Remarkably, one of the postings that gets viewed from the search engines pretty regularly was a mild post about hopefully parking in Secaucus.

The good news is that a garage and surface lot have been approved. Who knows when they will be on line.

But today I came across this blog posting that I took issue with:

Transit Village or Swamp Thing: The Sequel

In April the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission voted to allow the construction of a 4,280-space parking garage and a 1,094-space surface lot near NJ Transit’s Secaucus Junction rail station, a deeply misguided decision that will worsen traffic in the area, preclude expansion of the freight rail network, and contradict the spirit of the “transit village” being built near the station (see also “Transit Village or Swamp Thing?”, MTR # 431).

Because it is a transfer station, Secaucus does not have any parking. However, concerns that this lack of parking is hurting station usage are misguided, as TSTC staffer Zoe Baldwin wrote in the Bergen Record last month. Instead of creating incentives for commuters to drive along the NJ Turnpike and board trains in Secaucus, state agencies should be improving access to local stations (by improving bike and pedestrian connections, funding jitney service, or if necessary adding parking).

While it is quaint and good feeling to desire transit improvement at local stations, the author, Steven Higaside misses a major point. Improved access to an unreliable railroad will not be a great benefit to the commuter. A moving sidewalk to the Cranford train station is useless if the trains are late or broken for the seventh time that month. The Raritan Valley line, even though we got a couple of new locomotives recently, is often experiencing problems with late trains, long waits in Newark and the often missed connection home due to a late connection from NY Penn.

The thought of driving the half hour (and for the most part it would be) to Secaucus, parking and getting that one-stop train into the city is tempting. It would actually reduce the commute time from Cranford by about 20 minutes since we have to wait in Newark twice a day.

Secaucus is a great place for a park and ride into the city.  Exit 15X is built. That monstrosity of a transfer station is built. The bottleneck for the Turnpike at that point is the toll barrier one mile ahead. This would help reduce the volume through the Lincoln Tunnel (ever think that if there was an easier train ride in some tunnel drivers would switch?). Just think of the gallons of fuel saved by taking off those cars from the 45 minute to one hour queue that exists daily from 15X to the mouth of the tunnel.

The larger 4,280-space garage also comes at the cost of increased freight rail capacity, a state goal. Norfolk Southern Railway has proposed using the garage site for an intermodal transfer station where freight train cars could unload their cargo onto trucks. Without the intermodal station, the railway will have to unload some of its cargo in Pennsylvania to be trucked through NJ. According to a 2002 Federal Highway Administration analysis, truck traffic in Bergen County will increase by 70 percent between 1998 and 2020, making it important to find alternatives where possible. Rail is also a more efficient and sustainable way to move freight – one gallon of diesel can move one ton of freight 436 miles.

I won’t deny that having few trucks coming through NJ would be nice (although toll-happy Corzine would disagree). But if the amount of reduced trucks is a measly 250 per day (according to the letter linked to in the post), or roughly the number of trucks that roll past on the NJ Turnpike in about three minutes, what is the point? He continues:

The smaller surface lot was authorized by an amendment to the Commission’s “Transit Village Redevelopment Plan,” which centers around a 2,000-unit residential project being built near the station (Secaucus is not a designated Transit Village under NJDOT and NJ Transit’s Transit Village Initiative). Such an amendment is contrary to the spirit of a “transit village” where residents can easily walk or bike to transit — especially because the residential development already includes garage parking. Back in 2003, a Meadowlands Commission spokesperson told MTR that the Commission could use its “zoning authority — over parking for example — to channel use of the site towards car alternatives” (see MTR # 432). Funny how that turned out.

Well, Secaucus, Eden that it is, has often developed itself curiously. It has its challenges with the wetlands, bridges, barge channels, power lines, radio stations, landfills, and the major Northeastern rail line all competing for space with residential, industrial, motels and self-storage facilities. Bottom line, it will never be Main Street USA, and while some folks may walk from the residential development a couple of hundred yards away, most will get in their cars and drive somewhere.

Until New York finally chases the rest of the business located there, people will want to get in with as little hassle as possible. A park-and-ride would be a plus to have while we wait for our rail line to rise up to developed-world standards (an 80-mile commute in Japan takes less time than the 19 miles to NYC from Cranford – we get in at an average speed of 25 miles an hour on a good day).

Rather than access improvements, train service improvements would do more to increase ridership. If we can rely on it, we’d take it more, and we’d look more favorably at jobs where commuting by train is necessary.

And I don’t think that the ability to park at Secaucus would place an undue burden of the area, disrupt the community, or worsen overall traffic except on the surface streets immediately surrounding the station.

Steven Higashide wants to solve the sexy part of the problem, with the focus of having nice towns and fewer trucks on the road.  This is an unsexy solution to a different flavor of the same problem, that will in the long run help solve his sexy one.

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