NJ Transit plan may benefit Red Bank

Program would focus on improving area around train station

RED BANK — The train station is more than a place to pick up and drop off passengers.

If the borough and NJ Transit have their way, it will become a hub of activity and new development in town.

On Jan. 17, NJ Transit officials came to the borough to meet with borough officials, local businesses and community organizations to discuss ways to improve the quality of life in the area of the train station.

Red Bank is one of 11 towns selected to participate in NJ Transit’s Transit-Friendly Communities for New Jersey program, according to Gail O’Reilly, the borough’s coordinator of special projects.

The purpose of the project is to ascertain how improvements to the train station and the immediate vicinity can benefit those using mass transit and the greater community in the realm of business-and arts-related enterprises, O’Reilly said.

Specifically, O’Reilly said, the program is looking at the business area around the train station, which includes numerous antique shops, loosely labeled the "antique district"; the arts corridor along Monmouth Street, which incorporates a number of art galleries, as well as the Count Basie Theater; and the area of Shrewsbury Avenue, a patchwork of service and retail businesses, as well as residences.

To that end, two community outreach meetings were held last week to meet with community members to obtain their input.

"A lot of people want to do interesting things, and this is a way to bring them together," O’Reilly said.

The various groups that are working in conjunction with NJ Transit include the state’s Department of Community Affairs, New Jersey State Council on the Arts and the New Jersey Office of State Planning.

In addition to government organizations, other groups involved in the project include Downtown New Jersey, which is an advocacy group for downtown commercial districts in the state, and the nonprofit Project for Public Space.

"This is an out-of-the-box way for New Jersey Transit to talk about ways to integrate the train station into the community," said Vivian Baker, a principal planner for NJ Transit. "And that does not mean just getting more people to ride the train."

With increased ridership, area businesses, such as the restaurants, will benefit and possibly ease some of the burden placed on infrastructure demands, including the need for additional parking, Baker noted.

And there may be an opportunity for new business ventures, such as a concierge service at the train station to service commuters, Baker said.

"We see it as a way to address both sides of Maple Avenue," O’Reilly said.

"We’re new to this," said Tom Clark of NJ Transit. "But we’re property owners; we’re part of the community. We want to be good neighbors."

The program was created in response to the federal Highway Administration’s request for state and local government and planning organizations to create and implement plans to improve transportation efficiency. Another purpose was for communities to examine urban development and to give people better access to jobs, services and trade centers.

NJ Transit will spend $835,000 to help in its fact-finding mission to assist the communities chosen for the program.

Some of the funds are from the Highway Administration, and $25,000 was contributed by the state’s Department of Community Affairs, according to a NJ Transit press release.

The program was based on a competitive application, and 37 municipalities submitted applications.

Red Bank was one of 11 chosen to participate, according to O’Reilly.

Involvement in the program, however, does not translate into actual hard dollars for the borough, O’Reilly acknowledged. But with NJ Transit’s support, it will help bring technical assistance for the community outreach meetings and help bring together divergent interests, she said.

This spring the borough will be acquiring a jitney bus from NJ Transit. The purpose of the bus is to transport commuters and other residents to the train station in an attempt to lessen the demand for parking at the station. But on the off hours the bus can be used for other purposes, such as transporting guests to the Count Basie Theatre.

"If you do good planning, the money will come," O’Reilly said. "You can see how all these investments complement one another."

Councilman Robert J. Bifani said he sees these meetings as an example of NJ Transit not only talking the talk, but being willing to walk the walk.

Bifani referred to some of the recent renovations to the train station, as well as the continuing discussions for additional renovations.

"This is for real; [NJ Transit] is coming through," Bifani said.

Over the last two years, NJ Transit has been working in cooperation with the borough in doing some work at the train station.

NJ Transit has paid the borough approximately $1.4 million to do the work, which included some paving of the area, according to Bruce Loversidge, the borough’s chief financial officer.

NJ Transit also had been coordinating with the borough to obtain some funding that allowed the town to repave parts of Monmouth Street and Bridge Avenue, he said.

As examples of the partnership, O’Reilly pointed to the site work, as well as some of the historical renovations being proposed and the transit company’s assistance in getting a traffic light on the corner of Monmouth Street and Bridge Avenue.

"These are all examples of NJ Transit investing in the community," she said.

— John Burton