By Ian Watson
In 1999, The New Jersey Department of Transportation unveiled the Transit Village Initiative which promotes the redevelopment of the areas surrounding train stations (within a half-mile) as pedestrian-friendly, mixed-use communities. The program’s function is to revitalize economies in these areas and to encourage bicycling and walking. Shops, businesses, and mass transit modules become much more accessible in these environments, and people are often less reliant on cars. There are thirty towns in total that are part of the Transit Village Initiative. Park Ridge and Irvington are the two most recent places to be added to the program.
The Transit Village Initiative’s task force meets six times a year and identifies areas with the potential to become part of the program. Member agencies such as the Department of Environmental Protection and Economic Development Authority come together to build up funding for eligible towns. Park Ridge and Irvington are both eligible to apply for $1 million annually to fund improvements to road and transit infrastructure. Another example of the program’s possibilities can be seen in Somerville. The town was declared a Transit Village in 2010 and was given $15 million in 2011 for train station reconstruction. More plans are being created for Somerville, including 117 new apartments on an abandoned junkyard and 93 apartments on the site of a destroyed commercial building not far from the station.
One notable issue that people encounter in Transit Villages and elsewhere in the state is the “first- and last-mile problem,” which arises when train commuters have to decide how to reach either home or work from the station. Often, driving is chosen, for various reasons – time, convenience, or habit – while bicycling and walking may not even be considered. Transit-oriented development helps address this imbalance by bringing both home and work places closer to the train station, and making walking and bicycling easier and more convenient. By reducing the time in between transfers, Transit Village projects have a higher chance of success.
While there are many challenges to overcome in Transit Village developments, the goal is to make commuting easier through transportation improvements. To minimize the first- and last-mile’s impact on commutes, funding is available for infrastructure that encourages bicycling and walking. Most Transit Villages encourage bicycle commuting by including bicycle parking at the train station. This benefits commuters who need to use the train for work or other reasons. When these options are unavailable, it is less desirable for travelers to take the train because of the time required to walk there. It is important to move away from automobile dependency in these areas and promote other forms of transportation.