NJ Transit and the disservice it does to South Jersey transportation

Last night at quarter to six, I was standing on the corner of 13th & Market in Philadelphia waiting for the 406 bus to take me to the Camden Supper Club event at Old San Juan on Marlton Pike. I tried to get there early to make sure I wouldn’t miss the bus, but after waiting for 10 minutes, the time that both the NJ Transit online trip planner and their paper schedule told me to expect the bus came and went. Suddenly I felt a feeling I hadn’t remembered until that moment. This had happened before, a few months back, waiting for the same bus. I was late to dinner that night, having to wait 25 minutes for the next bus to New Jersey. Knowing that would happen again, I instead walked to 8th & Market and have PATCO my money instead, getting picked up at City Hall by a friend.

No one will be surprised that an NJ Transit bus just wouldn’t show up. Negative connotations to the bus, especially in the suburbs, is nearly universal, for various real or imagined reasons. But really looking at NJ Transit’s bus operations in South Jersey, passing by through biases and generalizations, you get a sense of just how bad a job they do at providing transportation throughout the region. Admittedly it’s hard to provide efficient transportation in sprawling suburbia, which most of New Jersey is. But consistently providing horrible service, even during the evening rush hour, gives you insight into just how little NJ Transit planners in Newark care about us down here in South Jersey.

The bus that never comes.

The bus that never comes.

I’ve heard it said that they don’t want people to use busses more, or else they’d have to provide more service. As cynical as that sounds, I’m starting to believe it’s true.

To be clear, the people who work for NJ Transit that I’ve ever met were always nice and helpful.

Camden, Development

Despite the promise of job training, hurdles remain high for some Camden residents

Over the past few years, many critiques have been written about the effort to lure employers to the beleaguered city of Camden by way of millions of dollars in corporate tax breaks. Some articles have brought up the fact that some of that money is going to politically-connected entities such as Holtec, on whose board “powerful Democratic Party ‘boss'” George Norcross sits. Others have expressed worry at the high per-job cost to the state baked into these incentives. But possibly the most important thing to talk about is whether or not these companies will make a positive difference in the lives of Camden residents whose possible improved fortunes are often touted as reasons these tax breaks are worthwhile in the first place.

Some groups such as Camden Churches Organized for People are unconvinced. CCOP Vice Chair Ray Lamboy voiced concern last year that these companies coming into the city would hire many local residents. Others like New Jersey Policy Perspective Vice President Jon Whiten are concerned that the jobs created in Camden will be “fly-in, fly-out-type jobs” taken by suburbanites who drive their cars to isolated office parks and drive home in the evening, doing little good in the way of economic stimulus to their host city, such as in the case of the new Subaru headquarters located far from any city neighborhood with amenities employees can support.

In an effort to allay fears of city residents missing out, officials from the city of Camden and the Cooper Foundation announced in early September a job training initiative that “aims to train 100 city residents by the close of 2017.” Sessions aimed at residents interested in the program were rolled out later that month. But after attending one of those sessions attended by about 100 people, city resident Keith Benson was dismayed at what he learned. “Based on the mailer that went out, it seemed like a program that would get the community working immediately. As in after filling out some forms, ‘here’s a shovel’. But what it turned into was an infocrmational about maybe being 1 of the 10 accepted into a 10 week training course cycle to maybe get to work on a site in Camden.” In addition to so few people being enrolled in the program at a time, Benson learned that students would not be compensated during their training. In a city where many budgets run tight, this may seem like an unreasonable burden when the possibility of a job at the end is uncertain.

  • talk about this being about trained to enter a union, not “get a job”
  • talk about the problem with minority representation in unions:

“They said a car was mandatory because thought the first jobs will be in Camden, after the job is over, union members are likely to be sent all over to work and must be able to get to THOSE jobs. So that why “you must have a car that is registered to you and insured now.””


In a city in which 36% of households have no access to a car, this is another high barrier to employment. And since the jobs are in a city with public transportation, why should that disqualify you?

Built Environment, Demographics, Development

How to begin addressing New Jersey’s “millennial problem”

Over the past few days, two articles have come out that speak to a few weaknesses New Jersey is suffering from at the moment. The first is a Wall Street Journal piece about how the state has a “millennial problem”, detailing how younger people don’t want to live, work, or play in the state’s sprawling suburbia, nor could they afford it if they wanted to. The second rightly suggests that our overbuilding of suburban office parks in the 20th century has put has at a disadvantage as younger people today look for work in dynamic urban environments and not the pastoral campuses of the generation before us. Both articles get at something I think about a lot, especially as a millennial that does live in this state. I was inspired to put together some ideas that elected officials and civic leaders would be wise to consider if they want to address the fundamental problems our state has going into the 21st century.

Though New Jersey overplayed its hand in building a sprawling suburban landscape in last decade, there are some remedies that would help to keep it relevant in this one. The first thing it must do is properly invest in its public transportation network. New Jersey’s links to jobs in the very hot New York City and Philadelphia job markets has always been a strength, and with more jobs moving back into central cities, these links must be made even stronger. NJ Transit has been starved of consistent funding for too long, and it shows through increased delays and frequent equipment failures. It needs a reliable and dedicated funding source so it can perform backlogged maintenance and network expansion. In my area of South Jersey, that means bringing the Glassboro-Camden light rail line, which will connect Gloucester County to Camden and Philadelphia, to life, and making the Atlantic City Rail Line more frequent and Philadelphia-focused, with possible new stops along the way.

Simply put, millennials aren’t going to flock to cul-de-sac neighborhoods where everything they want to do outside their homes requires a trip by car on a congested highway. People in my generation are basing our lives around proximity to our jobs and what amenities our communities can provide. In that vein, New Jersey land use policy needs to shift toward supporting zoning that allows denser mixed-use projects to be more easily built. In most post-war suburban towns, there is a strong separation of residential, commercial, and business uses, which mandates that residents need a car to get anywhere. More mixed-use projects, perhaps with retail on the ground floor and housing and/or office space on top, would mean more vibrancy through a diversity of uses and end the requirement that cars are an absolute necessity to live in the state. Given that we’re a generation more averse than any other to the expensive cost of owning a car, anything that can be done to reduce the need for one is going to be a win for the state. And if these mixed-use projects can be built near rail stations into New York or Philadelphia, we’ll start to see how truly synergistic our relationship with those two cities can be.

Finally, lawmakers would do well to increase investment in New Jersey’s own cities like Newark, Jersey City, Camden, or Trenton. The appreciation for a dynamic urban environment isn’t limited to external cities alone. Newark and Jersey City have come alive thanks to recent interest, and cities like Camden and Trenton could see the same if properly invested in. Indeed, EDA tax incentives are bringing hundreds of jobs back to Camden, a city that suffered historic disinvestment in the 20th century. If Camden, Trenton, Passaic, or Elizabeth are nurtured and successfully attract jobs like they once had, every community around them, and especially those suburbs on rail lines connected to them, will greatly benefit.

Just because the craze of suburbanization is nearing an end in the Northeast doesn’t mean that New Jersey has to suffer. With a little imagination and foresight, we can envision a state that successfully adapts to the changing tastes of the 21st century.

Built Environment, Development, Food and Drink, Transit

Why isn’t Burlington City more of a thing?

This is a pretty hot take (as far as urbanist hot takes go), as it’s based more of a few random visits than an in-depth look at history, but here it is:

Burlington City should be more of a happening place.

I don’t know the deep history of one of South Jersey’s most historic cities (if you have more insight, I’d love to hear it), but this idea comes from having taken the River Line train a few times for dinner at Brickwall Tavern‘s Burlington location (the other, in a fascinating bit of upper-south/lower-central Jersey cultural exchange, being in Asbury Park). It’s got a downtown on par in size and scale with Collingswood’s or Bordentown’s, both DVRPC classic towns, though for some reason it doesn’t feature on the site. It has frequent rail access to Trenton, Camden, and Philadelphia, something that might become even more of an asset thanks to the big projects going on in Camden thanks to a strategy of tax-incentivized development there and when the project to extended it to downtown Trenton offices comes to fruition. It also has old, historic buildings and neighborhoods thanks to it being one of South Jersey’s oldest cities incorporated in 1693 and it’s located along the Delaware River and its riverfront has plans for improvement. It seems to me to have a lot of elements of successful places, and it actually reminds me of many desirable historic Massachusetts towns.



But of course, since it’s in New Jersey, it’s been hobbled over the years by the state’s pro-suburban, anti-city policies. For instance, take a look at the border of Burlington City, where the downtown and old neighborhoods are, and Burlington Township, the suburban neighborhoods that ring the city:



This is a classic New Jersey move, and one of the reasons we have over 550 distinct municipalities. To me, the reason is pretty clear: politicians in Trenton spent the 20th century enabling suburbanites to disentangle themselves from cities and live a separate, oh-so-perfect suburban lifestyle without having to be a part of the historic cities and urban areas they would otherwise naturally be a part of. And just like in many other parts of the state, when they suburbanized in the 20th century, they built their own commercial outlets do they didn’t have to go downtown anymore: the shopping mall. In the case of Burlington Township, that takes the form of the failing Burlington Center Mall on the other side of I-295 from the city. The gigantic road its on also includes a Walmart and various other strip plazas.



But given people in my generation gravitating away from the incredibly boring, sterile suburbs the generation before us built and toward cities and interesting urban areas, I think Burlington City could see a renewed interest over the next decade. It’s got the bones and location to be successful. I think it’s an area to watch as we get further away from the failed ideal of 20th century suburbia and work on improving cities left behind by baby boomers.


UPDATED: Chris Christie decides to withdraw from PA-NJ reciprocal tax agreement, hurting area Philly commuters


In an article published on November 16th, 2016, writer Akira Suwa further detailed the consequences of the action taken by Governor Christie to withdraw from the PA-NJ reciprocal tax agreement. Suwa writes:

Commuters in New Jersey and Pennsylvania are bracing for a January wallet drain, the latest destructive act from Gov. Christie.

That’s when 97,000 people in New Jersey and 42,000 in Pennsylvania will see less money in their paychecks because Christie unilaterally ended a bi-state income tax agreement that had been humming along without a hitch for more than 40 years.

The swap allows people who work across state lines to pay income taxes at their home state’s tax rates. It encourages commerce and employment across state lines – essentials that have fallen off Christie’s agenda.


Christie’s tactic will hurt low-income New Jersey residents and high-income Pennsylvanians the most. New Jersey residents making between $20,000 and $35,000, with a tax rate in that state of up to 1.75 percent, may see their tax payments almost double if subjected to Pennsylvania’s 3.07 percent rate. Meanwhile, Pennsylvanians earning more than $500,000 could see their taxes nearly triple at New Jersey’s 8.97 percent rate.

The looming tax hike has infuriated important New Jersey employers, including Campbell Soup; Destination Maternity; and Subaru, which is threatening to put off an expansion.

Also true is that commuters who live in New Jersey and work in Philadelphia will end up paying more in taxes due to the fact that Pennsylvania law does not allow New Jersey residents to claim both New Jersey taxes and Philadelphia income taxes.

It is important to call the governor’s office and register your discontent with this plan which will go into effect on January 1st, 2017. New Jersey is already mismanaged enough to be one of the most expensive places to live, and South Jersey in particular will become even more expensive for people commuting to Philadelphia if this happens.

Call the governor’s office today at 609-292-6000. It’s easy and only takes a minute. The people answering the phones are very nice.


Original post:

If you live in New Jersey and work in Pennsylvania, a tax benefit you’ve enjoyed for decades may be coming to an end. According to an article on WHYY’s Newsworks, New Jersey governor and former presidential hopeful Chris Christie recently “took the first step toward end a longstanding tax-reciprocity agreement with Pennsylvania, immediately drawing criticism from both sides of the Delaware River.” The reciprocal agreement makes it so that New Jersey residents don’t have their incomes taxed by both NJ and PA. By ending this agreement, Chris Christie will be doing something very un-Republican and subject your income to taxes from two states, and in doing so, he will be putting South Jersey at an incredible regional disadvantage for years to come.

The short story is that the Republican governor and Democrat-controlled legislature have been unable to figure out how to control healthcare costs for public employees, which is disappointing, because they’re adults, and adults should be able to do their jobs and come up with sensible legislation that doesn’t bankrupt the state. Sadly, that doesn’t seem to have happened. As the governor puts it: “I am left with the least painful option I have to fulfill my constitutional duty to balance the budget for New Jersey taxpayers.”

On the face of it, fiscal responsibility has never been Christie’s strong suit. He apparently doesn’t consider it his duty to fund transportation; construction was halted on most projects last month because he didn’t work with the legislature until it was too late to come up with a sensible solution both sides could live with. He’s done nothing of substance to deal with increasing property taxes, increasing pension debt, or increasing school taxes, either. If you thought that voting for a Republican for governor was going to bring fiscal responsibility to New Jersey, you were sadly mistaken.

But even beyond the political ineptitude and showmanship happening in Trenton, ending the NJ/PA reciprocal tax agreement will do serious harm to the commuting culture in South Jersey. Unlike North Jersey, with its towns close to prohibitively expensive New York acting as more affordable places to live for those who work in that city, South Jersey’s collection of bedroom communities is in a more fragile position. Looking at an article titled “What are N.J.’s fastest growing and shrinking towns?”, you can see that the answer is “mostly not in South Jersey.” According to the data compiled by Stephen Stirling at the Star-Ledger and illustrated in the map below, most of the growing towns in the state are in its New York suburbs and that most South Jersey towns are losing people.

The greens towns are gaining population and the purple towns are losing population.

The greens towns are gaining population and the purple towns are losing population.

Philadelphia isn’t the economic powerhouse that New York is, and while plenty of people who work in Center City live in South Jersey, it’s a much lower number than those who live in North Jersey and commute into New York. And since Philadelphia’s economy isn’t as strong, there are fewer ancillary companies located in South Jersey that support Philadelphia industries. In fact, South Jersey’s industries haven’t been doing too well over the past several decades. We’re seeing the state legislature make tax deals with companies just to stop from moving out of state. And with several Atlantic City’s casinos closing, the economy down the shore isn’t doing too well, either.

Basically, providing commuters with good places to live is one of the only things South Jersey has going on at this point in its history. And compared to Pennsylvania, New Jersey’s property taxes are amazingly high. Towns in South Jersey might be more convenient to getting into Center City than a lot of towns on the PA side, but given enough economic disincentive to live on this side of the river, people are going to jump ship and move. Why live in a place where the property taxes are sky high *and* your income is double-taxed? There might be some nice towns to live in in South Jersey, but this is an unreasonable burden to put on people.

To sum it all up, Chris Christie might deal South Jersey a blow that could change the landscape for generations. By pricing people out of the state, he would be ensuring that our fiscal crises continue long after he’s left office. Our towns will keep losing people and less income tax will come in, straining budgets and services. It’s an incredibly irresponsible move by a man who’s had a very irresponsible governorship.

If you’re upset at the possibility of Christie damaging our region, please reach out to both he and your legislatures below. Politicians often act as if they operate in a vacuum, but they are ultimately responsible to us, the citizens of this state. Voicing our opposition to ludicrous ideas is the only thing we can do.

Contact your legislators by first selecting the town you live in and then filling out a correspondence form at

Contact Christie’s office directly at

Built Environment, Development, Transit

The case for better connectivity to University City through NJ Transit’s Atlantic City Line

I’ve had this article sitting in my drafts folder for the past five months. Given the lack of interest in the subject on the part of NJ Transit, whenever I sit down to write it, I feel a little bit like I’m screaming into the void. But this morning I finally gathered the motivation to get it done after seeing Jake Blumgart’s tweet linking to an article from the Atlantic City Press that essentially equates the city’s declining fortunes with the fact that fewer people are taking the train line. If you think of the line as simply as a train that gets people to and from the struggling shore town, then it makes sense. With fewer attractions and jobs, there are fewer people to pull from as a potential customer base for the service. But that would be thinking too one-dimensionally. To understand the potential this line has for serving South Jersey, you have to rather turn your attention to what’s at the other end of the line: the white-hot job market being built in University City, Philadelphia, which hosts the line’s northernmost stop at 30th Street Station.

Last November, the University City District released a report detailing the immense growth the neighborhood is seeing. Among the good news was “new commercial and residential developments in the works, including the 3.0 University Place office building and the apartments planned at 3601 Market St.” and a “milestone of 75,000 jobs in the University City area alone, a figure aided in no small part by the presence of Drexel University, the University of Pennsylvania and the University of the Sciences.” It goes on to mention the nearly 30 real estate projects underway in the neighborhood and $1 billion University City Science Center expansion. Its office vacancy rate of 2% is the lowest in the entire region. And this report came out even before Drexel released its ambitious plans to partially cap the rail yards adjacent to its school and build an entirely new mixed use development over the next several decades.  Suffice to to say, University City is going to be hot for the foreseeable future.

What does this mean for us? Well, if you live in South Jersey and work in West Philadelphia, you have two options. You can drive to work along either I-676 or I-76, two extremely congested highways. Or you can take PATCO to the Market-Frankford Line, which honestly isn’t a bad option. But the PATCO line only threads through a few towns; at the point where someone is driving 15 minutes to get to a station, they might justify just driving in entirely to themselves, increasing traffic, congestion, and general commute torture. Or they might decide to move out of New Jersey altogether, which is bad for the state. This is where an improved Atlantic City Line might come into play. I foresee several options for improving the line to where it would provide decent, reliable service to and from that super hot job market in West Philadelphia.

Better serve the end of the line that’s booming

If Atlantic City is failing, Philadelphia is very much not. So why not increase service along the end of the corridor that could use it? What this means is increasing the number of trains running between Philadelphia and Hammonton. It would be reasonable to say that Hammonton, located halfway between the city and the shore and with a 59 minute ride time from 30th Street Station, is perhaps the eastern edge of the reasonable daily commuting distance. (Anecdotally speaking, I personally know people who commute from there to Philadelphia every day.) As such, inserting shorter-running trains into the schedule during the current unacceptably-long 2 hour schedule gaps would increase the utility of the line for people going to and from Philadelphia, by far the larger job and culture center of the line’s two termini. Nearly everyone with an interest in transit advocacy understands that frequency is freedom, and that if people can rely on a regular schedule with reasonable, sensible headways, a line will prosper. Inserting trains into the current gaps starts moving you in that direction.

Remove the obstacles to speedier service

As it stands, the line doesn’t exactly run quickly. The time between Cherry Hill and Philadelphia, not a far distance, is currently about 32 minutes. Quicker only than taking a local bus, that time is far too long for rail service. Whether improving that involves track rehabilitation or scheduling improvements, that number has to come down for the line to be considered more convenient than driving. Beyond track improvements, the fact that the line is fully diesel-powered line also hurts its ability to move quickly. As such, it’s a much slower running line than its electrified cousins to the north. Frequent and fast are the two factors that guarantee ridership, so attacking the line’s inefficiencies on those two fronts would be the most important things to do to improve its utility.

Create a larger potential passenger base

With no stops between Lindenwold (where it provides a transfer to the PATCO High Speed Line) and Cherry Hill, the line runs through a part of the most densely-populated part of South Jersey without stopping. One of the suggestions for creating a larger pool of potential riders is to add a station at the Woodcrest park and ride station, where the line parallels the PATCO tracks, a move that would also act to create another useful transfer point. Putting a new station in the middle of the highly populated southern Cherry Hill/western Voorhees/Route 30 corridor area would add a lot of people to the line’s customer base. On the Pennsylvania side, I believe it to be possible to extend the line down to the Airport, which opens up an entire other realm of usefulness. The only way to get to the airport for the vast majority of South Jerseyans right now is to drive there and park your car. But if you park there for long enough, it becomes more expensive than taking public transportation, even if you make the connection at Market East/Jefferson Station to SEPTA’s Airport Line. Bringing the Atlantic City Line to the airport would give South Jersey a one-seat ride to the airport, which would be a huge improvement in service to a regional transportation asset for our part of the state. If you’ve ever been on NJ Transit’s Northeast Corridor Line, you’ve seen people taking the train to and from Newark International Airport. It would be an immediate boost to ridership if the Atlantic City Line went to Philadelphia International.

Let people know the line exists

What may be the least expensive option might also be the most useful one in the short term. As it stands today, there are essentially no advertisements for the train line. When I wrote an article a few years back about taking the train down the shore, I had so many comments from people who had no idea the train even existed. Even if you imagine the train to be oriented toward Atlantic City and not Philadelphia, advertising the line’s existence would be a great way offer people an alternative to the insane parking fees (think $50 and in some cases during concerts, $100) that some casinos have been charging lately. From a marketing perspective, it’s hard to believe NJ Transit wouldn’t want to capitalize on that price gouging to attract new customers.

These are just a few ideas that’ve been rattling around my brain for a few years now. It depresses me that NJ Transit lets this line decline without seriously considering doing anything to make it more useful for our region. Actually, it’s also kind of confusing. They spent money to build the Pennsauken Transportation Center to provide a transfer between the Riverline and the Atlantic City Line, but what good is a transfer to a train that only comes every 2+ hours? If you really want to improve the line, you need to make it fast, frequent, and reliable. And it wouldn’t be just for the exercise. It would mean improved prosperity for South Jersey to have quicker, simpler access to a hot Philadelphia neighborhood that’s only going to grow jobs in the coming decades.

Built Environment, Demographics

Chris Christie would rather you just die on the side of the road

I usually don’t comment on what New Jersey governor Chris Christie does. I don’t need to; enough has been said by commentators more thoughtful and knowledgeable than I about how his policies have done harm to this state that will take decades to undo. But last night I saw something that upset me so much that I had to say something. It was a tweet from Bike Jersey City announcing that Christie had pocket vetoed a bill that would have created a state-level panel to recommend improvements to pedestrian and bicycle safety. The panel would have, in the words of the New Jersey Bike & Walk Coalition:

“…examined issues related to pedestrian and bicycle safety and would advise the governor, legislature, NJ Department of Transportation and other state agencies on solutions that will make New Jersey communities safer and friendlier for bicyclists and pedestrians.”

To be clear, I have skin in this game. Or really, a whole body. I ride a bike in South Jersey, mostly in parts of Camden and Gloucester counties, extremely often. I live in a town where it’s easier to get around by walking or riding a bike than it is by car. I regularly travel an hour away from home on my bike, mostly on county roads with shoulders that provide a modicum of separation from cars by becoming de facto bike lanes when I and others use them (and I do quite often see other people on bikes when I’m traveling).

So what does a pocket veto mean for the bill? It essentially means that Christie did nothing with the bill on his desk. He simply let it die, ignoring the hard work of legislators who worked to get an entire government, except for one man, to agree to something. That he would insult his colleagues by ignoring that feat alone is horrible, but to do so on a bill that would help save lives and make our communities safer and more livable is a disgrace. I’m sure there are some who think our state government is big and convoluted enough, and who might say “good for Christie for not creating more big government.” I wish we didn’t have to create a board to examine bicycle and pedestrian safety either. But New Jersey has spent the last 60 years creating an environment hostile to anybody not in a car. It’s not just a problem in New Jersey, but in most of post-war America, as studies like Smart Growth America’s Dangerous by Design illustrate. But New Jersey does suffer to a very high degree when it comes to the safety of non-driving road users, having built up most of its congested suburbs for use by car. Simply put, the people who designed our roadways barely considered that anyone would use them who didn’t drive. And when they did, they were laughably inadequate.

A typical New Jersey intersection. Can you spot the crosswalk?

A typical New Jersey intersection. Can you spot the crosswalk?

This isn’t just a personal issue for me, but one that speaks to where New Jersey sees itself in the future. The state has been put on notice that its mid-20th century suburban advantage is now a 21st century disadvantage, with headlines like “Diamonds to dinosaurs: NJ towns struggle under weight of massive office park vacancies” and Sprawl withdrawal: Young NJ residents push toward cities and away from suburbia.” I’ve publicly worried here in the past that the state’s leaders will allow it to become irrelevant in a world where young people just aren’t buying into the distant, drive-only suburbia their parents built. Some communities close to Philadelphia and New York understand what’s happening and have pivoted toward walkability and thriving downtown activity. But there are those in Trenton with the mindset that it’s still 1970 and that everyone wants the big house on a big plot of land with a two car garage where you can’t see your neighbors. Some people might want that, but the prevailing winds have changed direction in a big way.

Sadly, Chris Christie will not be the one to help usher a new direction into the statehouse. Yesterday, in addition to his veto of this safety bill, he also vetoed legislation that would have required twenty minutes of recess for children and that would have raised the smoking age to 21. These vetos show that the distractions of running for president trump the welfare of the children of New Jersey in Christie’s mind. It’s a disgusting thing to do, and this state will be a much better place once this self-serving and hateful man is gone from our lives.