Something as simple as painting a crosswalk or putting up a stop sign might not seem like it matters very much in the scheme of things. But Passaic City Mayor Hector Lora told NJTPA Board members the simple changes can make a significant impact, noting his city has gone two years without a fatality caused by a vehicle crash.
“It matters to the lives of those families and those children and individuals that by necessity have to be out there, not because they want to,” he said. “Some of us have the luxury of strolling through the streets and the sidewalks and riding our bikes because of recreation or fitness, but others, unless they’re on a bike, they can’t get to work.”
Lora highlighted the collaborations between public agencies during his featured presentation, “How Transportation & Redevelopment are Coming Together to Better Prepare Passaic for the Future,” at the July 10 Board meeting at the Great Falls Center in Paterson. The City of Passaic has benefited from several NJTPA-funded projects, and he thanked the Board for its support.
“The work you do is noble,” he said. “Noble not just because it can get recognized and printed and we give each other plaques and awards, but because real lives are impacted.”
In communities where vehicle ownership is low, safety measures that can be taken for granted elsewhere are critical. He said people expect there to be usable sidewalks and visible crosswalks for children to use to get to school safely.
“For me, as a mayor of an urban community that sometimes is the victims of unsafe conditions, it’s the difference between a mother with her baby carriage having to walk on the streets with traffic flying by or navigating her journey on a widened sidewalk,” he said.
Lora said all levels of government have worked with the city to make improvements.
“These collaborations have allowed our city to create visualizations, which help in getting the buy-in from our stakeholders and our community members when we can present these plans, especially for improvements to our streetscape designs,” he said. “We can incorporate and encourage various modes of transportation, expand public open space, and improve safety, mobility and visibility in order to continue to make Passaic a great place to live, work and visit.”
The City of Passaic was among seven municipalities that participated in the NJTPA’s 2022-23 Complete Streets Technical Assistance Program. The city developed a complete streets conceptual rendering. Lora said being able to show community members images of proposed changes is “much more powerful” than just talking about them.
As one of the most densely populated cities in the county, Lora said “it becomes extremely important to have access to public transportation.” Passaic’s population of about 70,000 across 3.2 square miles results in about 22,000 people per square mile. “Transportation projects often require acquiring land which can create opportunities to redevelop land in adjacent areas,” Lora said. “This efficient use of land can alleviate urban sprawl or uncontrolled expansion of urban areas and promote sustainable development.”
In 2020, Passaic acquired 4.4 acres of land, which was an abandoned rail line dividing the city’s Pulaski Park and Dundee Island. The NJTPA Board, in partnership with NJDOT, awarded the city a $1 million Transportation Alternatives grant to connect Pulaski Park to Dundee Island.
"Those railroad tracks needed to be removed because that was an ideal space to unite our riverfront park, which hadn’t had any investment in over 30 years and our Pulaski Park right by our Boys & Girls Club,” Lora said.
He said the area was so blighted, people said it would be an impossible project. But they were able to create a new riverfront county park that added amenities for children in the community.
The biggest collaboration with the NJTPA and Passaic County has been the Main Avenue Local Concept Development Study. The study focused on improving safety for all road users, traffic operations, transit access, and providing support for economic development along Main Avenue between Monroe Street and Gregory Avenue.
Transportation improvements such as speed bumps, stop signs, crosswalks, flashing signs and public transit options can help alleviate traffic congestion in and around redeveloped areas, according to Lora. Not only do these efforts improve the movement of people and goods, they enhance the livability of the area, making it more attractive for redevelopment, he added.
“When people feel safe on the roads, sidewalks, and public transportation, they are more likely to choose active modes of transportation, like walking and cycling,” Lora said. Improved transportation can act as a catalyst for attracting investment and redevelopment areas, businesses are more likely more like to expand within areas with efficient transportation systems. “I would much rather have red tape cut than yellow caution tape because a child was hit,” Lora said.
NJTPA Board Chair John W. Bartlett said as Lora was speaking, he was recalling the various state and federal grant programs that helped Passaic make the many improvements.
“I was struck in your remarks that every entity on this board had touched that in some way,” Bartlett, a Passaic County Commissioner said. “It really is the practical impact of what we do around this table.”
Highlights of the Mayor Lora's presentation are in this video. A recording of the July 10 meeting is available here.