May 26, 2022

To: Director Ryan Sharp, City Engineer Olga Garcia
From: Ron Hine
Re: Sinatra Drive Project – Response to May 11 presentation

We have reviewed the Kimley-Horn/City of Hoboken presentation on the Sinatra Drive Project from May 11 and have recommendations focused on street trees and parking as well as specific comments pertaining to several of the Sinatra Drive sections. We agree with the basic concept put forth by Kimley-Horn in 2014 titled “Frank Sinatra Drive Typical Complete Street Sections #3.” This image shows two narrow travel lanes, a parking lane and median and rows of shade trees. It is certainly within the scope of this project to show alternatives that conform closer to this standard. Given the substantial contract with Kimley-Horn, they should be able to produce real, considered alternatives that map out a long-term vision and plan that can be completed as funding becomes available.

Street trees – Much of Sinatra Drive north of Fifth Street to the end of the Union Dry Dock property provides the opportunity for a row of street trees that will eventually form a canopy covering the sidewalk, bike path and a portion of the street. This should be considered a central, unifying design element for this Sinatra Drive Project and an extension of what exists south of Fifth Street. A nine foot sidewalk with a permeable surface is a sufficient width to include these trees along the curb. It is important that Kimley-Horn is doing tests of the subsurface conditions to determine requirements for proper soil volumes to sustain these trees. This week we walked Sinatra Drive with a landscape architect who we hired to advise us on these plantings. We discussed London plane trees and American elms but will propose a more comprehensive list and detailed planting requirements in the coming weeks. There are several utility poles and lines on the river-side of Sinatra Drive that should be moved to the west side of the street so the trees do not need to be severely pruned to avoid the power lines.

Parking – Currently there are over 200 parking spaces along Sinatra Drive from Fifth to Eleventh. Alternatives presented at the May 11th meeting show a drastic reduction in the number of parking spaces. Although most people arrive at the waterfront by foot, this parking is a vital resource for others who come for the recreational opportunities at the waterfront — baseball, soccer, skateboarding, kayaking, etc. — as well as the parking needs of Hoboken residents and the Stevens campus. A parking lane west of the median and bike path provides a more secure, comfortable biking experience and has an added benefit of slowing traffic.

Union Dry Dock Section
The sole alternative shown for this section would result in the loss of 39 parking spaces. Kimley-Horn should provide another alternative to show a parking lane and a 3’ median. Since the City will be acquiring this site in the coming months, this is clearly feasible. If the acquisition is expected to be further delayed, the City of Hoboken should obtain an easement from the property owner, for a strip of land about 10’ in width on the western border of the property. The proposed 9.5’ to 11’ sidewalk is sufficient to include a row of shade trees for the entire length of this section. The acquisition or easement could also ensure a smoother, safer transition of the bike path onto Sinatra Drive North.

Central Section
Again, a parking lane as well as a 3’ median/buffer is preferable. Street trees should be included along the “vegetated area” where feasible. Although Castle Point Park was established over 20 years ago, it provides a stark example of a lack of trees and failure to provide sufficient soil volume for the trees that were planted.

South Central Section
Only one alternative is shown for this portion of Sinatra Drive. Kimley-Horn should provide another alternative that includes a parking lane by shifting the sidewalk and bike path to the east. This alternative should include a row of street trees within the sidewalk. Eventually the Stevens surface parking lot will be removed, thus increasing the need for on-street parking for Stevens as well as the public.

Southern Section at Fifth Street
One of the alternatives should include Fifth Street following the current street right-of-way (running in a straight east-west line) and connecting to Sinatra Drive in a T-intersection. Apparently, funding is not available at this time, but this alternative would facilitate future changes that will be taking place. The Fifth Street dogleg presents a fundamental problem in that it exists on Stevens Institute property. This portion of Stevens property is zoned for future campus development. Bringing Fifth Street straight down to Sinatra creates a clearly defined development parcel for Stevens within the traditional Hoboken street grid. The 2580 square feet of vegetated area shown in Option A, again, is Stevens Institute’s property and part of a future development site.

Southern Section at Fourth Street
The current proposal for this section presents a number of problems with a convoluted, unsafe street arrangement and a considerable amount of wasted, unusable public open space. Again, Kimley-Horn should provide an additional alternative that preserves Hoboken’s traditional street grid, following the public street right-of-ways. An appropriate plan opens up the opportunity for an optimal solution to the various problems at this section of Sinatra Drive at some future date. The current alternative presented requires cyclists to make a sharp turn where the bike path from south of Fourth Street connects with Sinatra Drive. That connection should offer a smoother transition. The plastic bollards are visually offensive and do not hold up well over time. They should be replaced with something more appropriate and permanent.

Median – We recommend a 3’ median running the length of Sinatra separating the bike path from the parking lane (also recommended by NACTO). This median, rather than being solid concrete, could be filled with Belgium blocks, a design element evoking Hoboken’s historic street pavers. Where the parking lane is absent, ornamental grasses could be planted.

Looking forward to seeing designs as they are further developed.

cc: Mayor Ravi Bhalla and the Hoboken City Council
Assistant Business Administrator, Caleb Stratton
Director Jennifer Gonzalez

Related Links

In praise of London plane trees in London . . . and in Hoboken
Urban shade trees are the key to building sustainable, healthy and happy cities
With rows of shade trees, Hoboken’s South Waterfront is a model for trees in urban design
The Sinatra Drive Project is an opportunity to upgrade the long neglected central waterfront
Col. Stevens vision for Hoboken still valid 200 years later
Editorial: A Once-in-a-century Opportunity
Plan for the Hoboken Waterfont
Hoboken’s first parks established in 1804
Roots over the river