By David Cruz
Around 270,000 people a weekday ride the Port Authority’s PATH system. That’s roughly the entire population of Jersey City. But as the city continues to grow, there is some concern that its success could lead to its undoing.
The Journal Squared residential tower is set to open this spring. It’s the first of what could be five of these in this neighborhood, bringing new life to the city center and putting a strain on the transit system.
On a typical weekday morning on the PATH Journal Square to midtown Manhattan line, commuters are so packed into trains that many have to wait for the next one.
“I’ll wait at rush hour. I’ll wait two and three trains to get on one,” said Lauren Lipsky of Jersey City. “You’ve got all the commuters coming in from New Jersey that are using the PATH, then you’ve got all of the buildings that are coming up around here, right? I mean the system can’t handle that many people, plus all the bus riders. It’s too much.”
But how much is really too much? Mayor Steve Fulop says that, along the PATH line alone, development has exploded with new residential towers in Journal Square and condos and hotels surrounding the Grove Street PATH station, many, ironically subsidized by transit-focused state grants.
“The numbers fluctuate based on the market; there’s probably around 9,000 to 10,000 under construction now and probably another 17,000 planned,” he said.
Fulop is no fan of the Port Authority and has expressed concern about the agency’s lack of motion when it comes to addressing the crisis that is fast approaching.
“They keep talking about adding different PATH nuances into their capital plan but eventually they’re going to have to take concrete steps because this is a vital artery for the entire region,” he added.
But while the 10-year capital plan, which has been the subject of a series of public hearings, includes more than $4 billion of PATH upgrades, none of it does anything to directly alleviate overcrowding. In fact, you could argue that the plans will put more people on trains but not get many more trains on the tracks. A long-discussed idea to add cars to PATH trains and extend platforms at several stations, including at Grove Street, is not in the current plan.
“Port Authority said that it’s just not necessary now and not going to be necessary until 2026, but that’s not taking into consideration all the development that’s been going on in Jersey City as well as the Harrison station and we can’t forget the Newark PATH extension that’s still being talked about it,” warned Janna Charnatz, director of New Jersey policy for the Tri-State Transportation Campaign.
The Port Authority didn’t make anyone available to talk to us for this story but their plan calls for continuing “open dialogue with representatives of local municipalities and the county to discuss the growing strain on PATH as a result of the growing ridership from the numerous developments in their towns.”
“I don’t think you can safely pass any more trains through here, unless they build an entire new track going to New York. That’s the only thing I can think of,” said Jersey City resident Rudy Stamp.
Jersey City resident Jacob Holder said the commute is getting harder to take. “You can’t breathe; you feel like you’re being harassed and pushed and you hope to God that people are going to get off at stops before you so you don’t have to battle your way out through the doors,” he said.
You won’t see that in the fancy ad campaign for the city, which continues to attract newcomers by the thousands, whether anyone is ready to accommodate them or not.