Stand on any intersection in Hoboken and you'll spot four parking violations. Stand on a corner with Director of Transportation and Parking Ian Sacs, and you'll see at least eight.
But, with the passing of new state legislation, this may change.
A new bill that was passed by the New Jersey General Assembly gives municipalities the power to determine themselves the permissible parking distance from an intersection, a crosswalk or a stop sign. Until now state law determined that a car must be parked at least 25 feet from a crosswalk and at least 50 feet from a Stop sign. Under the new law municipalities determine how long that space should be.
For Hoboken that means Sacs gets to decide (with City Council's approval).
On a recent February afternoon, Sacs and I went out to measure how close a car can park to a crosswalk without hindering a driver's sight. On the corner of Bloomfield and Second Streets, we measured the so-called "sight distance triangle."
The experiment showed that—assuming motorists are traveling 15 miles an hour—cars could be parked between three and five feet closer to the crosswalk than the current 25 feet. And in many instances, that would provide sufficient room for the addition of another parking space.
But at every intersection there are two additional spots where the driver's view is not obstructed at all by parked cars—the two spaces on the far side of the intersection from the direction in which the driver is traveling. In those slots, pedestrians would walk behind vehicles parked in any new spots, so the distance between the parking spaces and parked cars could be reduced even more. In a town with 240 intersections, that could have significant impact.
As a delivery van pulled into one of these places for a couple of minutes—which is technically illegal, but isn't dangerous for pedestrians—Sacs thought of possible way to implement the new law.
"I just had an awesome idea!" Sacs said. What if one of those two places on every intersection could be designated to be a place where delivery services can temporarily park for short-term unloading?
Sacs has not introduced any policies to City Council yet, and said he will take time to see how other municipalities handle the new law.
The bill was passed in combination with another piece of legislation that now requires drivers to come to a complete stop when encountering a pedestrian at a crosswalk, rather than just yield.
Assemblyman Ruben Ramos Jr. (D), who represents Hoboken in the Assembly, sponsored the bill, which was proposed in 2008.
"This is good for Hoboken," Ramos said. He did not consult any engineers or parking experts while drafting this law. "I just used common sense," he said.
The only way to pass the bill about parking closer to a crosswalk, Ramos said, was to do it in combination with a bill that would promote pedestrian safety.
Several years ago, under a different administration, the city decided to spray paint white lines to represent a new distance, allowing cars to be parked closer to a crosswalk. The spray painted white stripes—although many Hobokenites, to this day, use them as a measure—have no legal meaning. (In other words: the white stripes will not prevent you from getting a parking ticket.)
The new law should eliminate any confusion about yellow and white paint, Ramos said.
Speed Limit and other technicalities
If cars will be allowed to park closer to a crosswalk, Sacs said, there should be some sort of compromise, adding that the speed limit in Hoboken does not have to be higher than 15 miles per hour.
"I'm a driver myself," Sacs said. "And rarely do I see my speed go above 15 miles an hour."
In a city like Hoboken, Sacs said, about 95 percent of the daily trips people take are by foot.
Although the maximum speed in all of Hoboken is 25 miles an hour, that does not mean cars drive that speed on all streets. The narrower the street, the slower drivers will go, Sacs explained. This is purely psychological, but when it comes to driving, Sacs said, there's a huge difference between perception and reality.
"The narrower the street," Sacs said, "the greater the perceived risk of the driver."
He added that unscientific surveys on narrow as well as broader streets have proven this to be true. On Third Street a car will go between 10 and 15 miles an hour, Sacs said, while on Clinton, cars will average between 30 and 40 miles an hour. The speed limit is 25 miles per hour on both streets.
But, Sacs warned, if you drive at more than 20 miles per hour through a Hoboken intersection, and somebody is about to cross the street, "you're dramatically increasing the chance of killing that person."
The matter of parking would be easy, if there were no math involved. But there is. The faster a driver goes, the more time and space it takes to come to a complete stop. At a rate of 25 miles per hour it takes a car 155 feet to come to a complete stop. At a speed of 30—which many drivers will be going on the broader Hoboken streets, Sacs said—it takes 200 feet to come to stop. This means that a driver needs to see somebody crossing the streets from a distance of 200 feet. And that's where the parking problem comes in. If there's a vehicle parked too close to the crosswalk, it will obstruct the driver's view, increasing the chance of running over a pedestrian who is about to cross the street.