Project for Public Spaces and New Jersey Transit

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Press release:

New York, NY, May 29, 2009 - Project for Public Spaces congratulates the New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT) on receiving the prestigious Institute of Transportation Engineers' (ITE) Best Project Award for their work on Route 31 in Flemington, New Jersey.  The project illustrates the out-of-the-box thinking that every transportation agency needs to engage for reorienting transportation projects to more global outcomes.  If we can transform the way the transportation establishment views its mandate, as exemplified in the case of Route 31, we can rapidly and positively affect community building around the country.

Local and national leaders are realizing that status quo transportation and land use patterns are undesirable, environmentally damaging and fiscally beyond reach--in short, unsustainable.  This awareness has led to calls for a timely and reasonable government repositioning and response.  While many other states have given such transformations lip service, NJDOT was one of a handful of state DOTs who took action.   The Route 31 study was the catalyst for a organization-wide change that led to the institutionalization of these new concepts in a program called New Jersey FIT: Future in Transportation.  NJFIT embraces the idea that the ultimate goal of all planning, development, and community design should be to make places, communities and regions more prosperous, civilized and attractive for all people. 

The Route 31 Integrated Transportation and Land Use Plan was developed as a replacement for a two-decade study of a freeway bypass around the town of Flemington. NJDOT reacted to mounting evidence that highway capacity solutions to congestion only lead to auto dependent communities, more severe congestion and environmental consequences.  The DOT also recognized that the bypass was inconsistent with local communities' vision for maintaining their historical rural character.

In a move that is hailed as a 180-degree turn in the typical approach, NJDOT initiated a dialog with the surrounding community to determine how an alternate plan might better serve residents and future development.  The result was an integrated transportation and land use plan with mixed use walkable places based on a traditional grid network instead of new freeway capacity.  The communities self-directed much of the plan and almost universally rejected the suburban-style auto-oriented subdivisions and strip malls that had been destined for the area.  As a bonus to NJ taxpayers and NJDOT, the proper land use and creation of a local street grid network allowed the DOT to right size the new Route 31, thereby saving over $50 million of precious transportation trust funds.  

The planning process involved open dialog between community members, NJDOT and private developers.  "This project is a perfect example of how transportation planning should be approached," said Fred Kent.  "A bottom-up process that starts with the community will result in public spaces that provide access to all citizens."

PPS' transportation team, led by Gary Toth and Renee Espiau, were both leaders of the NJFIT program.  While at NJDOT and now PPS, Toth has been a sought-after resource on integrating transportation and land use, and has assisted DOTs around the country in adopting the concept.   Toth and Espiau, along with PPS's Phil Myrick, are instructors for the National Transit Institute's Transportation and Land Use Training Course and continue to work with forward-thinking communities through PPS' Building Community through Transportation program.

The Route 31 project is featured in Great Corridors, Great Communities: The Quiet Revolution in Transportation Planning, one of three new PPS publications published through a partnership with AARP.  The book includes a series of case studies that describes how planning transportation within the context of a larger corridor can benefit both mobility needs and community quality of life.The three-part series is a joint effort of PPS's "Building Community through Transportation" campaign and AARP's "Livable Communities" initiative, and is available through PPS's website

About Project for Public Spaces, Inc. - Project for Public Spaces is a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping people create and sustain public spaces that build stronger communities.  Founded in 1975, the PPS approach embraces the insights of William H Whyte, a pioneer in understanding the way people use public spaces.  Today PPS has become an internationally recognized center for best-practices, information and resources about Placemaking. Over the past 30+ years, PPS has worked in more than 2,500 communities in 26 countries around the world, helping people turn their public spaces and public markets into vital community places with programs, uses and people friendly settings that build local value and serve community needs.

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