In the comedy Blazing Saddles, the citizens of tiny Rock Ridge built a replica of their village as a ruse to confuse a posse of criminals sworn to destroy the town. They forgot one detail: people.
NJ Transit went them one dumber. When they opened the $450 million Frank R. Lautenberg rail station in Secaucus, N.J. in 2003, they also forgot a detail: parking. The massive facility, designed primarily to facilitate transfers between NJ Transit's Main, Bergen County and Pascack Valley lines and its Northeast Corridor, Morris & Essex and North Jersey Coast lines, is a chip shot from the New Jersey Turnpike. However, planners made no provisions to allow commuters to drive to the station and leave their cars, so they could take a short hop to New York's Penn Station, even though the turnpike built an exit ramp.
In an editorial today, The New York Times said the decision: "has left everyone inclined to use it scratching their heads in bewilderment." I agree. While the Lautenberg station is a beautiful facility and it has created all sorts of new travel options for NJ Transit's regional rail customers, it comes nowhere close to its potential.
According to the Times editorial, NJ Transit officials said they feared offering parking would add to the area's congestion. Guess what! The congestion is already there. The only difference the cars are heading toward the Lincoln Tunnel and Manhattan instead of parking in the New Jersey Meadows, where they could become NJ Transit customers.
By NJ Transit's logic, maybe the Lautenberg station shouldn't have been built in the first place. Afterall, aren't trains bound for Dover, Trenton and Long Branch crowded enough without having to be crammed with additional riders headed to Patterson, Ridgewood and Spring Valley? Why not make those passengers continue using Hoboken Terminal?
The Lautenberg fiasco demonstrates the need for creative thinking among transit planners. They designed a lavish facility paid for with tax dollars but didn't bother to figure out how they would maximize the return on that investment. A parking garage and commercial real estate development could have helped NJ Transit leverage their investment. On the other hand, it might have resulted in even more crowding, pressuring NJ Transit to increase capacity, something difficult to do in the near-term owing to limited capacity in the Hudson River tunnels.
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