FUTURE REGIONAL STATION WITH A STORIED PAST
OVERCROWDED NIGHTMARE SCENARIO OF APART-MENT COMPLEX/RETAIL DEVELOPMENT
A CAUTIONARY TALE FOR NJ TRANSIT
With an Illustrated Proposal for Rail Service from the
Author's Hundred Year Plan
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
The Lackawanna Plaza Redevelopment Proposal is an improbable idea, preceded by a series of unlikely occurrences, which have served to make the improbable seem that much more likely.
In 1980 New Jersey Transit threw away a twenty-five-hundred-foot, completely grade-separated, four-track station approach and six-track terminal, with some plan in mind to abandon the only direct route from New York running by to the north, and tie it's disconnected western part in with the now terminal-less Montclair Branch east of the abandoned terminal, using a two-track connecting segment having three tight reverse curves in close succession, and a two-track station (with grade crossing) that is so obstructive and slow it debilitates the entire new hybrid line on either side of it. The segment does not meet the customary and widely published standards for a freight siding - never mind main line passenger track. The resulting Montclair Connection, with its disputative program of property acquisition, certainly cost more than it would have to rehabilitate the existing Montclair Terminal.
Obviously the Montclair Branch had - and would now have - enough passenger draw to support the large station - without being connected to the Boonton Line - or they wouldn't have built it. (Though you can't say that about everything that gets built.) Now, the effectively abandoned 9-mile segment of the only fast route from New York, the Boonton Line, is getting rapidly subsumed, along with its stylized, two-track high arch bridges in Branch Brook Park, designed as an integral element into the English-style park landscape. (unlike the more recent incinerator) As originally built, the separate Montclair Branch and Boonton Line would serve the needs of the population along their routes with speed and capacity to spare: the end terminal at Montclair providing for expandable passenger volumes close in, while allowing quick service along the Boonton Line to more distant locations. As it is, their capacity for handling passengers and potential for speedy service have both been drastically curtailed, by advent of the Montclair Connection.
True to form, the BOONTON LINE - ORANGE BRANCH FEASIBILITY ASSESSMENT of 2017 omits the most crucial benefit of having the Boonton Line in one piece, and eventually connected by tunnel(s) to Manhattan. Starting with points west of the Montclair Connection (Downtown Montclair) the train becomes less competitive with buses. By the time you reach Montclair University it takes quite a bit longer, and can't compete save in rare instances of individual convenience or personal preference. Currently it takes 45 minutes at the fastest to get to Downtown Montclair (Bay Street) from Penn Station. With the Boonton line it could be done in twenty - fifteen if you're going non-stop, which is important - because the Boonton Line represents the most readily buildable replacement for the Lackawanna Main Line.
Without the Lacawanna's sold-off and permanently obstructed Main Line through Paterson, the idea of resurrecting the Lackawanna Cutoff for service to Scranton and New York's Lower Tier cities becomes a Sisyphean nightmare. As it is it takes an hour and 55 minutes to get from Manhattan (World Trade Center) to Lake Hopatcong - the last stop before the beginning of the relatively-high-speed, 28-mile Cutoff, opened in 1913. (They don't have trains to Penn Station from points out past Dover, seemingly as a means of discouraging those passengers, who must suffer being jammed into the PATH Train at Hoboken to get under the Hudson, while all the trains originating in Dover for some reason go straight to Penn Station. Occasional cross-platform train changes are available at Dover for inbound passengers, but not outbound.) The Cutoff by itself - considering the relatively circuitous alignments both east and west of it - would barely be competitive with the highway, or the bus, for getting to Scranton - even with a heroically upgraded Boonton Line as contemplated here.
This is the price we are forced to pay to the Freight Carrier/Railroad Engineering/FRA Revolving Door Cabal, and their friends at NJ Transit. The cabal got its start about 1945, selling off the main line for pennies and pleading poverty, while yet collecting exorbitantly. It's a common MO. By the Sixties they had risen through the ranks and taken over the two major railroads in the region, the Pennsylvania and the New York Central - complete with propaganda kinks on the Northeast Corridor to frighten passengers - and a concerted system-wide effort to dump all postal contracts, the single thing that could ensure passenger service would stay afloat - leaving the recently built postal palaces behind to rot, and the mail to go by air.
Their methods are reflected in the state of our US rail infrastructure, now irreversibly truncated in places. They haven't voluntarily removed a grade crossing in seventy-five years and reliable schedules are a thing of the distant past. Heavy-weight freight trains ply the shifting tracks, and frequently climb the rails resulting in spectacular mile-long pile-ups involving HAZMATs. But the heavy-axle-load/low-track-maintenance business formula is apparently paying off - in a rather narrowly focused way - and efforts to squeeze additional comically loose standards of width, height and weight into regulatory approvals are always ongoing.
Prewar it was generally assumed we would soon be rid of all the grade crossings. Grade crossing elimination districts where set up early in the last century and railroads were required to comply with a timeline for performance. And it was in their interest - because isolating their rights-of-way is the single most effective means of achieving modern capacity and high speed capability of their properties. This came to an end though, and in 1994 NJ Transit started planning a new railroad down the middle of the street in one such grade crossing district in Newark, with actualization about 2000. While they did think it prudent to document the fact, the grade crossing elimination district was dismissed with a FONSI (Finding of No Significant Impact) being labeled therein as a historic asset - a curiosity.
The fact is, without the inexorable destructive progress of the rail cabal (and a related latter day tendency of developers to demand the n'th revenue dollar from properties incapable by normal standards of supporting it) the rail proposals found below would be seen, generally, as the conventional wisdom and logical path forward. Lackawanna Station would, eventually, make the perfect terminus for the Montclair Branch - if it's allowed - relieving potential near-city crowding of trains on both lines (It's a daily occurrence on the combined one.) by providing vastly increased capacity for trains and passengers both. Its restoration would make whole the Montclair Branch in providentially blessed and efficient finality, with its string of historical stations each one a gem - or in the case of Ampere Parkway, replaceable with relative ease versus some bombed out palaces after WWII.
MONTCLAIR TERMINAL AND APPROACH CIRCA 1950
A BREAK IN THE DESTRUCTION
In 1984 the Lackawanna Station Mini Mall opened on the site of the abandoned Montclair Terminal, to raves about its singular roof configuration of supports salvaged from the station's original platform sheds - now transformed into an airy shopping venue, with love, by star architect Richard Blinder of the firm Beyer Blinder Belle, a long-time Montclair resident.
LACKAWANNA STATION MINI MALL
showing geometric terrazzo reflective of the branching supports and diamond skylights (not shown)
In 2011, with business falling off, and somewhat the worse for wear with ill-matched replacement skylights, exposed conduits and wires strung from the stunning supports and airy tracery (created by Blider not thirty years before) someone made a proposal to renovate the place, contingent on Pathmark either getting their act together or getting out. "The store is an embarrassment," said the developer - though it was one of the highest-grossing Pathmarks in the region. The proposal envisioned "a multi-use facility with 20 residential units, a glass-enclosed art gallery, a new restaurant with a liquor license and outdoor seating, a rooftop solar farm, revamped parking and improved landscaping."
Most saw this as being doomed from the start, and one could not help feeling it was intentional. The owner, ostensibly, in his desire to attract a more upscale type of clientele, set about discouraging the tenants he had, looking to replace them with some having a more high-class type of customer draw. Whereas Baristanet quotes occupancy in 2012 as being 100 percent, a few years later it had dwindled substantially. In 2015 the anchor tenant Pathmark moved out and the Lackawanna Station venue closed - with more than one proposal, and one actual high-cost expenditure involving changes to the Lackawanna Plaza side made thereafter, to salvage it, but to no avail. In 2015 a plan for a new Municipal Center Complex on the site was mooted, but the developer decided against it and the property - except where a single stylish restaurant is still permitted to this day - remained locked down, in limbo till 2017.
At this juncture Pinnacle stepped in with their proposal for an extremely large grocery store on site of the smaller one that had just closed, which requires removal of the Blinder train shed - plus a 354-unit residential complex to the east. The number of residential units has now been reduced to 154 owing to public outcry, but the Town Council was so enamoured with the plan as originally drawn that they flew in the face of public outcry, fast-tracking it in May of 2017 by issuing a Resolution to proceed, while urging that a complete reckoning of the zoning, physical, historical, parking and traffic questions surrounding the proposal be completed in the space of few weeks.
The Resolution contains some surprising clauses:
The assertion that the proposal is "appropriately scaled" couldn't be further from the truth inasmuch as the planned extremely densely built and peopled development area lacks sufficient parking according to customary norms by about half the customarily normal number of parking spaces. This with the 154-unit version.
The scaling problem has obtained through "years of public scrutiny and refinement" - but is yet unabated.
That the supermarket "remains a non-negotiable commitment" is not seen as such by the developer and they said as much the other night. It is doubtful there is any binding commitment.
Further, the plans are not "a reasonable, pragmatic homage to the storied history of Lackawanna Plaza" - but a ritual sacrifice, an action taken in the spirit of denigration and insult, of the type that is growing increasingly common in the United States.
This applies particularly as to old platform shed supports to be located in the parking lot - apparently with the aim of obstructing it and reducing the number of possible spaces. The ludicrous "stanchions" being more numerous and offensive than the "stairs to nowhere" as objects of ridicule, probably each with its own bronze commemorative plaque, and their as-pictured anachronistically projecting lamps with "industrial or railroad aesthetic" - are a clear statement to passers-by that the train station is gradually being dispersed and subsumed.
"Stanchions" imposed upon the parking lot. "with concrete base installed to give them protection from the vehicles" (Stanchions are something you put animals in in a standing position, to hold them still.)
The massing of the new strip mall-style supermarket - more appropriate for Route 46, as described numerous times - is overwhelming. The shear volume of its central gable apes that of the original station in a way that is not flattering, putting it to shame as against this Longer, Higher, Wider and in every way superior new entry. There will be oppressive excess of red bricks, in combination with pinnacles and other gingerbread not in keeping with the original building but sort of similar. Not that it would be desirable to have anything new aping the original in this respect located right next to it.
The supermarket and its modified train shed accoutrements - now converted to red brick with pinnacles (The design TAKES from the graceful pointed arch vaults of Blinder.) - will have the effect of robbing the station house of its extreme singularity viewed from the road - especially by passers-by seeing it for the first time. This in combination with the relocated watering trough positioned to upstage the front elevation as much as possible, with its all-too-precious big bronze plaques and gurgling fountains - to fill the troughs on either side - where no horses are present. All of the above will detract with near totality from the remaining station's iconic individuality, causing it to meld into the sea of red bricks.
And in the eyes of the developer and his architect this is as it should be.
In an ostensible effort to speed up the process the Montclair Planning Board has instituted some rather-too-flexible-in-hands-of-the-chair legalistic procedures for conducting meetings on the proposal, where testimony by the developer and their experts is open to questions, but not criticism. Public comment is largely forbidden, and when the final hearing of public comments by the "objectors" comes (it's Orwellian) they will need to hire experts - or be one - in order to have their comments heard.
Here are paraphrased the "choicest" of some of the "choicer" exchanges (the latter of which can be found set out in full, here) from the November 26 Planning Board meeting, revolving around the applicant's inexplicable attempt to expand the protected station house building by half its 45-foot depth, building a new back wall 22.5 feet to the rear of the existing one, and putting a fast food restaurant in between - plans which were scrapped with another submission presented at the next meeting a week later - thanks apparently to one observant Montclair citizen. The video is available here.
Langen Engineering now comes early in the proceedings introducing a more "subtle" change than the one they just aired - "possibly requiring a little more explanation"...
They get right to the point:
LANGEN: "In the footprint of theee.. restaurant space: the footprint itself has not changed whatsoever. So it's the same 7667 square feet. [But the area of the building is only 5250.] In trying to clarify and do some of our homework on making sure that we had consistency amongst all the numbers - both in the parking reports and in our site plans - what we found was that that space where what we now think of as the Pig and Prince is actually only a portion of that footprint. So there's a demising wall where there's this... large footprint of approximately seventy-six hundred square feet. The pig and Prince comprises approximately 5000 square feet of that. So there's been an additional portion umm, which has... ummm, which will be occupied - which has to be accommodated in the parking demand calculations. What we've done is identified an 1800 square foot portion of that footprint to be dedicated to, uh, what we're calling a fast food restaurant."
In other words, they are adding an additional 1800' fast food restaurant with 72 seats to the approximately five thousand feet of the existing Pig and Prince, in a building that only has 5250 square feet of space. (approximate - my estimate)
Concurrently Langen's representative is pointing out with a special pointing device particulars of the "restaurant footprint" - which means: building footprint - including a mysterious "demised wall" - this on a profusely marked-up and illegible projected drawing having no outline or indication of the instant station building on it! ...with this all couched, as it turns out, in their professed need to have more accurate measurements for purposes of parking compliance - the newly discovered eighteen hundred feet of space suddenly materialized in a building of about five thousand being nothing special.
It all comes down to a station building/restaurant footprint dichotomy - which terms in Langen's use are synonymous - as with the architect from a different firm, who uses the same illegible drawing as well, to describe the same changes later in the same meeting.
An 1800-square-foot portion of the building has now been "identified", and is referred to as having been "found". It is to be used for a fast food restaurant, says the representative, while appearing to be pointing with the special pointer to a representation of something called a "demising wall" (a wall that separates properties, such as rental units) which doesn't exist in the drawing.
P. B.M. SCHWARTZ: "Did you just DISCOVER this space?, or..."
LANGEN: Well it's not 'discovered' space, but we... In cleaning up our numbers we found that what we thought to be Pig and Prince's lease of the entire building only turned out to be a portion of that. And we realized there's a demising wall within that space that we had not..Uhh...uhh... [noticed?] accurately depicted previously.
The demising wall referred to is evidently the existing wall at the back of the protected (assumedly) station house building.
Apropos of issues related to and occurring mostly in the next meeting is this question from Historic Preservation Commissioner Greenbaum during the first half:
GREENBAUM: "With, um respect to your, uh, updated, uh, plan - and we all agree that there is essentially a modified application at this time, is that correct? There's variances between the previous applications/plans that have been presented. So, is it safe to say that - will we agree that - this is a modified application?"
LANGEN: "It's not a modified application. The application has continued with provisions to address comments both from the board and the [unintelligible]."
In further relevant-to-station-house-rear-expansion testimony that evening, Stevie the Architect comes on after the break and begins by noting a "change to the restaurant" in the revised drawing:
P.B.M. SCHWARTZ: "So THEIR back wall, where there are tables right now - you're saying there's a space behind there and they're currently using that for storage? is that..."
STEVIE: "Well I think they use it, informally, uh, I mean storage, I'm not exactly sure what's in that..."
P.B.M. SCHWARTZ: "And it.. is there window access? ...there right now, I mean is it seen from the street?
STEVIE: "It can be accessed, uh...there's a door... I would say... on sorta the, the western corner of that uhh, building here... [pointing to the same map used before in the earlier testimony, on which the building is not depicted] right off the walkway uh, uh, to Lackawanna Plaza.
P.B.M. SCHWARTZ: "Uh-huh..."
NOT THE PLAN DRAWING USED IN THE ABOVE DESCRIBED TESTIMONY
While this plan showing the existing station house building is noticeably plastered with block letters reading "EXISTING TO REMAIN" and "NO CHANGE" - on close examination it reveales the intention to to relocate the back wall of the building - listed on National, State and Local Historical Registers. The existing, original, back wall is located above the word: "RESTAURANT".
EAST ELEVATION SHOWING EXTENSION OF THE BUILDING TO THE RIGHT
The existing back wall of the building is under or near the back line of the attic at its right side. The extension substantially changes the massing of the building. Quoins located on the original rear corner analogous to those shown on the front corner here would necessarily be partially concealed or demolished. The extension as drawn shows uneven spacing of the top vertical decorative elements new-versus-old on close inspection. The existing canopy noted in the drawing appears extended to the right where it is supported by a post having spacing not in conformance with that of the others. The said existing canopy has been supported at its right through its abutment with the likewise existing canopy of Track 1, since 1913.
DISPOSITIVE EXCHANGE OF 11-26 THAT RESULTED IN GETTING PLANS FOR THE TERMINAL BUILDING SUBMITTED 11-15, SCRAPPED
(This is the truncated versus the not-truncated version. For the longer one, go here.)
Former Historic Preservation Commissioner Frank Rubacky appears, to question the Applicant in the form of Stevie the Architect:
RUBACKY: ...The site plan in your drawings has confused me. [...]
Your outline of the terminal building, which is being utilized by the Pig and Prince, is a little bit deceptive in the sense that [in the drawing] the portion that they're using for storage is part of this terminal building, it's not part of the train shed.
STEVIE: That's correct.
RUBACKY: So why is...
STEVIE: [didactically] "Platform Canopy."
It's NOT a platform canopy. [to Applicant's Council] ("That's why I'm glad you said platform canopy.") [back to Stevie] "It's not a platform canopy."
RUBACKY: "There.. There's a lot of mistakes in, in... [moves toward the drawing] this area. THIS - is not a platform canopy. Never was, still isn't. Your historic preservation expert testified: this is the terminal element; this is the shed for the station...
RUBACKY: The original use was [pointing to the canopy that projects east from the terminal building] this shed was not for passengers per se, or people on the train platforms. It was used as a recei... loading dock, for bulk freight. And it came around the corner here [motioning from the east to the north side of the existing terminal building] to protect the entrances on this side of the terminal, where passengers would exit, and go to the train platforms. But THIS [indicating immediately north of the existing terminal building] is not the platform, and it's been repeatedly mislabeled, and misidentified. Your expert identified it, but it never translated to the site plan. Soo... I... I'm a little bit concerned about this area because, your expert testified that this is the most historic part of the entire site.
And yet you're modifying it.
Do you understand that you're modifying the most historic part of the site?
STEVIE: I don't believe that we're modifying that.
About a minute later:
STEVIE: "I was trying to show that this corner [not possible to follow pointer] - and I just don't have a steady hand and I apologize - but this corner, is the end of the building itself and then the... "shed" that you're speaking of, is located here."
RUBACKY: "The building ends... ... ... [looks blankly at Stevie then walks back to the podium] O.K. - Here's my point - and it's frustrating. All your drawings are wrong. It's as simple as that. ...and if we had somebody who did an assessment of the property they would know that it's wrong. It's obvious."
Could you go to A9 please? Could... ahh, sorry, uh YES. Could you zoom in on the middle section, terminal building? [addressing the board] And this is important. I uh, I think you need to understand this. Because it's...
CHIEF SOVIET PLANNING BOARD SHOW TRIAL KANGAROO JOHN WYNNE: [with forbearance] "You mean you're saying you BELIEVE they're wrong." [follows with a dispassionate chuckle]
RUBACKY: "I know they're wrong. ...as only a [unintelligible] could know."
[pointing to the east elevation] O.K. This is the terminal building. [pointing to the line of the existing back wall and attic at its back] It has one continu... [break in video?] [referring to same, the existing back wall] This is the exterior wall. The shed serving this facade [east] turns the corner, and services the north facade. [now pointing to the section of the east wall proposed as being extended 22.5' north in the drawing] Here, you show an extension of the terminal. ...that I call a modification to an historic landmark.
I don't understand this, you haven't spoken to this. Looks like brick, looks like stone. [pointing to the existing part] Looks like ...a duplication of this. But this is NOT part of the building. This is NOT ...the building per se. Yes, it's part of the shed area, but this whole section here? ...is made up."
STEVIE: "I understand that."
RUBACKY: "You understand that? So - you did that. Why?"
STEVIE: "Because this is currently indoor shopping center right now. So this is drywall and...
RUBACKY: And you're... [unintelligible]
COUNSEL FOR THE APPLICANT: "And, and to, to that point I, I'm gonna object to the...just... we're not acknowledging the statement that you're making tha... that that's a, uh, historic landmark or part of the historic building. [This, without an opportunity for Rubacky to respond to his objection which was falsely taken.] I'll let Mr. Stevie answer."
STEVIE repeats and embroiders extemporaneously his (unrelated) responsive assertions as above, whereupon a heated argument ensues, with CHIEF SOVIET PLANNING BOARD SHOW TRIAL KANGAROO JOHN WYNNE and the good Counsel successfully running interference so that nothing RUBACKY says in response can be heard.
P.B.M. SCHWARTZ: "OK lets... lets break it down into little pieces. Is the existing brick of that section to the right... there now?"
P.B.M. SCHWARTZ: "So that... You are modifying the existing exterior structure and proposing to replicate it similarly to what is there to the left of that. Is that a fair statement?"
STEVIE: "That's a fair... It's a transitional... It's a transitional detail between the... the... the train shed building and the new, ah... architectural facade of the retail." [this statement in particular is complete quatsch]
P.B.M. SCHWARTZ: "Do you have a picture of what is there now?"
STEVIE: "I may have a picture, I would have to search for it."
P.B.M. SCHWARTZ: "So we're extending... we're extending the brick of what was the terminal - that is now Pig and Prince...
STEVIE: "That's correct."
P.B.M. SCHWARTZ: ... going, uh ...going... [several including STEVIE say "north" - others say "east"] going east... we're extending the brick. That's what you're proposing. You're exten... You're MODIFYING the... (what Frank [Rubacky] is saying, if that is part of the original historic building, that's been designated.) You are proposing to um... demo or modify that piece on the exterior - and brick that - replicating the brick to the left...
P.B.M. SCHWARTZ: ...the brick treatment to the left. and then you are MODIFYING the interior elements of that - creating effectively storefronts - now going north."
STEVIE: "That's correct."
P.B.M. UNKNOWN "The only... [unintelligible]"
CHIEF SOVIET PLANNING BOARD SHOW TRIAL KANGAROO JOHN WYNNE: [with wisdom and moral rightiousness [[though feigned]] in revealing the deciding factor [[to his mind]] "And that piece that's adjacent to the train station is ALREADY ENCLOSED! And already has a door that faces onto Lackawanna Plaza on the... on the other side, right?...
CHIEF SOVIET PLANNING BOARD SHOW TRIAL KANGAROO JOHN WYNNE: ...that you can see from the other... from the small parking lot, in the... theee - what would be, I guess... the windows are blacked out... and the door is blacked out... but you... you can see it on Google Maps."
P.B.M. SCHWARTZ: "So you're changing the SYMMETRY of that building, because it looks like there are... two main sections over to the left, and you're extending the one to the right. You are MODIFYING the exterior of that..."
CHIEF SOVIET PLANNING BOARD SHOW TRIAL KANGAROO JOHN WYNNE: [interrupting] "Juss-the... just the... It's just the the exterior facade. Because the INTERNAL space is already there. [?]
P.B.M. SCHWARTZ: [several attempts to regain the floor are unsuccessful] "[unintelligible]"
CHIEF SOVIET PLANNING BOARD SHOW TRIAL KANGAROO JOHN WYNNE: "...was already modified."
P.B.M. LOUGHMAN: [unintelligible]
CHIEF SOVIET PLANNING BOARD SHOW TRIAL KANGAROO JOHN WYNNE:"And you're losing the whole MALL! You're losing the whole mall enclosure..."
P.B.M. LOUGHMAN: [unintelligible] "...hall, of the original waiting room..."
CHIEF SOVIET PLANNING BOARD SHOW TRIAL KANGAROO JOHN WYNNE: [interrupting Loughman to correct her] No! No. That... that was... That MALL was not part of the original waiting room. That was added in, in the renovation.
COUNSEL FOR THE APPLICANT: "Mr. Chairman just to clarify and uh, uh... I think most of that was correct. [?] I just wanna clarify for the EXTERIOR that... what's there NOW, versus what we're replacing it to now: What is there now is NOT original to the train station, from... [Given the foregoing questioning and clarification by SCHWARTZ this is a consciously attempted fraud upon the board.]
P.B.M. SCHWARTZ: "No, it's a storefront..." [and he agrees]
CHIEF SOVIET PLANNING BOARD SHOW TRIAL KANGAROO JOHN WYNNE: [to applicant's counsel] "RIGHT! That was... that was done with the... that was done with the modification back in the Eighties.
COUNSEL FOR THE APPLICANT: "Right. Correct. Just wanted to clarify that."
P.B.M. SCHWARTZ: "Mr. Rubacky, back to you, sir."
CHIEF SOVIET PLANNING BOARD SHOW TRIAL KANGAROO JOHN WYNNE: [to Rubacky - FORWARDING WITHIN THE PROCESS THE NOW ESTABLISHED FRAUD] "Do you still have an ISSUE?? Or do you DISAGREE WITH THAT?? ...Or... what's wrong with that?" [AND USING IT TO DISCREDIT RUBACKY]
RUBACKY: "[unintelligible] Well, o.k. lemme start. Lemme just ask a question..." [the applicant supposed to be addressed only with questions in this session]
CHIEF SOVIET PLANNING BOARD SHOW TRIAL KANGAROO JOHN WYNNE: "NO! NO! Why don't you... NO! NO! Why don't you answer MY question: What's wrong with that... What's wrong with theee... the way that it's been outlined... so far?
RUBACKY: "You called this a transitional element. From a historic preservation - federal standards...
CHIEF SOVIET PLANNING BOARD SHOW TRIAL KANGAROO JOHN WYNNE: "I... ASIDE from a...
RUBACKY: You ASKED me... DO YOU WANT AN ANSWER OR...
CHIEF SOVIET PLANNING BOARD SHOW TRIAL KANGAROO JOHN WYNNE: You're not answering my question!
RUBACKY I'm TRYING to...
CHIEF SOVIET PLANNING BOARD SHOW TRIAL KANGAROO JOHN WYNNE: "No, well you're not answering my question, 'cause I ASKED you - in terms of what was just described - AND NOWHERE ALONG THAT DESCRIPTION - did anybody say - did I or anybody else say - that that was part of the HISTORICAL... what was historically designated - or bring up ANY MENTION of historical designation. The ONLY thing that we said, was basically, that there was a new FACADE - put on what is now... what is currently an existing structure. [a complete misrepresentation of the discussion during the past twelve minutes]
CHIEF SOVIET PLANNING BOARD SHOW TRIAL KANGAROO JOHN WYNNE: "What's wrong with that?"
RUBACKY: "It's gonna impact the corner design of this building. It's going to change the LOOK of this building. You're gonna use new bricks...
CHIEF SOVIET PLANNING BOARD SHOW TRIAL KANGAROO JOHN WYNNE: "IT'S ALREADY BEEN CHANGED! BECAUSE THERE'S A MALL ENTRANCE RIGHT THERE! It's already been changed!!
RUBACKY: I'm not saying restore it back the the original, not at all! You're not listening to me. I wish you would listen to me.
CHIEF SOVIET PLANNING BOARD SHOW TRIAL KANGAROO JOHN WYNNE: "I AM LISTENING TO YOU. WHAT I'M TRYING TO UNDER...
RUBACKY: "No, No!... [unintelligible]"
CHIEF SOVIET PLANNING BOARD SHOW TRIAL KANGAROO JOHN WYNNE: I'M TRYING TO UNDERSTAND WHAT YOU'RE SAYING AND YOU'RE BEING OBTUSE AS USUAL!
RUBACKY: "[unintelligible] Let me TRY to finish. ...O.K.?
It's not a question about restoring something, [pointing to the modified east facade. emphatically:] it's a question of LEAVING THIS ALONE. THAT'S the QUESTION. You LEAVE - the BUILDING - ALONE. And you don't have enough detail, with what is being presented tonight to form the opinion you're forming. You are PREJUDGING this based on your own recollection of the building. You're NOT...
CHIEF SOVIET PLANNING BOARD SHOW TRIAL KANGAROO JOHN WYNNE: And you're NOT!?
RUBACKY: Well I have a little bit of HPC experience and I do know the building.
CHIEF SOVIET PLANNING BOARD SHOW TRIAL KANGAROO JOHN WYNNE: Well, ya know what? You're not the only person, in this ROOM, that has experience with that building. So it doesn't qualify you, as any more an expert than me, or anybody else sitting on this board!
RUBACKY: No, I'm not saying I'm any more of an expert, I said I understand the building!
CHIEF SOVIET PLANNING BOARD SHOW TRIAL KANGAROO JOHN WYNNE: I understand the building too! And I think I understand the building just as much as you do.
RUBACKY: Alright, we're just gonna disagree. All I'm saying is: the HPC should have addressed this; THEY DIDN'T; you have a chance to address it; YOU'RE NOT. ...I've made my point.
CHIEF SOVIET PLANNING BOARD SHOW TRIAL KANGAROO JOHN WYNNE: Good! No, no - Good! He's made his point - I think we all understand what he said. [the usual optuseness notwithstanding] Do you have any further questions...
RUBACKY: Yes, I do.
Commissioner Rubacky went on to point out several other departures from accepted historical preservation norms and law - with which the architect is intimately familiar - included in another elevation (west) of the protected Terminal Building, as proposed.
The November 26 proposal to the board was carried out as a multi-pronged conspiracy involving cooperation of the engineer, architect and counsel of the developer. The tactic of introducing and arguing incessantly a non-starter proposal (non-starter because it blatantly ignores the said norms and law) may be seen as a ploy designed to wear the opposition down, the which survives now only in the form of Rubacky - and Schwartz (who is not a regular member of the board) in his capacity of efforts made to clarify the proposal openly before the public as a neutral entity. If not for Schwartz it would have been possible to completely ignore Rubacky's criticism, and this would have been reflected in the record.
MONTCLAIR TERMINAL EXPANDED TO ELEVEN TRACKS
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The 11-track station is planned for a post-pantograph world without the overhead wires. The approach would run below-grade or covered from a point well east of Bloomfield Avenue, with the new section diverging from the existing alignment further east, assuaging arguments of oppressiveness of the old four-track above-ground approach. There is a gentle 1.2% grade, 2500' in length, starting at a low spot east of Bloomfield Avenue and calculated as uninterrupted along Track 1 (next to the station house) without changing the existing elevation of Grove Street. Vertical curves are introduced at various points along Tracks 2-11 to achieve consistency of planar grade along the platforms. The station approach would take out one pleasantly chunky apartment building near lower right in the picture, and the garden apartments on Glenridge Avenue, which viewed in google Earth and Street View are not so prepossessing. All could be built right back on top of the station approach with minor - or any preferred - alterations.
The modifications needed to accommodate the original terminal tracks at an elevation about 3' lower than before would require revision of the original platforms, resulting in three sets of end-of-platform stairs that might be considered (if I may say so) fit to die for.
ORIGINAL STATION WEST END
Consistent and historically acceptable brass railings and banisters would need to be selected. I have endeavored to create a stair to the Main Waiting Room that is in keeping with the historical style; a "Fancy" version with center rail is included in the main file. (watch nobody gets impaled) The existing side doors of the Main Waiting Room would lead onto the (same) higher level, giving access to an ADA ramp leading to the first platform as shown, and to the thirty-foot-wide cross-platform concourse at the head of the tracks. All the stairs are minimum 12' wide with 18" treads. All within the confines of Blinder's airy train shed.
The top five tracks (new) would accommodate twelve-car trains for storage without blocking anything, and have relatively high train capacity for purposes of commuter service. Regional service to Washington or Albany Proper would be possible with addition of two short one-track connections located elsewhere and not shown in the file - which is a work in progress, and which it is hoped can be hosted somewhere. Reviving the Albany (proper) station is seen as an essential exigency of any regional rail planning scheme worth its salt - by no one save your humble station proposer. And no, having a chairlift across the Hudson is not a viable competitive solution.
The drawing requires another plan sheet or equivalent to show street access in the area of the parking lot - several platform stairs are also missing. The wide center platform would have a lengthwise elliptical hole in the area of the elevators, giving onto a lower level where a large shopping area could be located to replace that located now in the train shed. Above this at street level, a broad concentric elliptical balcony would run, giving access at it's glass outer sides to the parking lot, all surmounted by a faceted glass roof. So it wouldn't take up much space at ground level, and at the time of projected construction the difficulties of leaving cars around all the time are likely to have found a better solution than at present.
With the space vacated by the "Connection" - and advent of passengers transferring on foot to a revived station on the Boonton Line - the locally revived rail scenario would set in motion a long-overdue revival of the dormant Pine Street area to the north (They didn't build that big church there for nothing.) as well as the area now occupied by the "Connection" and it station. Pre-war, the logical expectation would have been that the Montclair Terminal and the Boonton Line station would provide permanent high-profile viability of the areas surrounding and between them. So you get your choice for making the transfer: tony Pine Sreet - or the route of the in-future disconnected Connection, bucolically rethought as a broad, treed and landscaped minimally paved boulevard. Passengers transferring between the two stations in Montclair would not be very many in any case, since from most places in Newark it would be easier to get on at North Newark or take the subway to Forest Hill (see below) with several other convenient options for passengers coming from points east and Manhattan.
Why we have come to this pass rail-wise is a story that commenced immediately after WWII, when most of the rail carriers began being taken over by a "new breed" of management and control. Since then their MO has been with few exceptions to liquidate valuable lines and assets for pennies, leaving their properties less valuable intrinsically, and permanently crippling chances to develop viable fast service in may cases. The railroads were all-powerful in Washington up into the Sixties and there could be no regulation undertaken without their say-so. They were not regulated to death, but caused their own demise in keeping with their favorite MO - pleading poverty while collecting individually exorbitant amounts.
While NJ Transit performed a miracle in the 1980's, that is long past. Effects of the racketeering of the now-freight-only entities has spread to the state agencies, with boards composed largely of obsequious dilettantes in total thrall to the freight carrier/railroad engineering/FRA revolving door cabal... and that's how it works - or disfunctions - don't let anyone tell you otherwise. In the form of big companies like Parsons-Brinkerhof (or whatever they're called) the rail planning racket originating here has recently spread EVEN TO ENGLAND in the form of the unfortunate HS2, whereas they've been active in their destructiveness in Germany and Austria for well over a decade, with large amounts spent in good faith on several pieces of seriously flawed infrastructure built and unbuilt. (This occurred after Germany in particular got off to a fantastic start post-war, upgrading and abbreviating old passenger lines with many modern, high-speed tunnels and other heroic means.) Emperor Franz Joseph was a better railroad engineer than these dolts. And it's not accidental. Twenty-five years and still no acceptable design for the trans-Hudson tunnel. (see here) The dithering is a (lucrative) part of the act. But don't think the first iteration was cancelled because of Christie playing the curmudgeonly miser - Weinstein and LaHood were begging him to call it off. They were faced with a 300-member class action displacement suit. (No one knows that; it's been put on the index; I was in contact with counsel for the suing entities. They stopped it.)
BOONTON LINE DIRECT ROUTE
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The Boonton Line is only basted together with a center line at this point. At the Montclair station the four-track R=2500' curve planned or realized in olden times would be restored. Building-lines of the existing buildings are designed to enable this, and there is room for the needed retaining walls. The line would branch to four tracks at Bloomfield and run with three or four tracks all the way to Upper Montclair. (There are not-recently-used three-track sections without the third track all along the way.)
There is some difference in street grade versus the platforms at Montclair, as the line ducks under the road going north in a new underground configuration - cut-and-cover, just underground. The curve opposite Walnut Street Station has its radius doubled to 3000' - moving the center line 40' to the east at the middle of the curve, still underground - and if the need arose due to crowding at Montclair Proper, a center platforms could be provided at Walnut Street - though it's close to the other station.
The line stays just below grade for some distance past Clairmont Avenue, dipping there to pass under the road and thereby relieving the oppressive dip that Clairmont Avenue takes to accommodate the existing three-track railroad bridge. Emerging just beyond North Fullerton, without displacing the elevation of the road, the three tracks would rise to the Watchung Avenue Station with the third track squeezed in to the east, requiring less than 15' of space therefor - but unfortunately displacing some very pleasant old landscaping around the station, which could be restored to almost identical condition - while lowering the the track alignment there some several feet.
Now underground at location of the existing Valley Road bridge, the expanded three-track line would begin its descent to a below-grade, four-track station in Upper Montclair, about 75 feet beneath Belleview Avenue. Here the land rises fortuitously, enabling a single-tube, two-track tunnel shortcut of 11,150' which - passing under the Cedar Grove Reservoir - takes two miles off the route and 10 minutes off the fastest current schedule, maximally 21 - and more if you just skip all the stops, a possibility if the whole Lackawanna Cutoff is ever restored - with quick access on the NJ side being an essential requirement for viable service on that line.
The thus-bypassed section has some of the most intractable type of grade-crossing problems found anywhere, encountering about ten of them along a short section of its four mile length, passing through this populous scenic area where addition of big railroad bridges would be extremely undesirable. The stations in this stretch would be better served by a singe-track roller-coaster-technology-based people mover, a transit mode I'm trying to promote having a state of technical development more advanced than conventional rail in most of the Western World. The envisioned transit mode is quite flexible as to grade configuration needless to say - being easily one second at ground level for loading and in the air the next - eliminating the grade crossings.
I simply HATE what they have done there. Leave it to NJ Transit and their engineers from the cabal to dig in deepest at the most problematic location - with abundant, flat-tangent-buildable land not four miles away. The 4-mile loop configuration originally designed to avoid the hill that the suggested tunnel would pass through, has an 1000-foot-radius switchback curve at it's nether reach (not shown) where THEY decided to build a storage yard. Here the catenary system ends. In order to do this the land for some distance around had to be scalped and flattened to accommodate the six widely-spaced (because of the curve) tracks, and I wouldn't be surprised if people get a lot of runoff.
It would be great to be rid of that oppressive section of trackage and their Tower of Power Train Station at the University (which seems designed to make people hate railroads) - both of them, forever - though remediation would take a few generations. Schedules there are not competitive with the bus anyway, owning to the slow and circuitous nature of the line, both in Upper Montclair and further east; and the way to fix it is with a direct connection to Penn Station and the Financial Distrct by way of the Boonton Line - at the proposed Jersey Junction (part of the author's Hundred Year Plan) not a slow and meandering one-seat ride out to Montclair University encumbered by grade crossings every 300 feet.
Going north, the roller coaster would continue at grade or otherwise. - a singe-track line with double-track sections for passing, with additional stops at Great Notch-minus-the-station, and Cedar Grove, where passengers would meet with trains running on the conventional rail Main Line.
It's more-or-less flat from there, and that encompasses the major alterations needed to bring the so-called Boonton Line as it exists north of its Montclair Station, up to modern standards. Make no mistake, the Boonton Line is an important Newark bypass and direct passenger trunk line. It would be the fastest way to get to a number of places, if the destruction can be stopped.
Further back on the line, east of Montclair, the two originally-Erie Railroad lines divide in a Y-shaped configuration, leading to what are now known as the Boonton Line and (branching off to the left) the Orange Branch. There was a station there for a long time called Forest Hill, more or less opposite the historical Tiffany Factory, and it seems clear a connection to the Newark City Subway was envisioned.
AS LIKELY PLANNED PRE-WAR
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Back at Forest Hill - past the decorative high-arch railroad bridges in Branch Brook Park that are running to seed - it's pretty clear planners of the early Twentieth Century had something like this in mind. Although they probably would never have considered building elevators (though grade-separation would have been necessary to avoid a messy overlap with the Subway) or the skylit waiting room/concourse depicted here. The Subway turn-around loop is shown as being broader than the old one at Franklin Avenue, which was originally considered a temporary terminus.
OTHERWISE: why would they have built this four-track bridge here?
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Note the existing Newark City Subway - newly re-personified as "NEWARK LIGHT RAIL" - meandering off to the upper left, with a hairpin turn in the middle of Frankin Avenue, then sidling up the embankment on a 3% grade. (One must take planners' sense of humor seriously given the possibility of sixty-ton trains losing their brakes or otherwise inadvertently plunging down the embankment to the tight-radius curves at street grade - very amusing!) The subway is shown with a new and necessarily still-rather-sharp curve to the right, to avoid the residential apartment property added in intervening years. Several stations of the currently disused Orange Branch - of which this is a part - are worked out in some detail running west to the Edison Historical Site, in the Google Earth/KMZ file which it is hoped will be posted somewhere soon to download and view.
Bruce W. Hain December 16, 2018
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