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InTransition Magazine : Transportation Planning, Practice & Progress

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Research News at NJIT

NJIT Leads Transit-Oriented Development Studies for Northern N.J. Cities

The College of Architecture and Design at NJIT is conducting two transit-oriented development (TOD) research studies in northern New Jersey. One is an $80,000 study for the City of Plainfield funded through the state’s Urban Enterprise Zone Program, and the other is a $20,000 study for the City of Newark focusing on development related to Bus Rapid Transit (BRT). Both projects started earlier this year and will issue final reports in the fall after extensive analysis and community outreach. Darius Sollohub, director of the Infrastructure Planning Program and an associate professor in the College of Architecture and Design, is the principal investigator for both projects.

The Plainfield project seeks to advise the city government on development strategies near its train stations in anticipation of expanded and improved rail service. Plainfield currently hosts two rail stations on NJ Transit’s Raritan Valley Line which are expected to experience increased usage with the completion of a second tunnel beneath the Hudson River, the Access to the Region’s Core (ARC) project. This project, now underway, will provide a faster, more convenient one-seat ride to Manhattan starting on or about 2017. The NJIT study will examine how Plainfield, with almost 48,000 residents, can take advantage of these changes. 

Professor Sollohub, who has had extensive experience with TODs along with multi-story garages, is working with two primary consultants: Martin Robins, the former (and founding) director of Rutgers University’s Voorhees Transportation Center; and Richard Polton, an economic advisor and head of the Value Research Group, LLC, based in Livingston, N.J. 

The Plainfield project is being conducted through a graduate design studio taught by Sollohub with Robins and Polton in the Master of Infrastructure Planning (MIP) program. This research-oriented studio is a time-tested form of community development at NJIT that comes with several advantages. First, it is an effective way of identifying a community’s vision. Students come to the problem well-informed by teachers and consultants, but without any economic affiliation and largely without preconception. Second, community members respond to students in a manner different than to professionals, and experience has shown that they give them leeway to think further “outside of the box.” Finally, with the aid of computers, students can illustrate a variety of solutions that can be reconstituted by a community to make it their own, as all work is non-proprietary. Therefore, there is never a single “take it or leave it” plan, only responsible and actionable alternatives that can be seamlessly inserted into master plans, ordinances and codes.

The design studio recently ran a community meeting attended by over 80 citizen stakeholders that was so popular and valuable that another was scheduled. Student teams were scheduled to present final alternatives to the Planning Board and Steering Committee this spring.

The Newark BRT project will develop station area planning alternatives for a node on the Springfield Avenue Go Bus at the Irvine Turner Boulevard intersection to foster TOD that meets a broad range of smart growth and urban sustainability goals, including higher density, mixed-use and inclusionary development. These developments will also be transit, bike and pedestrian friendly, and meet environmentally sustainable criteria for both building and urban design. 

NJIT’s College of Architecture and Design is working in conjunction with Newark Division of Planning and Community Development and NJ Transit on this project. Although it will not directly benefit from a design studio’s integration, the study builds upon a prior Newark Alliance-funded effort that integrated four studios at the College and at the Rutgers Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy. The final report of that effort, “Newark Bus Rapid Transit: A Community Plan,” was issued in the fall of 2009 and serves as a conceptual foundation for the current study.

Also benefitting from community outreach, the NJIT team will propose improved streetscapes, better pedestrian and bicycle amenities and BRT-specific station design proposals. In addition, the team will examine other mixed-use and mixed-income development opportunities with specific emphasis on seeking LEED and LEED-ND certification. Working closely with city engineers, other goals of the effort will be to recommend roadway improvements to rationalize traffic and facilitate bus access, assess economic development opportunities, and propose enforcement and governance strategies centered on BRT development. These would propose traffic enforcement strategies to maintain and enhance bus flow as well as local business funding for station maintenance and policing.

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