“Throwing Shade on First Street"

Street Trees among Proposed Improvements for Commercial Corridor

By Carlo Davis

They aren’t as high profile as the Southwest Park or as complex as the Washington Street redesign, but the pedestrian improvements city contractors have developed for First Street’s busiest corridor promise to be just as visually striking, and potentially completed sooner than those other projects.

On Wednesday, April 15, representatives from T&M Associates and their sub-contractor M Studio presented their concepts for the sidewalks of First Street to the City Council. Along with a proposed plan for new branded wayfinding signage around the city, the improvements make up the “Hoboken Post-Sandy Commercial Revitalization Project.”

Because they are funded through a $799,455 grant to the city from the New Jersey Economic Development Authority, the firms are working on an accelerated schedule, aiming to begin construction on First Street in July and finish it in December.

When the project is completed, the most noticeable features on First Street will be an abundance of new street trees, flowers and plants and curb extensions that reduce the distance pedestrians have to walk to cross the street.

In conjunction with the Hoboken Shade Tree Commission, T&M Associates selected hearty varieties of willow oak, linden, and other tree types to line First Street. According to T&M landscape architect Brian Leff, the selections are all known to be urban-tolerant and native to northern New Jersey and will not require additional watering after the first two years.

They are also medium-sized, happy to live in the space between pedestrians and power lines. T&M hopes to plant the trees in a special mix of gravel and soil that doesn’t compress, allowing their roots greater access to air and water. “That keeps the roots from growing into the sidewalk,” said Leff. “When the roots are lifting up the sidewalk, what’s happening is that the roots are looking for water and they’re looking for air.”

The curb extensions or ‘bulb outs’ are designed to occupy previously restricted ‘No Parking’ areas and not inhibit turn movements on and off First Street.

The EDA money will also pay for two rain gardens along First Street, though the number of rain gardens could be doubled in subsequent construction contracts, according to T&M engineer Jaclyn Flor. By absorbing rain and stormwater runoff, the gardens will tie into Hoboken’s comprehensive flood mitigation strategy.

Other improvements slated for inclusion in the First Street project include painted ‘sharrows’ reminding cars to share the road with bicycles, Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant ramps, and ground-level perennial plants that die back every fall.

“Eight months out of the year,” said Leff, “you get that nice vegetation, nice color, and then for the winter months, you have a place to store the snow.”

Finding their way

T&M also presented their ideas for new wayfinding signs to be placed at regular intervals throughout the city. The signage may include pedestrian kiosks with walking maps, gateway signs, and directional blades pointing drivers to parking or local landmarks.

“The goal of this project was to create a comprehensive and consistent system of wayfinding for the city,” said T&M representative Mike Manzella. “In order to do that…[we] went through a branding exercise for what kind of color palette, font types, marks should the wayfinding have.”

The branding campaign caught some flak on social media and in letters to The Hoboken Reporter for seemingly treating Hoboken like a new flavor of Doritos in need of marketing, but in the end, the proposed branding draws heavily on Hoboken’s established icons and taglines, seeking mainly to expand their reach through the wayfinding signs.

According to representatives from M Studio, which led the wayfinding planning process, the stakeholders, survey-takers, and focus group members who provided input for the project overwhelmingly wanted to maintain rather than overhaul Hoboken’s current brand, such as it is.

For example, when developing a logo to be used on wayfinding signs, M Studio Communications Coordinator Alicia Collura said respondents preferred an unadorned version of the H that can be found on poles in the Hoboken PATH station.

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