View Full Version : The Hudson-Bergen Light Rail line proves a boon for older urban areas.

October 30th, 2005, 10:29 AM
The Hudson-Bergen Light Rail line proves a boon for older urban areas.
Sunday, October 30, 2005

Just a few years ago, the west side of Hoboken was a real estate backwater.

Unlike the town's booming waterfront, the neighborhoods beneath the Palisades were dominated by housing projects, abandoned factories and desolate streets. But NJ Transit's decision to run a light rail line through the depressed area has had a dramatic effect: New luxury buildings are sprouting around two rail stops that opened last year, attracting artists and affluent new residents.

The same thing is happening up and down the five-year-old Hudson-Bergen Light Rail line. Developers and speculators are scrambling for the chance to rejuvenate older industrial properties and aging apartments along the 19-mile line that runs from Union City to Bayonne, even in tough neighborhoods like Lafayette in Jersey City or Bergenline Avenue in Union City.

Farther south, two stops on the line anchor a massive overhaul of the former Military Ocean Terminal at Bayonne, which eventually could bring stores, hotels, office space and thousands of residential units to a 430-acre peninsula.

"Rail is what makes these projects go," said Robert Cotter, planning director for Jersey City. "It gives investors the confidence that is needed, because it can't be taken away like a bus line."

Cotter, who arrived 20 years ago when much of Jersey City's waterfront was decayed rail yards and derelict factories, has watched development follow the light rail. It ranges from high-rises like the Goldman Sachs tower and the neighboring twin residential Liberty Towers on the city's waterfront to more modest row houses.

Jan Wells, a researcher at Rutgers University's Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy, said the rail line running down Essex Street in Jersey City has spawned 3,000 residential units in five years.

"Government looked at that land as risky," said Wells, author of a recent study on the rail's transformative qualities. "But developers didn't miss the point. They saw the opportunity."

Government was not blind to the possibilities. The Hudson light rail concept -- a street-level commuter line similar to old-fashioned trolley cars -- was introduced in the mid-1980s by Gov. Tom Kean, who thought it could speed waterfront development.

"Redevelopment was very much on our minds," said Martin Robins, a planner chosen by Kean to lead the initiative. .


October 30th, 2005, 10:30 AM
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One of the best places to see the transformation is an 86-acre tract bordering Liberty State Park. The cement foundations for a $2 billion mix of townhouses and high-rises -- known as Liberty Harbor North -- are rising near the light-rail stop. A decade from now, its builders say, the site will have 6,000 residential units and millions of square feet of office and retail space.

Just southwest of Liberty Harbor North is the next frontier, the tougher neighborhood of Lafayette, where speculators and large-scale developers like Pulte Homes are vying for properties on or near the rail line.

This is what happened about five years ago in Hoboken. The line originally was designed to follow the town's shoreline, but community activists -- concerned about 13 grade-level crossings -- convinced NJ Transit to run it inland, instead.

Development followed, and by the time the 9th Street station opened last year in the shadow of the Palisades, there were, according to Wells, more than 1,200 new housing units completed or under construction nearby.

Jason Cohen, 33, bought a two-bedroom condominium in one of the new buildings three years ago, knowing that his commute to Manhattan would soon improve.

"The promise of light rail was definitely part of the decision," said Cohen, the creative director in a graphic design firm. "You can't get much more convenient."

Chris Amato, 27, bought his place in another new building two years ago to improve the commute to his Manhattan bond-market job.

"This neighborhood is a little too far from the PATH train, but the light rail changed all that," Amato said. "Light rail was definitely the reason I chose this place."

Joe North, NJ Transit's general manager of light rail, said new residents bode well for the line, which cost $2.2 billion to build and is serving 25,000 daily riders. With three new stops opening by January, the line is projected to carry 33,000 daily passengers next year. One-way fares range from $1.75 for adults to 85 cents for children and seniors.

No developer has benefited from the new line more than Carl Goldberg and his Roseland Properties.

A new stop opened yesterday at his massive townhouse development, Port Imperial in Weehawken; the train already stops behind his 40-story Jersey City apartment building, Marbella; and he is part of a consortium that is remaking the Bayonne peninsula.

Goldberg said it is difficult to sort out the influence of light rail because proximity to Manhattan factors so high in the success of the Hudson River's Gold Coast. Still, noting that 65 percent of Port Imperial residents use the line (accessing it by jitney), he said "the advance of mass transportation is the reason people come to this place."

Marketing surveys by NJ Transit show that the rail line was an important factor in housing selection for 56 percent of light rail riders, said Dan Stessel, a spokesman.

Cotter hasn't stopped considering light rail possibilities for Jersey City. He has mapped out large swaths of territory along Route 440, the current end point of a western spur of the line that already is attracting residential development.

As he looked at an aerial photograph, he tapped the stanchions of a long-removed rail bridge once linking this part of Jersey City to the warehouses and factories of South Kearny and Newark Airport.

"The right-of-way still exists," he said, smiling. "Imagine the possibilities."

(Star Ledger) http://www.nj.com/news/ledger/jersey/index.ssf?/base/news-1/1130650177154890.xml&coll=1&thispage=2

October 30th, 2005, 11:25 AM
Would the northern end of Hoboken benefit from a station at 14th Street?

Could the line be extended to Staten Island, all the way to St. George and the Ferry?

October 30th, 2005, 01:14 PM
Well, the Bayonne Bridge was originally built with provisions for light rail, so I don't see why not(some have argued however that the grade to the actual bridge is too steep for the light rail, but I'm not sure about that). I'd rather see it extended down to Hylan Blvd though via the ROW of what was supposed to be the Willowbrook Parkway. Use the SIR North Shore Line for regular rail service.