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NJPTA Update Blog

New Jersey Faces Difficult Recovery with Structural Changes, Economist Tells NJTPA

Posted: 1/13/2021 9:57:57 AM

New Jersey faces a long, slow recovery from the economic downturn brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, Rutgers University economist Dr. James W. Hughes said during a presentation at the January NJTPA Board meeting.

Like the rest of the nation, by the end of April 2020, New Jersey suffered the loss of all job gains realized over the past 10 years, he said. While the state’s economy started to recover in May, that recovery had begun to stall by the end of 2020. 

All the while, he said, life during the pandemic has accelerated structural changes throughout the economy, “added fuel to the fire” to economic disruptions. Among the changes:

  • The rapid adoption of remote work technologies is driving employers to consider a host of new work arrangements, including eliminating or reducing reliance on central offices.

  • The rapid expansion of e-commerce has led to growing failures of “brick and mortar” stores, which were already struggling to compete with online outlets.

  • Companies serving online customers are establishing new fulfillment centers close to population centers, changing land uses and adding delivery trucks to local streets.

  • As office towers in downtowns lose attractiveness, suburban work locations are benefiting, reversing recent trends.

  • While people who can work remotely are faring well, other workers—including many of the direct and indirect support staff for professionals—are suffering as part of a “k” shaped recovery that sees fortunes rising for some and falling for others.

The NJTPA will be considering these and other factors as it develops Plan 2050: Transportation, People, Opportunity, the region’s next long-range transportation plan.

Video of Hughes’ presentation, entitled “2021's Long Recovery Crawl—Coronavirus-Driven Disruptions and Upheavals Reshaping New Jersey,” can be viewed below:


Plan 2050 Background Paper Details NJTPA’s Commitment to Combat Climate Change

Posted: 1/8/2021 12:53:29 PM

Rising sea levels and more extreme weather patterns that increase flooding are among the climate change impacts of great concern to North Jersey communities. The NJTPA’s plans and programs can help avert and address those impacts, according to Climate Change and Transportation, a new background paper issued to inform the update of the long range transportation plan, Plan 2050: Transportation, People, Opportunity.

Annual precipitation in New Jersey is projected to increase 4 to 11 percent by 2050. Of particular concern, the paper says, is that the increase will come in the form of “more frequent, intense, and extreme rain events,” adding to the flooding in vulnerable communities along the region’s extensive coastline and waterways.

Along with broader disruptions to the economy, environment, quality of life and public heath, these impacts “create an urgent need” for the transportation sector to address climate change, the paper notes. Nationwide, transportation was the largest source of the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions feeding climate change in 2018 at 28 percent, followed by electricity generation (27 percent) and industry (22 percent). In New Jersey, transportation’s contribution is much higher, accounting for 42 percent of total GHG emissions.

The NJTPA has supported the State of New Jersey’s legislative, regulatory and policy initiatives for addressing climate change, which are summed up in the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s October 2020 Global Warming Response Act 80x50 Report.

The NJTPA’s plans and programs are also helping combat climate change effects by reducing GHG emissions and adapting infrastructure to be more resilient to flooding and other impacts. Among NJTPA contributions highlighted in the paper are:

  • Support for electrification of vehicles and the creation of vehicle charging systems, including a guidebook for communities to better accommodate electric vehicles.

  • Support for low-carbon transit and walking/biking options, and for Transit Oriented Development.

  • Oversight and modeling of air quality impacts of transportation investments, which target reducing pollutants whose emissions are tied to generation of GHGs

  • Studies to address the vulnerability of transporta­tion infrastructure to climate change, such as the 2019 Passaic River Basin Climate Resilience Planning Study.

  • Provision of grants under the federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) program that have been applied to electric vehicle infrastructure, diesel retrofits for vehicles and equipment, idle reduction technology, traffic signal optimization, Intelligent Transportation Systems and more.

  • Monitoring and analysis of regional progress including the updating of a regionwide GHG inventory slated for 2021.

These and other activities outlined in the paper represent the NJTPA’s commitment “to working with its partner agencies and the counties, cities and municipalities in the region to combat climate change and achieve sustainable transportation and a more sustainable environment.” These efforts will continue and be expanded under Plan 2050.

Happy Holidays—2021 NJTPA Meetings Calendar

Posted: 12/15/2020 3:37:15 PM

Download a copy of the calender here.


Symposium Highlights Transportation System Equity Challenges, Opportunities

Posted: 12/15/2020 12:15:30 PM

TPA Tuesdays logoLongstanding inequities in transportation systems and related investments will be challenging to overcome.  But doing so is critical to support more inclusive communities, better transportation access, improved health, and more economic and social opportunities for everyone, according to experts who spoke at the NJTPA’s December 8 symposium on Advancing Equitable Transportation Systems.

The virtual program was the second in a series of “TPA Tuesdays” events looking in-depth at critical issues and gathering input for Plan 2050: Transportation, People, Opportunity, the NJTPA’s next Long Range Transportation Plan, scheduled for adoption in fall 2021.

“This current health crisis will pass; however, the need for transportation will not and the realities of climate change mean the need for transportation resiliency and redundancy will only increase,” said Passaic County Freeholder John W. Bartlett, NJTPA First Vice Chair, in his opening remarks. “I’d suggest that as one of the nation’s largest MPOs—in one of the country’s most diverse regions—the NJTPA can lead by example by looking at race and equity issues not solely as obstacles, but also as opportunities.”

Keynote speaker Stephanie Gidigbi, CEO of North Star Strategies, highlighted the legacy of racism and exclusionary policies and presented opportunities for advancing equitable transportation systems and investments. Gidigbi worked in the Obama Administration in various positions, with involvement in such efforts as the Hurricane Sandy Taskforce and U.S. Department of Transportation’s Ladders of Opportunity community development program. She previously served as Chief of Staff for the City of Orange in New Jersey.

“The decisions and infrastructure investments that we made fully impacted communities for a generation,” she said, pointing to the construction of I-280 in Essex County as one example of systemic inequity.  “We consciously divided people based on race and class; that implication continues to affect communities until today.”

She said it will take a level of intentionality, and willingness to change the way things are done, to transform the system into a more equitable one.

Gidigbi challenged attendees to use “radical imagination” and be transparent in their work. While metropolitan planning organizations like the NJTPA must develop long-range plans, she said they must not forget about the people using the transportation systems today. “You can set a big vision, but also address the individual needs of residents, customers, riders, constituents as part of that discussion,” she said.  Gidigbi also stressed the importance of including people who often go unheard and unseen in the planning process.

She noted that as much as 80 percent of a person’s health outcomes are based on where they live rather than genetics, adding that climate change is exacerbating this issue. She also said that changes intended to benefit one group can have unintended benefits or consequences for others. One example of a benefit is the Americans with Disabilities Act, which was implemented to assist people with accessibility challenges. Yet improvements such as curb cuts and automatic doors also helped people pushing strollers or even rolling luggage. She asked attendees to think about ways to mitigate negative impacts and create more positive outcomes for everyone. “It’s a great way for us to reorient our minds,” she said.
Following her keynote, Gidigbi joined a panel discussion moderated by Byron Nicholas, Hudson County Supervising Transportation Planner, founder of Black + Urban and recently elected Vice Chair of the NJTPA’s Regional Transportation Advisory Committee. Other panelists were Donald Burns, Director of Planning and Program Development for the Federal Transit Administration’s Region 2 office; Flora Castillo, President of Pivot Strategies; and Jen Roberton, Senior Transportation Policy Advisor at the New York City Mayor’s Office of Sustainability.

The panel discussed the history of fixed-route transportation, such as bus lines, which were designed for another time and haven’t been adapted to meet current needs; the need for more flexibility with paratransit services and other programs designed to get people to critical services and other destinations; the connection transportation provides to job opportunities; and the need to consider the impacts of transportation infrastructure, such as the effects on air quality and noise pollution.

Castillo said the pandemic has elevated public transportation’s foundational role in getting people connected with opportunities and needed services and this must be considered in efforts to make the system more equitable.  She said transportation is a right that can provide access to opportunities without barriers. “We must look at the intersection of health and transportation and leverage the choice points that we have through the customer journey to reverse decades of cumulative and compounded effects of systemic racism that have disadvantaged communities of color,” she said.

Roberton said low-income populations and communities of color have been disproportionately impacted by poor air quality and climate change. Poor air quality leads to respiratory illnesses, which also put these populations at higher risk for contracting COVID-19, she said. She noted that same-sex couples have a higher rate of respiratory illnesses, climate change, and air pollution impacts compared to different-sex couples.  Roberton called for more investment in electrification, bicycle infrastructure, and alternative modes to reduce pollution and improve quality of life for these communities.

Gidigbi emphasized the need to shift from a transactional to transformative approach to transportation systems and investments, building upon the cultural assets of communities.  “Show how you can engage or do things differently and how you hope to have a different outcome,” she said. 

The third in the TPA Tuesdays symposium series is scheduled for January 26, 2021 at 9 a.m.; the focus will be on opportunity.  For more information visit the Plan 2050 website: www.NJTPA.org/Plan2050

Metropolitan Area Planning Forum Addresses Post-Pandemic Changes

Posted: 12/11/2020 9:46:23 AM

Planning for transportation in a “post-pandemic world” was the focus of presentations and discussions at the annual meeting of the Metropolitan Area Planning (MAP) Forum December 4.

NJTPA Executive Director Mary D. Ameen welcomed more than 200 participants to the virtual event, which included representatives of the 10 Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) from New Jersey, New York, Connecticut and Pennsylvania that compose the forum.  The group was formed to enhance planning activities across jurisdictional boundaries in the multi-state region. 

The first topic was the future of the office, presented by Oliver Schaper and Wendy Andrew-Doele of Gensler, one of the world’s largest architectural firms. The company has been active in assessing the effects of the pandemic on the commercial real estate market and surveying worker opinions. While up to 80 percent of people surveyed in four major cities want to return to offices in some form, over half favor a hybrid model that includes remote work for part of the week. People particularly miss the office as a “social connector,” Andrew-Doele said, adding “They want that sense of belonging and group.” She said that is particularly true for younger people, despite their reputation for being comfortable with interacting via technology.

Health has also emerged as a growing priority. Many of the firm’s clients are looking to adapt outdoor spaces for increased use and becoming more flexible regarding the configuration of indoor spaces.  Schaper said recovery from the pandemic was “a reset moment,” offering “the opportunity to rethink how we design our offices and also how we think about urban and transportation policy.”

The future of commuting was addressed by Kaan Ozbay, Director of the C2SMART Center at the Tandon School of Engineering at New York University. He recounted the drastic decline in travel in the first months of the pandemic and the shifts in the months since. An online survey found that people in New York have turned away from the subway in favor of alternative modes, with the use of CityBike almost doubling and the use of private autos up by 16 percent for commuting.

While many New Yorkers have those travel options, Ozbay noted, many don’t—particularly, the elderly, people with disabilities and low-income residents. He called for a focus on accessibility in guiding transportation programs to meet all residents’ needs and for “urban operators” to use data to identify problems and develop quick solutions. However, he cautioned that, with the current uncertainties, we shouldn’t be hasty in abandoning what worked in the past – such as the region’s transit system—if we want to be prepared for future emergencies. (The C2SMART Center has created a dashboard of transportation data and trends related to the impact of Covid-19 at c2smart.engineering.nyu.edu/covid-19-dashboard)

To address the need to adjust socioeconomic and demographic forecasts, Debra Nelson, Assistant Director of the New York Metropolitan Transportation Council (NYMTC), introduced Tina Lund of Urbanomics, a consultant to the Council. Lund said that the forecasts used in developing the NYMTC long-range plan would look to economic recovery from the pandemic occurring by 2030. This, she said, was based on the experience of other crises, such as recovery from the September 11 terrorist attacks, which took five years. A recent European study, looking back to events since 1894, found similar recoveries spanning five to 10 years.

Addressing goods movement issues, Anne Strauss-Wieder, Director of Freight Planning at the NJTPA, said that the freight sector has faced great challenges in supplying essential goods during the pandemic, particularly in changing operations to keep workers safe. By late summer, she said, container volumes at the port had rebounded to record levels. At the same time there has been a massive increase in e-commerce, including the new trend of in-store pick-ups. Walmart alone, she said, saw a 79 percent increase in e-commerce in the 3rd quarter.

This, she said, has accelerated trends already underway before the pandemic and exacerbated worker shortages. Companies seeking to move closer to customers, she said, have created a “red hot” industrial real estate market in the metro region.

The meeting also included presentations on the MAP Forum Resiliency Working Group by Meghan Sloan, Connecticut Metropolitan Council of Governments and Jennifer Fogliano, NJTPA; and on the development of long-range plans by Gerry Bogacz, NYMTC, and Lois Goldman, NJTPA, with comments by other member-MPOs on the status of their recently adopted plans.

A video recording of the meeting is available at www.youtube.com/watch?v=fZhIp_DPJEY
The presentations are available at https://njtpa.org/mapforum2020