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.


  1. The problem is that you need to provide three things that the LIRR and Metro-North do poorly and NJT does exceptionally poorly (and other US transit agencies aren't even trying). First, good off-peak and weekend frequency - more so when the trips are short than when they are long; today, the off-peak frequency to Forest Hills and Kew Gardens is hourly. Second, fare and timetable integration with other transit options: this means having the LIRR and Metro-North charge subway fare within the city at all times of day, with free transfers to buses and the subway, and also orienting bus schedules to be timed to meet less frequent trains farther out of the city. And third, good service to microdestinations rather than just the macrodestination that's the CBD; the New York-area commuter rail lines aren't laid out in nice enough a way to create something like the multicore RER A, but there's still room for improvement within present infrastructure, for example having local New Haven Line trains make stops in the Bronx.

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    2. I definitely agree with that sentiment, which is what I found so interesting about NJT on the shore. It seemed to be a standard commuter line before Long Branch, and then you transfer to what feels like a more local light rail system. I think too often regional rail is seen as widely spaced stops in the periphery, which allow walkable development only around the stop, when there is so much more that could be done. For another example, express buses are local in the neighborhoods they serve, and then go express to the CBD. While this is a way to get people all over the neighborhood, and not just immediately next to the stop to take transit into the CBD, I'd like to see transit serve both functions: Local in the neighborhood AND a quick way to get to the CBD without going local through ALL neighborhoods along the way.

  2. Maybe it's because I grew up in Ventnor, New Jersey (next to Atlantic City), but I've thought a fair bit about oceanside urbanism. This phenomenon actually exists on both coasts. Look at the immediate coastal areas not only of Santa Monica and Venice, but of communities thought of as more suburban--Hermosta Beach, Manhattan beach, Redondo Beach. These were places that got Pacific Electric interurban rail service. They're walkable places characterized by attractive main streets, small lot housing, and a dense grid of both auto and pedestrian streets. Unfortunately in Los Angeles County, the more suburban towns mostly don't have high capacity transit. Maybe at some point it could be restored, most likely in the form of rapid buses.

  3. As someone who was born and raised in the area you reference, I witnessed firsthand the development of one of these coastal towns. I'll reserve my comments to Asbury Park. This city in particular has experienced an amazing comeback in recent years. It's hard to believe that just 10-15 years ago, parts of Cookman Avenue were deemed uninhabitable or simply not worth serious consideration from a developer's perspective. Back then Asbury Park was a city that was, and as documented in the beautiful film City by the Sea (2002), a place riddled with abandoned buildings and dilapidated infrastructure. Today, apart from its popular boardwalk attractions, the CBD harbors a plethora of thriving local businesses, with an emphasis on local. While Asbury is lightyears ahead of where it was ten years ago, there remains much to be desired. Part of the problem with a shore-town like Asbury Park is that, due to no fault of its own, NJTransit does not provide late-night service (the last northbound train passes through its station at no later than 12am). As a result, many businesses miss out on additional revenue while both visitors and local-area residents are deterred from travelling to the area. In the absence of a consistent and reliable train schedule, Asbury as will other neighboring shore-towns suffer from haphazard growth.