Urbanists Should Pay More Attention To The Jersey Shore

No really.

Well, I'm sure my experience of the Jersey Shore is somewhat unique. I have a friend who has family in Bradley Beach, so when I think of the Jersey shore, I think specifically of the range from Asbury Park down to Belmar, and not of Snookieland. Through a series of particularities in their development, these towns might lead to a future development path for suburban areas.

All of these towns were developed and incorporated in the late 19th century, which partially explains why the form of the area east of Main Street are very compact grids, and in some areas the architecture is more Victorian. These are also of course vacation oriented beach towns, which should lend itself more towards a compact form since there's an amenity everyone wants to  be close to (I'd love to see a study that actually explains this, it does seem to be true anecdotally!)

Throw in an NJT train with closely spaced stops, and you have an urban area that's urban for every reason except proximity to the city. I think this sort of development is cool because it stands in stark contrast to more traditional transit oriented development. Instead of looking at the suburbs and trying to retrofit a series of centers around train stops, this is more of an urban sprawl similar to what one would find in the inner city.

Because it's a beach town, cycling is of course a major mode of transportation. This definitely helps poorer residents further inland, who benefit from a more bike friendly culture and safety in numbers as a result of living close to the beach and don't have to waste money having a car.

Inner ring suburbs could particularly benefit from this sort of development, since they share the age and bones of this portion of the Jersey Shore. It's more natural to have infill development in the suburbs to have a more uniform nature, rather than concentrations near stations interspersed among more open space. Tracts of these medium density developments would be amazing places for bike culture to flourish, and would help with its current image problem of being a toy for coastal yuppie elites.

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Express Buses and SBS: An Easy Win

Noah Kazis reported on Streetsblog yesterday the reaction of the New York City council at a transportation conference to select bus service: They want more of it!

Vacca's comment was one of the more telling of the councilmembers quoted:

Vacca also called for additional efforts to speed express buses. “They get stuck in the same traffic as everybody else,” he said, leading riders to turn to their cars. “That’s exactly what we want to avoid.”

Having grown up in Vacca's district, I not only get the sentiment of this comment, but have a deeper understanding of the transportation decisions people living in these areas actually go through, and see more in this comment and its general sentiment that would (in my opinion) be dismissed too quickly as a "windshield perspective" by a blog like Streetsblog.

I agree our elected officials can do way more for public transportation in our city instead of focusing on parking issues or other ways to make it easier to drive. But it helps to understand where outer borough dwellers are coming from. If you're in the outer areas of the outer boroughs, you live at the intersection of car culture and mass transit culture, and individual people can make the choice to orient themselves either way. I would further argue that choosing auto orientation is a more insular option, which is why it lends itself to the perspective that everyone in your neighborhood drives, and is the true basis for a windshield perspective.

Unless a politician is positioning him or herself as a transportation visionary, it's easy to get caught up in viewing your outer borough neighborhood as an island from which you drive to the suburbs for most of your needs, and see a populist tinge in what you see as Manhattan-centric policies to make it harder for you to drive downtown, especially when they're not paired equally with transit benefits that your constituents will see.

Vacca's comment shows that the windshield perspective isn't an ideological, stodgy, or blind perspective. It's simply one brought on by the climate one is in. In the right climate, outer borough politicians can be pro-transit. While there have been amazing strides made in transportation infrastructure under the Bloomberg administration, a lot of these strides were achieved in such a way as to alienate the people on this fringe. This alienation actually drives people in these areas to become more entrenched in car culture.

The fact that Vacca mentions express buses in his comment-- something most people living in Manhattan and the gentrified outer boroughs have probably never even heard of-- shows an easy win for sustainable transit policy makers. Select bus service is amazing, but so far has been positioned as improvements on existing local bus routes. Directing these sorts of changes towards express bus routes shows that the city's policy makers are specifically targeting these marginal individuals who would otherwise be nudged towards an auto-oriented existence.

I believe that targeting these marginal individuals is the key to New York City's transportation future. The transit oriented future of New York does not rely on making it easier for people living within the downtown core to stick with alternative modes of transportation. They already have the infrastructure available, and the car free culture to live off of. The future lies in the marginal users. Only by giving marginal individuals an easier alternative to car culture will we be able to begin to affect the greatest amount of change. Urban living isn't something that has to remain insular from the rest of the country; it is something that can be spread very easily.

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