.”

Therefore, “in order to provide an affordable mortgage to low-income residents of Jersey City, the city’s Division of Community Development seeks to increase the amount of down payment and closing cost assistance from $40,000 up to $150,000.”

The Council will be asked this week to set the program in motion.

Ron Leir has been a journalist since 1972. That includes a 37-year stint as a reporter, copy reader and assistant editor with The Jersey Journal, followed by a decade as a reporter with The Observer in...