Photo by Reena Rose Sibayan / Jersey Journal.
North Bergen will receive around $1 million in grant funds to improve pedestrian safety along Bergenline Avenue through the state’s 2024 Safe Streets to Transit Program.
While details of the exact improvements have not been revealed, the program aims to incentivize public transportation and improve the experience of pedestrians who use mass transit. Based on past program implementations, this could be improving accessibility, eliminating hazardous conditions or completing streets.
The Safe Streets to Transit Program awarded $13.6 million in grants for 29 projects in 12 counties, the largest amount the initiative has ever allocated. North Bergen got $948,000, just under the highest payout of $1 million to four municipalities. The township is also the only recipient from Hudson County.
Since the Safe Streets to Transit Program started in 2019, Hudson County has received this grant for a project only once. Jersey City was awarded $400,000 for its Fairmount Avenue Safety Improvements project back in 2020.
Road Safety Is A Growing Issue
There were 26 traffic deaths in Hudson County last year, that is 40% more than the fatalities in 2022. Executive Director of Hudson County Complete Streets Emmanuelle Morgen told Slice of Culture said these fatalities are an epidemic and an increasing issue in the United States.
Morgen suggested various traffic calming strategies including daylighting, narrowing lanes, and bike lanes which North Bergen’s section of Bergenline Avenue has yet to have. While the township has not reported what changes will come to the street, Morgen expressed enthusiasm for the grant.
“Any and all grants for pedestrian safety are most welcome and much needed,” Morgen said.
The New Jersey Department of Transportation prioritizes proposals that benefit low-income and minority groups.
Impoverished people make up 12% of North Bergen’s population compared to 9.7% statewide, according to 2020 census data. In addition, Black and Hispanic people comprise around 73% of the township’s demographics with a majority Hispanic representation. Morgen said investing in transportaion is the best way to protect equal rights for transit riders of which 60% are people of color.
“Transit is a much more equitable way for people to be able to get to work, get around, get to where they need to go,” Morgen said. “Designing streets that prioritize automobiles is going to be burdensome and inequitable and unjust.”
In dense, urban areas like North Bergen, space is less of a commodity and require a shared space among pedestrians, drivers, bikers, and others. This grant should increase accessibility for all commuters, whether on foot or wheels, while encouraging mass transit.
With two miles of businesses and a train station right in the middle of Bergenline Avenue, this street sees every type of traveler. For an area such as this, Morgen said pedestrians and other vulnerable road users should be prioritized.
Bergenline Avenue Past Development
Walking to this station is where the problems lie. Last year, five people were killed on North Bergen’s streets including one incident on Bergenline Avenue that killed a 26-year-old North Bergen man. The driver told police he did not see the victim crossing the street before impact, and authorities suspected he may have been traveling above the speed limit. In the same year, a 65-year-old woman was left in critical condition after an alleged drunk driver struck her on the intersection between Bergenline Avenue and 92nd street. The North Bergen police department charged the driver with driving while intoxicated and an investigation is still ongoing.
Another incident just a month after the intersection collision began a spark for changes to the township’s roads. A 2021 gray Ford Explorer was traveling eastbound on 76th street when the car ran a stop sign near Hudson Avenue and hit a 11-year-old boy. The victim survived the impact but faced bodily injuries while the perpetrator sped away. Public outrage following this incident urged North Bergen to install speed tables in school areas that was reported to have finished at the end of last year. The project proposed more than 40 speed tables in addition to signage across the municipality.
Previous work was proposed on Bergenline Avenue’s Union City and West New York areas for roadway and sidewalk improvements. Union City is currently undergoing a project that repaves roads, installs more curb ramps, restripes traffic lines, and more. West New York just completed a revitalization initiative that replaced sidewalks and repaved streets from 56th to 49th.
Johan Andrade is president of Bike North Bergen, an organization that advocates for safer streets in North Bergen. He told Slice of Culture that it was great the township got the grant and appreciates them applying for it. He mentioned a recent change to Bergenline Avenue’s parking lines that was reconfigured from parallel parking to angled parking. This type of parking reduces visibility of pedestrians in addition to making it more difficult for parked cars to back out, he said.
“Bergenline is the heart of North Hudson and commerce where the majority of shoppers are people on foot but the design is not prioritizing them,” Andrade said.
Among the ways to make streets safer, Andrade suggested daylighting intersections, extending curbs and protecting crosswalks from illegal parking along with embracing Hudson County’s Vision Zero Safety Action Plan. Vision Zero is a strategy started in Sweden to eliminate all traffic fatalities and severe injuries by adopting a proactive, systematic approach. The county launched a Vision Zero task force in 2023 with the hopes of implementing a solid plan by end of 2024.
“It would be prudent for North Bergen to embrace the principles of Vision Zero as soon as possible to make their streets a safe place for everyone to use,” said Andrade.