Working for Smart Growth:
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New Jersey Future Blogrss

If You Pave It, They Will Park

April 25th, 2022 by Tim Evans

Would you walk here? Parking lots not only push individual buildings farther apart, but they make the experience of walking between buildings unpleasant and unsafe. Photo Credit: Tim Evans

Driving and parking reinforce each other. The provision of parking at every destination encourages people to drive, and the more people drive, the more parking spaces property owners think they need to provide. Fortunately, New Jersey’s older, mixed-use centers show that the pattern can also work in reverse.

New Jersey’s transportation system—and that of the entire United State—is oriented toward the private automobile (now including pickup trucks and sport-utility vehicles), and has been since the 1950s, when construction began on the Interstate Highway System, kicking off an era of massive federal spending on roads. For almost three-quarters of a century at this point, new development has been built under the default assumption that residents, customers, and employees would be arriving and departing by car, and roads have been designed with the primary goal of facilitating easy car travel among destinations.

Part of a car-oriented system is the space required to store all these vehicles when not in use—that is, parking. Driving and parking reinforce each other. The more people drive, the more developers and local planning officials think every new project needs to be surrounded by parking. And the more parking is available at every destination, the more people will tend to drive. Parking lots not only push individual buildings farther apart, but they make the experience of walking between buildings unpleasant and unsafe, further reinforcing the impulse to drive, even between destinations that are relatively close together.

But it wasn’t always like this, nor does it need to remain this way. New Jersey is full of older, walkable, mixed-use centers—not just cities but plenty of pre-1950s suburban downtowns—that were built before the private automobile came to dominate the transportation landscape. Their development patterns are oriented more toward walking and public transportation than toward driving everywhere. As such, they offer a blueprint for how to build in a way that facilitates access by means other than driving, a practice that New Jersey needs to re-learn if it hopes to provide more of the kinds of live-work-play-shop environments that today’s young adults are looking for.

An important part of the equation when designing development for access by means other than just cars is to not require so much parking. Cities around the country are beginning to experiment with dialing back their parking requirements, so that new developments are allowed to look more like the mixed-use, walkable centers that were the norm before governments started pouring money into expansion of the road network. New Jersey should embrace the reexamination of parking requirements, start reclaiming some of its land from vehicles, and put it to better use in improving the quality of life of its residents.

Download the full report.

“Complete Streets” and Goods Delivery: What Is a Street For?

March 24th, 2022 by Tim Evans

Photo Credit: Bailey Lawrence

The changing nature of shopping means people are more likely to have things delivered to them than go to a store to buy them. At the same time, people increasingly want to live in mixed-use neighborhoods where they can walk to local destinations. How should we be thinking about the safety of pedestrians and other non-motorized travelers in an era of increasing truck traffic? 

Port Traffic and E-Commerce: The Twin Drivers of New Jersey’s Goods Movement Boom

The movement, storage, and distribution of freight is big business in New Jersey (and getting bigger). As of the 2019 County Business Patterns report, goods movement industries—roughly, those classified under wholesale trade (NAICS code 42) or transportation and warehousing (NAICS codes 48 and 49)—account for one out of every eight jobs (12.5%) located in New Jersey, the highest percentage among the 50 states.

The boom in goods movement has two main drivers. One is the presence in North Jersey of the nation’s second-busiest container port, the Port of New York and New Jersey, the major facilities of which are located on the New Jersey side of the Hudson River in Newark, Elizabeth, and Bayonne. Because it is centrally located among the Northeast’s constellation of large metropolitan areas, the port is a major point of entry for imported goods arriving from Europe and from the growing economies of South Asia (e.g., India and Pakistan). And the 2016 widening of the Panama Canal means that some ships carrying goods from our major trading partners in East Asia (i.e., China, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Vietnam) that are bound for markets in the eastern United States can proceed directly to East Coast ports instead of docking at Los Angeles, Oakland, or Seattle and sending their payloads across the continent by rail. This more direct shipping route from East Asia has boosted the Port of New York and New Jersey’s volume even further. The growth of traffic at the port has sparked a wave of warehouse development across northern and central (and—increasingly—southern) New Jersey, as shippers scramble for spaces for storing, sorting, and distributing all of the incoming freight.

It should be noted that South Jersey has ports too—in Camden, Paulsboro, and Salem—and cargo volume is booming there as well. But the South Jersey ports handle a much smaller volume of cargo than the ports in North Jersey, and they also specialize in bulk commodities like steel, plywood, and cocoa beans that are more likely to be shipped by rail than by truck, making their impact on the state’s road network less pronounced and their land-use footprint less visible. 

Unlike the port, the other driver of goods movement is not unique to New Jersey but is happening everywhere: the growth in e-commerce. Instead of driving their personal vehicles downtown or to the mall or the big-box retail center to shop, Americans are increasingly buying their stuff online and having it delivered to their home in someone else’s vehicle—the ubiquitous UPS, FedEx, and Amazon delivery vans. This change in the way people shop is having nationwide effects. According to the 2019 County Business Patterns report, “Transportation and Warehousing led all business sectors with the largest rate of employment growth with an increase of 7.5% in the United States from 2018 to 2019.”

Trucks Everywhere

Almost all freight moves by some variety of truck for at least part of its journey. The growth in e-commerce has indeed spawned corresponding growth in truck traffic. In recognition of the increasing visibility of freight movement on New Jersey’s highways, roads, and streets, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and the New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT) recently hosted a workshop entitled “Freight in our Neighborhoods: Toward a More Complete Street.” One might ask what “freight” is doing in neighborhoods in the first place. But “freight” is really just a collective term for all the stuff that people buy and use, stuff that has to be transported from its point of manufacture or assembly (for domestic goods) or its point of entry into the U.S. (for imported goods) to its final customer. Wherever you have people (and businesses) who want stuff, you will need vehicles to deliver it. As the trucking industry likes to say, “If you bought it, a truck brought it.

One of the main purposes of the national highway network is to facilitate the movement of goods from one place to another, and these major roads are thus designed with trucks in mind, with wide lanes, gentle curves, long forward sightlines, and infrequent access points (whether exit ramps or at-grade intersections) to minimize interference with the flow of through traffic. They are designed to move large volumes of traffic at high speeds, a function that naturally accommodates vehicles of all sizes. For this reason, larger storage and distribution facilities of the type associated with ports generally tend to locate as close as possible to rail and highway networks, since their “customers” are usually other, smaller warehouses and their distribution networks can extend for hundreds of miles in multiple directions. Access to regional transportation networks is key for these larger facilities.

For smaller distribution facilities, on the other hand, the customer base is final consumers, either individual households (for online shopping) or the retail stores they shop at (for traditional retail). In this case, the locational impetus is to be near where those customers live, which can result in trucks traveling over local streets. 

Should “Complete Streets” Include Trucks?

The primary purpose of local streets is to allow circulation within a place, rather than high-speed travel between places. Local travel is much more likely to take place on foot or by other non-motorized means, especially in downtowns and densely populated residential neighborhoods where destinations are close together. Most vehicular trips are taken by local residents in private passenger vehicles at relatively slow speeds. Street networks are often characterized by narrower lanes, on-street parking, and frequent intersections, all of which encourage driver alertness and caution and keep speeds down. The biggest vehicles that local streets are typically expected to accommodate are fire trucks, trash trucks, school buses, and sometimes transit buses.

Introducing large trucks onto local streets that were designed for smaller vehicles, and where pedestrians are frequently present, creates numerous problems. Large trucks with many driver blind spots create a danger to pedestrians, especially when making turning or backing maneuvers. (This is even true for smaller trucks and SUVs as compared to cars.) Trucks generate noise, which can make the pedestrian environment unpleasant. They emit pollutants in their exhaust that degrade the quality of the air and can increase the incidence of asthma in neighborhoods adjacent to roads and streets with high truck volumes. They impede and sometimes obstruct local traffic when they try to negotiate tight turns, when they block lanes while backing into loading docks (or even stopping in the travel lane to unload), or when they must stop when unexpectedly encountering a low overhead clearance or a bridge with a weight limit. They also impose exponentially more damage on road surfaces than do passenger vehicles, which can compound quickly on streets that were not paved with trucks in mind.

The purpose of the FHWA/NJDOT workshop was to raise the issue of how to balance the need to deliver goods to people and local businesses with the needs of other users of local streets, particularly those not inside vehicles. The consideration of the needs of all users of a street segment is what “Complete Streets” policies are meant to promote. In the words of Smart Growth America, complete streets “are designed and operated to prioritize safety, comfort, and access to destinations for all people who use the street, especially people who have experienced systemic underinvestment or whose needs have not been met through a traditional transportation approach, including older adults, people living with disabilities, people who cannot afford or do not have access to a car, and Black, Native, and Hispanic or Latino/a/x communities. Complete Streets make it easy to cross the street, walk to shops, jobs, and schools, bicycle to work, and move actively with assistive devices. They allow buses to run on time and make it safe for people to walk or move actively to and from train stations.” 

In practice, this typically translates to equipping streets with features like sidewalks, crosswalks, median strips, pedestrian-only traffic-signal phases, shade trees, and street furniture (benches, street lights, trash cans, bike racks, etc.) that help make pedestrians and other non-motorized users feel safe and comfortable. Certain characteristics of the street itself—like narrow lanes, two-way traffic, and on-street parking—can also enhance the safety of non-drivers by keeping vehicle speeds down and by physically separating pedestrians from moving traffic. Many of these considerations would appear to be negatively affected by the presence of trucks, raising questions about whether trucks must be accommodated on all road segments, particularly those hosting large numbers of non-motorized users. 

One section of the workshop focused on how to incorporate street design features that enhance pedestrian safety while still allowing maneuvering room for trucks making local deliveries. For example, curb-lane parking could be prohibited within a given distance of an intersection to create more space for trucks to make turns. Or curb space could be specifically designated for trucks making deliveries. But perhaps a more overarching question is what types of vehicles are appropriate for what types of road or street segments.

Hierarchy of Roads, Hierarchy of Vehicles

The national road network can be characterized as a hierarchy, with the Interstate Highway System at one end serving the longest-distance function—facilitating high-speed, non-stop travel from literally one end of the continent to the other—and local residential streets at the other, which enable people to travel from their homes either directly to local destinations or onto higher-capacity roads that lead to more distant destinations. In between, there is a continuum of roads and streets, with the features of each segment—number of lanes, lane widths, speed limits, frequency of intersections, and the presence or absence of shoulders, sidewalks, driveways and other curb cuts, merging or turning lanes, traffic signals or stop signs, etc.—corresponding to the volume and distance of movements of people and goods that the segment is designed to host.

Because different classes of streets and roads are designed for different types and lengths of trip-making, not every road segment will necessarily be appropriate for every mode of travel. Pedestrians and bicycles are generally forbidden on limited-access highways, for example, because these highways need to be designed for high-speed travel by a full range of motorized vehicles, and fast-moving vehicles pose lethal danger to non-motorized travelers. By the same token, then, perhaps most local streets should be off-limits to large trucks, especially in areas with high pedestrian and bicycle volumes. Indeed, the prohibition of trucks on selected local roads is already commonplace. Some vehicle types or modes of travel are simply incompatible with the primary function of certain road segments, and the transportation planning profession should recognize this for local streets the same way it already does for limited-access highways.

The Right Delivery Vehicle for the Right Street

Not every final destination for a package needs to be accessible to large trucks. Rather than proposing truck-focused modifications (wider lanes, bigger turning radii, etc.) to local streets in order to accommodate truck deliveries, transportation planners and logistics industry professionals should focus instead on matching the type of delivery vehicle to the environment in which the destination is located. For destinations located immediately adjacent to the National Highway System, or along wide, high-speed, high-volume arterial roads, deliveries by large truck are completely appropriate, since these links in the road network were designed with large vehicles in mind, and the logistics facilities that locate near the highway network generally do so precisely to minimize the need to put large trucks onto local street networks.

But in high-density neighborhoods where many types of destinations are located within easy walking distance and where pedestrians and other non-motorized users are likely to be present, large trucks impose outsized safety and operational impacts. In such places, “last mile” deliveries (whether to retail stores located in downtown areas or to individual households) are better accomplished by smaller vehicles that better fit the scale of the development. This means delivery vans rather than trucks, and in some situations perhaps even electric cargo bikes, which require even less curb (or sidewalk) space than vans, generate far less noise and air pollution, and pose much less of a danger to pedestrians and other non-motorized travelers. The National Association of City Transportation Officials’ (NACTO) Urban Street Design Guide includes guidelines for choosing which size and type of delivery vehicle should serve as the default in which context for purposes of planning for goods deliveries.

The Last Mile

In some cases, truckload deliveries may need to be broken down into smaller loads and transferred into smaller vehicles at peripheral sites before the last-mile delivery is made. Yes, transferring goods from one mode or vehicle to another adds time—and, therefore, expense—to the total cost of a package’s journey from point of origin to final destination. But there are also costs associated with keeping goods in a larger vehicle for the final leg of the trip, namely in the form of negative externalities like safety, traffic, and pollution effects. The cost of transferring goods to smaller vehicles like vans or cargo e-bikes can be thought of as a way of capturing those externalities and making the customer pay more of the true societal costs of having their package delivered directly to their door.

Besides, we already engage in transloading because some vehicle types are not a good fit for some parts of the transportation network. To take an obvious case, most goods that move by rail spend at least part of their journey on a truck, because the rail network does not reach everywhere. Even if a shipment is containerized, it still takes time to move the container from a rail car onto a truck chassis. This time is simply accepted as a part of doing business. Another example is tandem truck trailers, which are not normally allowed on surface streets because of their size, weight, and constrained maneuverability. State departments of transportation set up staging areas immediately off highway interchanges for assembling and disassembling tandem trailer combinations so that the trailers can be hauled individually to and from their off-highway destinations without creating problems on roads that were not designed to handle tandems. Amazon’s delivery centers (the facilities from which goods are actually shipped to individual homes) essentially serve this transloading function already, receiving inbound truckloads of goods on 18-wheelers from larger warehouses and dispersing them in smaller delivery vans. Staging areas for shifting goods from one mode of transport or one type of vehicle to another are not new; the key concept is to keep these transfer facilities at the edge of densely populated areas, so as to keep larger vehicles out of downtowns and residential neighborhoods.

Reevaluating Streets and Roads

Because the shift in the way people shop—and the accompanying reconfiguration of goods distribution—is likely to persist for the foreseeable future, it is important to think about what this means for the use of local street space. If goods are increasingly being shipped directly to people’s homes rather than changing hands at suburban retail complexes to which people drive their own vehicles, then local streets need to be prepared to accommodate delivery vehicles in addition to private automobiles. Even if we require that final deliveries in densely populated areas be accomplished with smaller vehicles that are more compatible with a pedestrian-focused environment, we still need to make space for those smaller vehicles in the places where they will need to stop to make their deliveries. For example, to accommodate more frequent package deliveries, the designation of loading and unloading zones may need to be expanded in areas where curb space is generally scarce and stopping in travel lanes is disruptive. Or centralized pickup facilities could be created at convenient downtown locations, at which packages could be deposited and customers could make the final pickup at their convenience (including on foot when practical), similar to picking up a package at the post office.

More broadly speaking, the increasing presence of trucks on the road network is a good opportunity to revisit the difference between a street and a road. If roads are for moving people and goods from one place to another, while streets are for enabling the circulation of people within a place, then these purposes should be reflected in their design characteristics. In particular, transportation planners and engineers should stop designing local streets as if their purpose is to maximize vehicle throughput, and instead focus on features that make the street safe for pedestrians and other non-motorized users. Last year (2021) was already the deadliest year since 1989 for pedestrians and cyclists in New Jersey, thanks in part to the increasing prevalence of light trucks in the private passenger vehicle fleet, making pedestrian-friendly street design an issue of growing importance.

The relatively recent increase in the popularity of home delivery means that addressing freight movement on local streets is very much a live issue. Among the 50 states, 21 have no complete streets policy at all. Of the 29 that do, only eight mention freight. Conversely, of the 50 statewide freight plans, only 16 mention complete streets (and mostly in passing), according to the FHWA/NJDOT workshop. Complete streets policies tend to be locally focused, while freight plans are regional or statewide, so they typically don’t define their issues and goals at the same scale. Addressing the disconnect between complete streets and freight at the state level thus presents New Jersey with another opportunity to serve as a national leader. We must do our best to rise to the occasion.

Crossroads in New Jersey: Investing in Water Infrastructure “Post-Newark”

February 22nd, 2022 by Bailey Lawrence

The completion of Newark’s lead service line replacement program is more than an achievement—it’s an invitation.

In this pandemic era, marked by simultaneous public health and climate crises, it’s easy to become disillusioned with the prospect of change, and even easier to ignore claims that “this is our last chance.” Every year, month, and day seem to be marked by a new record or all-time low—new research that further underscores the severity of the existential threats we face. Thankfully, for several environmental challenges—including lead in drinking water—we already possess the necessary tools and resources for immediate action. 

Many have hailed the completion of Newark’s lead service line (LSL) replacement program earlier this month as an epic milestone, and rightfully so. The most populous city in New Jersey achieved the monumental feat of replacing more than 23,000 LSLs in under three years through a combination of local leadership and community participation, both of which were applauded by U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris during her visit to Newark. In an interview with the New York Times, Lead-Free NJ Advocacy Coordinating Committee Co-chair Yvette Jordan similarly commended the City’s community engagement efforts before emphasizing that “this is a first step, not a last step.”

Indeed, the full value of Newark’s LSL replacement program lies not in its completion, but in what it suggests about what can be accomplished in communities across the state. Thus, following the completion of Newark’s nationally acclaimed program, the conversation across the state—and across the country—has pivoted from what happened in Newark to what should happen next.

It’s an issue that has only grown more urgent since the completion of Newark’s program, as more than 180,000 New Jerseyans were notified this week that their water is delivered through a lead pipe. And that’s not all. According to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, more than one million lines across the state remain uncatalogued. In other words, the customers who received notices this week will not be the last. 

New Jersey Future Managing Director of Policy and Water Chris Sturm (far right), poses with LFNJ Advocacy Coordinating Committee Co-chair Yvette Jordan; Joan Leary Matthews, Natural Resources Defense Council; and Radhika Fox, US Environmental Protection Agency. Sturm attended Newark’s commemoration of its completed lead service line replacement program earlier this month.

Luckily, although Vice President Harris presented the completion of Newark’s program as evidence of what the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law can help achieve, this isn’t the only source of federal funding at New Jersey’s disposal. New Jersey Future Managing Director of Policy and Water Chris Sturm, who attended the commemoration of Newark’s completed program, points to the State’s share of American Rescue Plan funds as a critical source of investment for New Jersey’s water infrastructure. 

“Unfortunately, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law won’t provide all of the funding we need,” Sturm said. “We estimate that the funding gap for lead pipe replacement in New Jersey remains between $1.5 billion and $2 billion. It is critical that the State provide additional American Rescue Plan funds to help communities eradicate lead in drinking water and other infrastructure challenges. That’s why New Jersey Future is part of the new Clean Water, Healthy Families, Good Jobs campaign, which is seeking a state investment of $1.2 billion for water infrastructure.”

Sturm is joined by several environmental, business, and labor representatives whose organizations are urging the State to make this historic investment, which will simultaneously advance environmental justice, public health, and economic growth. 

We all have a stake in clean water, which can only be secured by an investment that matches the considerable cost of inaction. Very few obstacles have such clearly defined solutions, and if the last few years have taught us anything, it’s that we can’t afford to neglect an opportunity to protect our families and neighbors.

 

Walking and Biking Are Transportation Too

February 18th, 2022 by Tim Evans

Photo courtesy of Jasmine Grossmann

Last year was the deadliest year since 1989 for pedestrians and bicyclists on New Jersey’s roads. According to New Jersey State Police crash data, the statewide road fatality tally included 220 pedestrians and 23 cyclists, along with 373 vehicle drivers and 84 passengers. More than one-third of the deaths (243 out of 700, or 34.7%) were thus among people who were walking, bicycling, or rolling—our most vulnerable road users.

The last two years have been something of an anomaly, with a global pandemic drastically altering people’s travel behaviors and affecting their mental health. During the first months of the pandemic, a dramatic drop in car travel rather unexpectedly did not lead to a corresponding drop in traffic deaths, as the sudden abundance of wide-open roads seems to have induced drivers to behave more recklessly. And death rates have persisted as traffic has returned, raising questions about the potential staying power of bad habits acquired during the pandemic era.

Troublingly, however, pedestrian deaths had already been creeping upward before the pandemic began. An underappreciated factor in the increasing rate of road deaths among people other than vehicle occupants is the growing popularity of light trucks, mainly pickup trucks and SUVs. Because of their higher suspensions, heavier weights, and more vertical grilles, light trucks are more likely to kill a struck pedestrian as compared to cars and minivans. And some of these same design features also make pedestrians and cyclists harder to see from behind the wheel of a light truck, increasing the likelihood of a collision in the first place. As the number and size of SUVs and pickups have grown, the increase in pedestrian deaths has rapidly outrun the growth in total miles driven. Federal vehicle safety regulations presently do not take the safety of people outside vehicles into account, focusing only on protecting a vehicle’s occupants in the event of a crash.

The recent rise in deaths among pedestrians and cyclists highlights the degree to which the entire transportation system, deliberately or not, pays more attention to vehicles than to the people who use them or share street space with them. Part of the problem is a culture within state transportation agencies of prioritizing the movement of vehicles over the movement of people, even in places with a high density of destinations where many people are on foot (or bikes, or skateboards, or other non-motorized means of transport). Keeping vehicular traffic flowing between places is the purpose of highways, but local streets should primarily be about allowing people—mostly on foot—to circulate within a place, accessing a variety of individual destinations in one central location. Every driver, after all, becomes a pedestrian once they step out of their vehicle in the vicinity of their final destination. By designing local streets as if the primary goal is to maximize the volume of vehicles passing through a place rather than optimizing access to the destinations within that place, transportation professionals are prizing mobility over accessibility and forgetting what streets are ultimately for.

Vehicle design and safety standards may be the province of federal regulators and automobile manufacturers, but street and roadway design are under the control of state and local governments. While the federal government plays catch up in addressing the dangers posed to pedestrians and cyclists by the increasing size and prevalence of light trucks, there are things that New Jersey and its counties and towns can do in the meantime to reduce the likelihood and severity of vehicle-pedestrian crashes. Local officials, engineers, and transportation planners must start designing streets to convey the message that streets are places where people come first, and vehicles are secondary. Features like sidewalks, crosswalks, median strips, pedestrian-only traffic-signal phases, shade trees, and street furniture (benches, street lights, trash cans, bike racks, etc.) help make pedestrians and other non-motorized users feel safe and comfortable. Meanwhile, certain characteristics of the street itself, like narrow lanes, two-way traffic, and on-street parking, can serve to keep vehicle speeds down by encouraging greater driver caution, reducing the likelihood of serious injury in the event of a collision.

Here are some broad steps that state, county, and local governments can take to help make non-motorized travel safer:

  • Incentivize transportation planners and engineers to use the National Association of City Transportation Officials’ (NACTO) Urban Street Design Guide in town centers and other areas with good local street grids, where internal circulation is more important than through traffic.
  • Encourage local transportation planners to consult New Jersey Transit’s recently updated Transit Friendly Planning: A Guide for New Jersey Communities when making investments in streetscapes and urban open spaces. The guide contains a variety of design techniques that can be used to create more pedestrian-friendly streets. And while the guide is geared specifically toward improving the pedestrian environment around transit stations, its design principles are applicable to any mixed-use downtown, whether or not a transit station is present. “Transit-oriented development” is ultimately about pedestrian-oriented development, since everyone is a pedestrian once they step off the bus, train, or subway.

If New Jersey is serious about reducing its carbon footprint to help mitigate the effects of climate change, a key part of the strategy should be finding ways to enable people to drive less. And encouraging people to drive less means making sure that alternatives to driving are convenient and safe. Prioritizing non-motorized users when designing local streets can help us cut our greenhouse gas emissions while saving lives in the process.

New Resources to Drive New Jersey Toward Green Street Implementation

January 19th, 2022 by Guest Author

By Maureen Krudner, US EPA Region 2

Roadways throughout the nation are a significant source of pollution to local streams, rivers, and lakes.  Stormwater runoff controls are essential for preventing pollutants from washing off roads and reducing local flooding. Converting traditional streets to green streets can mitigate these issues. If you would like to know how your community can begin implementing a green streets project, Jersey Water Works (JWW) has two new publications that can help you along.

Use JWW’s new resources to learn more about how to plan and fund green infrastructure, like this rain garden in Sea Girt, NJ, in your community. Source: Mark C. Olsen

 

A green street is a stormwater management approach that incorporates vegetation and engineered systems to slow, filter, and cleanse stormwater runoff from impervious surfaces. Streets comprise a significant percentage of publicly owned land in most communities, offering a unique opportunity to incorporate green infrastructure to improve water quality and community health. Green streets can remove pollutants, replenish groundwater supplies, absorb carbon, improve air quality and neighborhood aesthetics, and provide green connections between parks and open space. They can also improve pedestrian and bicycle safety and calm traffic.

In Sept. 2021, JWW published Planning for Green Streets and Funding Green Streets in the Resources section of its website. These are exciting new resources for green streets implementation. 

Volunteers maintain a green street in Haddonfield, NJ. Source: Julie Beddingfield.

  • Planning for Green Streets outlines the steps needed to get started. The first step is to make sure that green streets are connected to your community’s goals. Effective ways to do this may include adopting a Resolution of Support, developing a Green Streets Policy, and updating local codes. Various agencies need to be included, and things like maintenance and funding need to be considered during the planning process. Educating the public is also important and includes correcting many of the common misconceptions about green infrastructure.
  • Funding Green Streets walks you through the several possible funding sources to cover the costs of  planning, designing, and installing green streets projects. Over 15 possible funding sources are identified alongside the types of projects that may be eligible. Links to resources for creating a stormwater utility are also included.

If you would like to see how other New Jersey communities have successfully implemented green street projects in their communities, Camden, Hoboken, and Highland Park are featured in the New Jersey Green Streets Case Studies. Additional information on completed green streets projects in New Jersey can be found in the Green Streets in New Jersey Portfolio on the JWW website.

The JWW Green Infrastructure Committee, the Green Infrastructure Champions, and EPA Region 2 partnered to develop these documents. EPA continues to support JWW in its efforts to promote the implementation of green infrastructure throughout New Jersey. If you would like to get involved in JWW, sign up to become a member

Environmental Justice and Warehouse Sprawl

December 7th, 2021 by Tim Evans

Earlier this year, New Jersey Future released a report about the growth of warehousing in New Jersey, and that growth pressure has only grown more intense in the intervening months. The report focused mainly on the use—and in many cases, the re-use—of land for warehouse development and its impact on host communities in terms of land consumption. The report mentioned, but did not explore in as much detail, the other major negative impact of warehouses: truck traffic. This is a particular concern for areas near the port, where residents have historically experienced a variety of environmental stressors, the legacy of New Jersey’s industrial past.

The desire to prevent truck traffic is a major factor contributing to neighboring residents’ objections to warehouse development, no matter where that development happens. Warehouses attract trucks, and the bigger the warehouse facility, the more or bigger the trucks that drop off or pick up shipments there. In outlying areas near the highway interchanges that are attractive to industrial developers, it is often the case that the local roads were not designed to handle the size and volume of trucks that large distribution facilities will attract. 

In neighborhoods in the urban core that are closer to the port itself—and which are therefore even more attractive to the goods movement industry—the problem is more insidious. Here, on top of their contribution to congested roads, the air and noise pollution from trucks is just one of a myriad of environmental hazards that these communities have historically faced, based on past decisions about the siting of various noxious land uses. If port-dependent warehouse facilities are best located near the port itself from a logistical standpoint, how does one guard against further burdening adjacent neighborhoods with additional negative environmental impacts? 

The recently passed environmental justice bill (S232) may seem a logical place to look for a solution. But, the law only explicitly targets eight specific land-use types (like incinerators, power plants, or waste-processing facilities) that can be thought of as point-source polluters. In these cases, the function of the site itself produces or emits environmental stressors that degrade air or water quality in the surrounding area. The law was designed to prevent the siting of such facilities in areas that have been historically—and disproportionately— burdened by environmental hazards.

Photo Credit: Canva

Warehouses are not point-source polluters themselves; that is, the on-site functions of storing and sorting merchandise do not inherently generate pollution to the point that they warrant regulatory oversight. Instead, warehouses attract a steady stream of mobile sources of pollution (i.e., trucks). As such, the environmental justice law does not directly apply to warehouses.

The Murphy administration has made environmental justice a priority, pledging to end the siting of environmental hazards in neighborhoods where low-income people and/or people of color live—and especially neighborhoods that are characterized by the presence of both low-income households and people of color. The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) has created and now maintains a list of overburdened communities and is charged with ensuring that state agency actions do not result in the siting of additional noxious land uses in these neighborhoods. If the NJDEP lacks direct authority to regulate warehouses from an air-quality perspective, how else might the State bring environmental justice considerations to bear in decisions about where to site warehouses?

One promising avenue is the involvement of the State Planning Commission (SPC). New Jersey Future has already advocated for having the SPC and its staff at the Office of Planning Advocacy prepare a statewide warehousing plan, which would be tasked with identifying appropriate sites for large warehouse developments based on multiple considerations, including the effects on host communities. In addition to the reasons cited in our earlier comments, involving the SPC could be a means by which to introduce environmental justice considerations into siting decisions. A warehouse development plan could, for example, examine the truck travel routes that are and should be taken to minimize harm to communities. It could explicitly include among its criteria the likely effects of warehouse development on overburdened communities in a way that the NJDEP is not presently empowered to do.

The State’s push toward vehicle electrification is another leverage point. The administration’s blueprint for cutting back the state’s carbon footprint, the Global Warming Response Act 80×50 Report, has placed a strong emphasis on vehicle electrification. Trucks are unavoidable in the goods movement industry, and if warehousing continues to locate near the port, trucks will remain a fixture on the adjacent highway network. But, they don’t have to be mobile sources of air pollution. To this end, the various state agency programs aimed at electrifying the vehicle fleet should place a priority on heavy trucks rather than on constructing charging stations for private electric vehicles in upscale suburban neighborhoods.

Environmental Justice communities have been confronting the negative impacts of freight movement for years, and organizations aligned with these interests have been elevating this issue and championing solutions for more than a decade. With the addition of statewide warehouse sprawl to the freight movement and warehousing discussion, a new set of land-use, community, and economic issues have been brought to the foreground. It is important to link the issue of warehouse sprawl with environmental justice issues to develop solutions that are good for communities, the environment, and the economy and to do so in a way that corrects past—and ongoing—injustices.   

A short list of old and new recommendations:

  • Elevate medium- and heavy-duty vehicles to the top of the priority list for vehicle electrification and deploy them first in overburdened communities. New Jersey should continue to pursue its own version of California’s Advanced Clean Trucks rule and should also continue its existing incentive programs to encourage and assist businesses and institutions in acquiring zero-emissions trucks.
  • Prioritize the electrification of the port itself, including on-site equipment and yard tractors, in addition to the over-the-road trucks that pick up or deposit freight there. The recent introduction of the first batch of electric yard goats is a first step in this direction.
  • Assign to the SPC and its staff at the Office of Planning Advocacy the task of developing a statewide warehousing plan, the purpose of which is to identify the most appropriate sites for future warehouse development. The plan would establish criteria for identifying these sites, and these criteria should include the likely effects of emissions from heavy trucks on host communities. The SPC should recommend against siting new warehouse developments in environmental justice communities if they are projected to worsen air quality there, using criteria similar to those outlined in S232 regarding the NJDEP’s authority to deny permits to point-source facilities.

From Planning With Purpose to Action for All Ages

December 2nd, 2021 by Tanya Rohrbach

Older adults in the U.S. are projected to outnumber children for the first time in U.S. history. By 2030, all of the baby boom generation will be older than 65 years old, and the baby boom generation is the second largest adult generation behind the millennial generation. With 30% of New Jersey’s population over the age of 55, it’s time to design our communities for all ages.

Just as the urban planning and design sectors—which are white-dominated— are having to confront the effects of whiteness on creating disparities and normalizing exclusionary practices, there’s a growing recognition that community design reflects a history of age bias. The idea of age-friendly cities has its origins in a 1991 United Nations resolution that encouraged national governments to incorporate the principles of aging with independence, participation, care, self-fulfilment, and dignity into their programs. The World Health Organization (WHO) then set forth to develop a policy framework to encourage more prevalent and specific actions at the national, regional, and local levels, and in 2007 developed a global guide to age-friendly cities with a framework outlining eight interconnected domains of urban life that affect the well-being and participation of people as they age into older adulthood. A major focus of the framework involves creating the urban environments necessary for older community members to achieve autonomy, participation, and physical and mental wellness.1

In the U.S., states and local communities around the country are actively incorporating the WHO age-friendly framework into their messaging, policies, plans, and projects. Through the AARP Network of Age-Friendly States and Communities, which has developed the framework into a program advocating for livability, a collection of initiatives are connecting with each other to advance their own programs. In partnership with the NJ AARP chapter and other organizations, New Jersey Future (NJF) is part of a collaborative effort to advance age-friendly state policy and local implementation, and with funding support from The Henry and Marilyn Taub Foundation, the Community Foundation of South Jersey, and the Grotta Fund for Senior Care, we’ve been able to conduct NJ-specific age-friendly research, develop a NJ-specific community guide, and work directly with communities to facilitate their local initiatives.

Photo credit: Tanya Rohrbach

 

We’re excited to kick off our most recent community initiative facilitation with Livingston Township (Essex County). As champion advocates for older adults in the community, staff of the Senior, Youth & Leisure Services Department recognized the need for the municipality to coordinate its decision-making across leadership, departments, boards, and committees to meet the needs of  older adults in the community. The eight domains of urban life outlined in

the age-friendly framework intersect throughout the physical and social components of community life, so meeting the needs of older adults extends beyond providing additional programming or services and into community-wide facets of housing, transportation, pedestrian mobility, and other areas concerning infrastructure and land use. As members of the Livingston age-friendly initiative steering committee recognized immediately through their brainstorming activities, making a community more livable for older populations makes it better for everyone. Livingston was able to dedicate resources to an age-friendly initiative through a grant from the Grotta Fund for Senior Care and will continue to advance its program with an intentional effort to make it community-driven and inclusive. It will apply for membership in the AARP network and develop an age-friendly action plan that will guide an ongoing effort to integrate livability into municipal policy and practice based on community need and participation. The Township will continue its age-friendly initiative as a community partner in the North Jersey Age-Friendly Alliance, which is a network of age-friendly leaders dedicated to building collaboratives and advancing efforts “to improve physical environments, increase housing options, promote transportation alternatives, strengthen social supports and foster intergenerational connections.”

Based on efforts to incorporate age-friendly planning into land use planning or vice versa, NJF has worked with several communities to develop age-friendly land use assessment plans that serve as planning tools for making substantive changes to municipal regulations and programs. We checked in with them to find out how they translated those plans into action.

Photo credit: Beth Abbott and Sue Ullrich

Ridgewood Village 

In 2020 the Village of Ridgewood installed new lighted crosswalk signage and improved the crosswalk markings and adjacent curbs at a busy crossing in accordance with recommendations in the Aging-Friendly Land-use Assessment for the Village of Ridgewood. Also in 2020, Ridgewood adopted Section 1 of their comprehensive master plan based on an extensive community-wide visioning process. The plan directly reflects the assessment report and input from older residents in the community. 

Ridgefield Park Village

The Village of Ridgefield Park is preparing a new master plan and updating zoning regulations, and a “key element of the plan preparation is the aging population of the village and the downtown of the village,” said Ken Ochab, the municipal planner preparing the plan. The Aging-Friendly Land-Use Assessment for the Village of Ridgefield Park “will be the nucleus from which the Master Plan will be prepared,” according to Ochab.

Pompton Lakes

As the Township of Pompton Lakes pursues actions to make the community more livable for all community members, it recognizes the importance of intentional inclusion of its older residents and is aiming to institute an age-friendly coordinator position in the municipality. This position will help to build capacity for an aging-friendly community collaborative in the town and will facilitate community-driven solutions in response to recommendations in the Aging-Friendly Land-Use Assessment for the Borough of Pompton Lakes. For example, Pompton Lakes will work to rehabilitate its civic/senior center, amend land use ordinances, and conduct a housing and transportation needs survey among older residents.


1https://www.who.int/publications/i/item/9789241513500

NJ Residents can Improve Flood Management, one Rain Garden at a Time

November 1st, 2021 by Andrew Tabas

Flooding is a critical issue at all scales. On individual properties, flooding can cause a range of problems, from the risk of pooled water freezing and becoming a slipping hazard to serious damage in basements and ground floors. At the regional level, low-lying areas are vulnerable to severe damage from stormwater that accumulates as it flows downhill. Last month, the remnants of Hurricane Ida reminded New Jersey residents of how impactful flooding can be. 

Water engineers tell us that individual community members can work together to solve this problem by building rain gardens. Rain gardens, a type of green infrastructure, are designed to soak up water during storms. On properties with rain gardens, this means less pooled water and more groundwater recharge. The more properties adopt this practice, the more pressure is relieved from the area’s municipal separate storm sewer system or combined sewer system, helping to reduce the extent of flooding downstream. 

I decided to build my own rain garden to apply what I have learned through my work on New Jersey Future’s Mainstreaming Green Infrastructure program. The process gave me a better understanding of green infrastructure and how it can bring both stormwater management and aesthetic benefits. 

Follow these steps to build a rain garden in your backyard, school, religious institution, municipal building, or other space! 

  1. Plan the rain garden. Start by identifying where you see stormwater collect during storms. Is there a downward-sloping driveway? Does rainwater collect in roof gutters? Use this information to choose the perfect location for the rain garden. 
  2. Make a design for your rain garden. The more stormwater the rain garden needs to treat, the larger it needs to be. Rutgers University’s Rain Garden Manual of New Jersey is a great resource for designing your rain garden. 
  3. Conduct a soil infiltration test to see how well water will drain from the proposed site. Chapter 2 of Rutgers University’s Rain Garden Manual of New Jersey has instructions for how to conduct the soil infiltration test. 
  4. Choose your plants. These should be native plants that can handle large volumes of water. 
  5. Implement your design. Remove grass and soil to the required depth. To make sure that the bottom of the rain garden follows the slope of your design, use a tape measure to keep track of the height at various places in the rain garden.

    Digging and measuring the depth of the rain garden.

  6. If the infiltration test indicated that the site drains slowly, add a layer of sandy soil to the site. This will increase the infiltration rate (the speed at which water soaks into the ground). 
  7. Add plants, leaving space between plants so that they can grow over time.
  8. Add a layer of mulch. The top of the mulch should still be below ground level on the surrounding lawn. See Chapter 3 of Rutgers University’s Rain Garden Manual of New Jersey for additional installation guidance. 
  9. Sustain your creation. Watering and weeding wil help your plants thrive.
  10. Conduct annual maintenance, including pruning and mulching. Chapter 4 of Rutgers University’s Rain Garden Manual of New Jersey has additional instructions on how to sustain a healthy rain garden.

Maintenance is critical to ensure that green infrastructure is effective. Watering the rain garden shortly after installation will help the plants establish themselves.


Building a rain garden taught me several valuable lessons about green infrastructure. First, leave plenty of time for digging and use hand protection. Removing the required amount of soil took several days of digging with shovels and pickaxes. Second, ask an expert to weigh in on your design. Chris Obropta and Liz Pyshnik at Rutgers University provided valuable insight during the design process. Third, use a tarp to keep stormwater from filling the rain garden during construction. Otherwise, the space will fill up like a bathtub and it will be difficult to continue construction. Fourth, choose native plants that can cope with both flooding and drought. Irises, New England asters, decorative grasses, and arrow arum fulfilled these goals for my rain garden in Pittsburgh, PA.

 

Before the rain garden was constructed (left), water would pool in the driveway. After construction (right), the water has a place to go during storms. The rain garden is typically dry within 24 hours of storms.


While rain gardens look great and prevent flooding, they can also save money! The Clean Stormwater and Flood Reduction Act, passed in 2019, permits NJ localities to create
stormwater utilities. Part of the design of a stormwater utility is that properties that construct green infrastructure become eligible for a discount. The rain garden that I built was in a neighborhood of Pittsburgh with a stormwater fee of $8/month. After the township inspected the rain garden, the monthly fee was reduced to $5.60/month, a savings of 30%. To learn more about strategies to incentivize green infrastructure, read this memo by the Jersey Water Works Green Infrastructure Committee. 

To get started building rain gardens in your town: 

  1. Build a rain garden in your backyard, school, religious institution, municipal building, or other space!
  2. Sign up for the Green Infrastructure Champions Program to learn new advocacy strategies. 
  3. Encourage your municipal leaders to update your town’s Stormwater Ordinance to require green infrastructure on development projects. 
  4. Visit the New Jersey Green Infrastructure Municipal Toolkit to learn more.

The completed rain garden.

 

You, too, can bring flood prevention, stormwater runoff quality treatment, and aesthetic improvements to your property by building a rain garden.  Special thanks to Gary Tabas, Debra Tabas, Dorothy Heinrich, Liz Pyshnik, and Chris Obropta for their help with this project.

New Jersey Future Welcomes Three New Trustees

October 13th, 2021 by Bailey Lawrence

New Jersey Future’s new trustees Tenisha Malcolm-Wint, Kendra Morris, and Maddy Urbish.

New Jersey Future’s Board of Trustees welcomed three new members:

Tenisha N. Malcolm, director of Cities Programs for The Nature Conservancy, develops strategies that foster nature-based solutions to address community issues statewide. Tenisha has over 10 years of experience in the non-profit sector developing community programs that bridge gaps in public health, public policy, and youth leadership. Her devotion to her personal mission of centering inclusivity and equity spreads beyond her local community, and her impact reaches service groups throughout national and international regions. “I am excited about the direction New Jersey Future is moving in—with a greater focus on equity and working to ensure that the voices of communities that have been unheard are now amplified. I hope to serve as a liaison between New Jersey Future and communities that have not often been brought to the table.”

Kendra F. Morris, director of business development for SUEZ North America, has 15 years of experience developing sustainable public infrastructure. Ms. Morris partners with municipal leaders to bring affordable and smart water solutions to communities and oversees new digital technology deployment, as well as commercial development activities for new water and wastewater contracts. She co-chairs the Jersey Water Works Water Workforce Subcommittee, where she collaborates with committee members to attract youth to the water industry through outreach programs and college partnerships. “My passion is to promote infrastructure investment that leads to sustainable, resilient communities. I am honored to join the leaders on the New Jersey Future Board and advance smart policy and development for the people of New Jersey.”

Maddy Urbish, Ørsted head of government affairs and policy for New Jersey, is responsible for working closely with New Jersey government and non-governmental agencies to build the wind industry in the Tri-State and Mid-Atlantic regions. Prior to joining Ørsted in March 2021, Maddy worked as a senior associate with River Crossing Strategy Group, where she represented clients in the energy sector. In 2018, Maddy served as policy advisor to Governor Phil Murphy, focusing on energy, the environment, and agriculture. “I’m incredibly excited to be working with New Jersey Future on its effort to put forward policy and practice recommendations that will meaningfully improve the lives of all New Jerseyans. It’s a thrill to be joining such an impressive board and talented group of staff and volunteers at New Jersey Future, and I greatly look forward to working with the whole team!”

 

Electric Yard Goats and Environmental Justice

October 13th, 2021 by Tim Evans

Electric yard goats. Photo credit:

“Electric Yard Goats” may sound like the name of a band (or a baseball team), but they actually represent an important step in New Jersey’s effort to adopt electric vehicles as a means of reducing the transportation sector’s carbon footprint. Furthermore, they can help steer the air-quality and health benefits of vehicle electrification toward communities that have historically suffered the most from pollution generated by gasoline- and diesel-powered vehicles and by the state’s many polluting land uses. (The transportation sector is responsible for 41% of New Jersey’s total greenhouse gas emissions as of 2019, according to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventory.)

What is a yard goat, exactly?

Generally, a yard goat is a drivable vehicle designed to move individual freight-hauling containers (truck trailers or rail freight cars) from place to place within the confines of a single property, like a factory, warehouse, or rail intermodal terminal. The vehicles are not powerful enough to haul freight over the highway or rail networks. Rather, they are designed strictly for on-site movement, from one part of the business’s “yard” to another.

In the railroad world, “yard goat” typically refers to a locomotive that operates on a property—not necessarily owned by a railroad—that moves rail cars internally (e.g., a warehouse that needs to move individual cars between loading docks and storage sidings, or a steel mill that uses its own rail cars to move raw materials and intermediate products from one part of the facility to another). 

In the trucking world, a yard goat—sometimes called a yard tractor or terminal tractor—is a small truck cab that is used to shuffle around trailers. Ports are major users of yard goats, which pull truck trailer chassis around the property in the process of transferring containers from one mode to another as they arrive from or depart onto the highway or rail network.

Electrifying the busiest port on the East Coast

This is where New Jersey’s new electric yard goats come in. A few months ago, 10 electric yard tractors made their debut at the Red Hook Container Terminal in Port Newark, kicking off a longer-term project to electrify all of the port’s diesel-powered vehicles. This is a significant undertaking, given the port’s environmental footprint and its outsized importance to the state’s economy.

The Port of New York and New Jersey is the second-busiest port in the country and the busiest on the East Coast. Thanks in no small part to the port, the goods movement industry is a pillar of New Jersey’s economy—employing roughly one out of every eight employed New Jersey residents—and is poised to keep growing. 

Thousands of shipping containers pass through the port every day, requiring an army of trucks and trains to move them into, out of, and within the port’s various facilities. The port also uses all kinds of on-site cranes to transfer containers from one vehicle to another. All of these machines that keep the containers moving emit a steady stream of pollutants and greenhouse gases into the air. The CO2 emissions are a more widespread problem, contributing to the greenhouse effect that threatens the whole planet. But the more traditional pollutants primarily impact the port’s host towns and their neighbors, many of which are home to large populations of lower-income households and communities of color that have historically been saddled with noxious land uses, like factories and power plants.

Cleaning up past injustices

The Murphy administration has made environmental justice a priority, pledging to end the siting of environmental hazards in neighborhoods where low-income people and/or people of color live—and especially neighborhoods that are characterized by the presence of both low-income households and people of color. The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection has created and now maintains a list of such overburdened communities and is charged with ensuring that state agency actions do not result in the siting of additional noxious land uses in these neighborhoods.

Just as importantly, environmental justice calls for prioritizing overburdened communities when focusing on cleaning up existing sources of pollution. The administration has so far demonstrated a commitment to doing so, as indicated, for example, by the strategies outlined in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) Strategic Funding Plan and the creation of the RGGI Climate Investments Dashboard to track progress in environmental justice communities.

The administration’s blueprint for cutting back the state’s carbon footprint, the Global Warming Response Act 80×50 Report, has placed a strong emphasis on vehicle electrification. New Jersey Future and other groups have pointed out that the state is unlikely to meet its greenhouse-gas reduction goals through vehicle electrification alone, and that we should also be focusing on strategies that reduce people’s need to drive in the first place. But to the extent that vehicle electrification is front and center in the State’s climate strategy, we have argued that the State should prioritize electrifying larger and dirtier vehicles (e.g., transit buses, trucks, and port equipment) in and around neighborhoods that currently suffer from the worst air quality, rather than focusing on building electric vehicle charging stations in upscale suburbs.

The new electric yard goats work toward that goal. The port’s largest facilities are on the New Jersey side of the river in Newark, Elizabeth, and Bayonne. All three of these cities contain many neighborhoods that have historically been on the receiving end of the state’s polluting land uses (all 204 block groups in the city of Newark qualify as overburdened communities, as do 80 of the 82 block groups in Elizabeth and 47 of 52 in Bayonne). The electrification of the port’s many on-site diesel-powered vehicles would thus directly benefit many environmental justice communities via a reduction in airborne pollutants that cause asthma and exacerbate other health problems. Deploying the first round of electric port vehicles represents a small but significant step in the direction of ensuring that the State’s efforts to reduce its future carbon footprint (and clean up other fossil-fuel emissions in the process) actually improve environmental conditions in the communities that have shouldered a disproportionate share of the burden from the state’s industrial past.

© New Jersey Future, 16 W. Lafayette St. • Trenton, NJ 08608 • Phone: 609-393-0008 • Fax: 609-360-8478

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