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Monday, July 6, 2009

One 'Queen City' to another: New Rochelle's lesson for Plainfield

Plainfield and New Rochelle, NY, have many similarities besides both being known as 'the Queen City', and New Rochelle has recently done something that Plainfield may want to consider doing.

Transit-oriented development (TOD) is becoming the buzzword for both as these leafy suburbs with urban issues face the opportunities being brought by the rejuvenation of towns along rail lines (though Plainfield's, at present, is more promise than reality).

Situated along the New York-Boston leg of Amtrak and bisected by I-95, New Rochelle shares the moniker 'Queen City' with Plainfield, though its waterfront is perhaps a tad more upscale than Plainfield's -- at least for now.

Settled in the 1680s by Huguenots, French Protestants whose home base was the French city of La Rochelle, its early history parallels that of Plainfield, whose early settlers in the 1680s were Quakers and Seventh-Day Baptists, Protestant groups from England seeking more religious freedom in the New World.

What has New Rochelle done that Plainfield should take to heart?

It's requiring bike racks in new residential and mixed-use developments of ten or more units (read more on the town's blog-of-record Talk Of The Sound here).

Why should Plainfield consider this a good idea, one worth copying?

Well, it has to do with one of the contentious elements of TOD, transit-oriented development.

Developers love the idea that they can use TOD to subvert a community's zoning and planning directives concerning parking allocations for new development. Parking requirements restrict developers' ability to maximize their profits on projects.

As proposals in Plainfield over the past several years show, developers are more than willing to ask for relief from what have always been considered reasonable parking requirements for new residential units -- whether condo or rental.

The baloney offered to planning and zoning boards is that these new residents are all going to be walking to the train or bus, and no doubt walking for their milk, bread and newspapers too (if any of them are old enough to still get their news dead-tree style). In this rosy scenario, cars are an inconvenient reminder of our greedy, carbon-neglectful past, which will, like the state, wither away under the right conditions.

New Rochelle's City Council figures they need to give that withering away a little boost, so in June they passed an ordinance requiring that all future development -- residential AND mixed-use -- of ten units or more MUST include bike racks. After all, if people aren't going to drive gas-guzzlers, they're going to bike, right? Right!

It certainly wouldn't hurt for Plainfield's City Council to consider such a move and maybe even ask the Planning and Zoning Boards to look into the matter.

All in the name of freeing Plainfield from the grip of that most nasty, wasteful and selfish mode of transportation -- the private automobile.

And it would be heart-healthy, too!

-- Dan Damon

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Rob said...

Bike Racks at developments in Plainfield, excellent idea!! However, I really can't see anyone foolish enough to leave a $200-$500 bike at the downtown train station all day for over 10hrs and expecting to find it there at the end of the day. There should be bike lockers for rent at the train stations like in the other towns in New Jersey.

charlie said...

Dan, this is an issue which is close to my heart. Bikes are a source of urban transformation as well as a means of urban transportation. Case in point is New York City, which is now encouraging use of bikes through bike lanes and rack installations. The result is a huge and growing increase in the number of people whose primary means of transport is their bikee. In Plainfield, all we really need is racks where people shop: Downtown, Park Ave/7th St., and South Avenue, especially by the Walgreen's and the Times Market, to name 3. In addition, Plainfield and Netherwood stations are ideally located for Plainfield and North Plainfield commuters who want to bike to the train, but both stations lack security. The solution is bike lockers for daily storage at a modest fee, but the nearest lockers are in Westfield. Let's hope our elected officials see the wisdom and cost-effectiveness of following New Rochelle's example.

Dan said...

Rob --

Or steal an idea from 'car' types and have a 'station' bike and a 'real' bike?