Highways for Habitats #4: Trenton’s Route 29

Route 29 TrentonTransportation planning is tough.  Roads have to serve a number of (sometimes competing) purposes.  Roads whose primary purpose is moving people and goods quickly through a community often have a detrimental effect on the communities they bisect (see: the history of freeways in Detroit).  Take state trunk lines for example, which you can recognize because they’re usually twice as wide to cross as the other roads in a neighborhood, and, of course, highways and interstates.  We’re currently running a series of posts featuring creative solutions from around the globe to make these roads – roads that must run through communities – also work to serve those communities.  Check out more about our inspiration here.

Often the best way to get a road to work for the community it runs through is to get area residents involved in the planning process in the early stages.  New Jersey’s Department of Transportation (NJDOT) developed a plan in the ‘50s for a regional system of highways, and one of those, Route 29, was planned as a 6-lane freeway along the Delaware River in Trenton, disconnecting the city from the water and running near many neighborhoods.  While a freeway was needed because residents wanted truck traffic off local roads as it caused noise and air pollution, it was important to these residents that the freeway be contextually sensitive.

Through multiple community engagement meetings, area residents voiced their opinions.  The City of Trenton and its residents strongly objected to the NJDOT plan, and came up with their own, smaller scale, more pedestrian friendly and river-access oriented plan.  NJDOT postponed construction of the contested route until the rest of the region’s system was completed in 1995 – at which point the issue was revisited.  Residents still felt the same, if not stronger.  So NJDOT and Trenton residents found a way to work together, addressing specific concerns with direct alterations to the NJDOT design.  Urban planners, in partnership with residents, designed an innovative solution for Route 29 that worked for the communities that it intersects.

A 1/2 mile of Route 29 is covered in tunnel, and the South Riverwalk Park was built on top.  At 6.5 acres it sustains river access and provides green public space where it was displaced.  The fully landscaped park also has pedestrian and bicycle friendly paths, children’s playgrounds and pavilions for events.  The park offers great views of the river and has displays illustrating Trenton’s history.  In the tunnel, cars also have river views, as it is open on the waterfront side.

The highway was scaled down to only 4 lanes, a slower 45mph speed limit (than the interstate standard of 70mph) was implemented, and it was built as a boulevard with landscaping between lanes.  Where the freeway ran extremely close to the National Register Riverview Cemetery, as well as near two historic districts, curves were included to slow traffic; traffic signals were also included to slow traffic in more pedestrian heavy areas.

The project was a successful collaboration between planners and residents, resulting in a road that moves people through while also serving the communities it runs through.

Photo from Blake Bolinger on flickr.com