Smart Growth with Light Rail Transit, Jersey City NJ

MLK Drive station on the Hudson Bergen Light Rail Transit was a centerpiece of the MLK Drive Redevelopment Plan.  It brought vitality and resurgence to a neglected Jersey City neighborhood by promoting smart growth. 

Jersey City’s Decline and Resurgence

As New Jersey’s second largest city, Jersey City was an industrial center that thrived on cheap labor provided by new immigrants, and railroads that carried manufactured goods to other parts of the country.  But in the second half of the twentieth century, Jersey City’s economy began to decline as people moved to the suburbs and other modes of transportation replaced rail transit.  Things started to turn around in the 1980s and 1990s as the industrial waterfront began its transformation as a residential hub for residents from New York City.

Transit Oriented Smart Growth

Hudson-Bergen Light Rail (HBLR) system was a culmination of a long planning and construction process that started in the mid-1980s and involved public-private partnerships.  It grew from the recognition that much of the development in the 1980s and 1990s was on the Hudson River waterfront with very little attention given to the other communities.  HBLR sought to change that by bringing development to those communities.  It benefited from and helped shape the revitalization of other communities by promoting smart growth.  

Light rail in Jersey City
Light Rail in Jersey City NJ 1

Hudson Bergen Light Rail System

Hudson-Bergen Light Rail (HBLR) system began operating in April 2000 to connect Hudson Waterfront communities of Bayonne, Jersey City, Hoboken, Weehawken, Union City, West New York, and North Bergen to regional transit systems.  It consists of 24 stations along a track that stretches 17 miles.  HBLR was designed to promote smart growth strategy by reducing auto-ridership and by facilitating transit-oriented development. 

NJ Transit Project Team

NJ Transit awarded a Design/Build/Operate/Maintain contract to 21st Century Rail Corporation in 1996 for the development of HBLR system.  After many years of trying to obtain a piece of this work, we were successful to work as a fourth or fifth tier sub-consultant to an engineering firm that oversaw the development of station plans for two stations in Jersey City.  One of which was the MLK Drive Station. 

MLK Drive Station on Map
MLK Drive Station on the Redevelopment Plan

MLK Drive Station

The MLK Drive station is adjacent to the at-grade crossing on MLK Drive.  A major part of the project was about track alignment and signals. The station structures were based on standard designs which left very little in terms of building design.  Our role was to assist in the design of station platforms, egress pathways, station plaza and urban amenities to assure code compliance.  The idea was to make traveling by light rail a pleasurable and safe experience.  There was a separate project that integrated urban art into the station design.

MLK Drive Station
MLK Drive Station Plaza

Design challenges

As an architect with several other projects in the area, this assignment was particularly exciting because it offered an opportunity to integrate design at various levels from individual buildings to urban design and from community planning to transit oriented development.  It was a unique opportunity to work on a project that brought economic development and vitality to the much-neglected neighborhood of Jersey City.

• 1 Light Rail in Jersey City. By David Wilson from Oak Park, Illinois, USA – 20020525 23 HB Light Rail on Essex St., CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=69141944

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