State Officials Tout Transit Villages
August 25th, 2011 by New Jersey Future staff
The Christie administration has not been kind to the state Department of Transportation’s Transit Village program. (New Jersey Future has closely followed the program’s funding battles.) After scaling back the program from an annual budget of $3 million to $1 million last year, the governor removed all funding for the program for the fiscal year that began July 1. The Legislature tried to restore funding through a provision in the budget bill that directed DOT Commissioner Jim Simpson to dedicate $1 million to the program from already allocated funds, but that effort was thwarted by the governor’s line-item veto.
Commissioner Simpson has asserted that municipalities could pursue funding for their transit villages through other avenues, such as the department’s Local Aid program, but with towns having difficulty scraping together enough money to meet some of their most basic transportation needs, it is far likelier that Local Aid dollars will be used to fix potholes than to launch or implement Transit Village initiatives.
Still, we were somewhat heartened to read David Matthau’s latest piece on the State House Steps website, titled “Jersey Officials Want More Transit Villages:”
“As Jersey becomes increasingly crowded, state officials are pressing ahead with a plan to increase the number of ‘Transit Villages.’
“State Department of Transportation Commissioner Jim Simpson says the idea is to create a situation where ‘you’ve got villages that surround rail stations, so people can actually live, walk, go to the stores, go to school, shop, get on public transportation and get to work where they don’t have to rely on an automobile…it’s an anti-sprawl effort…it’s to get back to doing things efficiently – you know why get into the car to go the cleaners, to get into the car to go to the supermarket, to get into the car so on and so forth if you can do it all around one area.’
“He says when towns become a Transit Village, they receive increased funding and grant opportunities, and it means they are ‘areas that have demonstrated to the state that they’ve put the policies and procedures and zoning in place to allow for the development around a rail station…this is what we want to bring to the state to fight sprawl and to give people a reason to come back and live near the main town and not to live where they need to get into a car to do everything…we’re really trying to get the message out that this administration supports Transit Villages, supports transit oriented development.’
“NJ Transit Executive Director Jim Weinstein says if people can walk from where they live to their local train station ‘that’s good for the community, it’s good for the environment, and it’s good for New Jersey Transit cause we get more riders…one of the concepts of transit-oriented development is that people live and travel in the same area.’
“Jersey has a total of 23 Transit Villages right now, but that number is expected to grow in the coming months.”
Whether the DOT is ready to walk the walk — by actually providing Transit Villages with those “increased funding and grant opportunities” noted by the commissioner — remains to be seen. In the meantime, it is certainly encouraging to hear both Jim Simpson and Jim Weinstein talk the talk about fighting sprawl, protecting the environment, reducing dependency on the automobile and connecting where people live and where they work through transit-oriented development.