A Suggestion for the Hoboken Flood Walls

Most US American cities and towns are a car centric sprawl of endless suburban houses interrupted by strip malls, parks, schools and maybe a factory. There will usually be a down-town with some high-rises, a city hall and maybe a bus or train station. Exceptions are towns that were built up before the rise of the auto-mobile that are often the oldest in the nation, founded by English, Dutch, Spanish, French and Swedish colonialists. Hoboken is one such city ranked 4th most densely populated place in the US, neighboring the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 6th, Guttenberg, Union City, West New York and New York City respectively. Founded by the Dutch, the New Jersey city lies the banks of the Hudson River and has growing population of about 53,000 with a median age of 31 years.

Arial called out Hoboken
Looking South-east, Hoboken and surrounding area. Photo 2016 by S. Steinbach

The Mile Square City (it actually has surface area of 1.275 square miles) you can walk everywhere and many residents do, searching for a parking spot can take time, why bother. Also, unique for a city in a metropolitan area, Hoboken’s boundaries are clearly defined. The Hudson River Palisades, which are steep cliffs, rise to the west. The Palisades turn towards Manhattan to the north where the Weehawken Cove is, just before the Lincoln Tunnel. The Hudson River flows to the east of Hoboken across from Manhattan and to the South many of New Jersey’s rail lines terminate at the Hoboken Terminal and further south, the Interstate 78 leads to the Holland Tunnel. Boxed in on all four sides Hoboken retains its own character.

Hoboken 1904
City of Hoboken. Published by Hughes and Bailey 1904

See also the Hoboken Museum birds eye views.

Transportation wise, Hoboken is served by the NJ Transit with a terminus at Hoboken Terminal. Hoboken is also served by the Hudson–Bergen Light Rail, the Port Authority Trans Hudson (PATH) rapid transit system and NY Waterway-operated ferries.  Pedestrians and cyclists can walk or bike along the Hudson River Waterfront Walkway.

With all the good aspects of Hoboken, there is still a couple of disadvantages. One is that Hoboken is prone to flooding. When heavy rains hit the area and storms create a surge the city on the Hudson is flooded.

1280px-jefferson_st_28814374642429
Jefferson St., 30th October 2012 photo by Alec Perkins

(More flood aftermath pictures by Hillary Richard.)

When I lived there and knew a heavy rain was coming I parked on the Heights (my apologies to residents there for taking up a parking space). One such flood was due to Storm Sandy in 2012. Below is an animation by Alan Blumberg and Thomas Herrington showing the progression of that flood.

Hoboken Sandy Flood
Source: Alan F. Blumberg and Thomas Herrington of Stevens Institute of Technology. See NYTimes Article.

Sandy hit Hoboken hard and caused an estimated damages of 100 million USD in Hoboken and a further 300 million to the whole PATH system. As part of a program to prevent damages caused by storms like Sandy the US Federal Government is supporting projects along the east coast. Hoboken is working to secure some funding for flood walls in the south by the train station and north by Weehawken Cove. Last year three alternatives were put up for discussion.

3

2

1

The measures proposed on the south do not vary that much they include flood barriers and gates along the train tracks and Observer Highway to Washington Street which runs higher on a ridge to the north. Alternative 1 also included deployable barriers along Sinatra Drive in the south to save four blocks close to the police station there.

In the North the alternatives varied much more and caused a lot more debate. Alternative 1 hugged the coast line with a mix of deployable and permanent barriers, raised pathways and gates, rising in places to 12 feet high (about 3.7m). This caused by a group of residents in the north an uproar. The city was going to build a 12 feet wall in front of their property and take away their view of Manhattan? Alternative 2 and 3 took a routes from the high (flood-free) Washington Street north past Weehawken Cove and along the light rail tracks. These alternatives do not protect the waterfront properties along Sinatra Drive North and Harbor Boulevard. Tough luck.

My suggestion: Alternative 4.

Since the proposals are talking about spending 230 million to 650 million USD on flood walls, retention facilities and pumping stations, I thought I would join in on the fun and explore a different route in north by Weehawken Cove. The cove juts land inwards and all of the discussed Alternatives consist of following its banks west, north and then east again and thus boxing it in on three sides. All of the discussed versions thus follow a roughly three times longer route than if the cove were to be directly crossed. On the south-east corner of the cove there is a derelict partially sunken peer whose owner has not cared about for the past decades and on the north side by Harbor Boulevard are some residential buildings and parking lots. My proposal is to connect these two sides with a harbor wall that would also protect a new harbor in Weehawken Cove. See bellow my visualization.

Weehawken Cove 1.0

From South to north this Alternative 4 consists of:

  • A low flood wall along Sinatra Drive North, that can be extended with deployable flood walls.
  • The city should take control of the derelict peer Shipyard’s Block G and rebuild it to a proper 12 ft harbor wall.
  • A harbor gate that closes off the 16ft wide entrance to the new harbor.
  • A draw bridge similar to those over waterways in the Dutch city Amsterdam.
  • A new 12ft harbor wall to the north.
  • A raised pathways that joins into the Weehawken section of Hudson River Waterfront Walkway.

One of the ideas behind this Alternative is to connect the Hoboken and Weehawken section of the Hudson River Waterfront Walkway with a walkway and bicycle path over the harbor walls. Presently, pedestrians and cyclists need to walk or cycle around the cove. Building this flood wall could close the gap in one of Garden State’s most scenic pathways. Another inspiration is to build a protected harbor for Hoboken that is more secure to floods and storms, and rent out docking spaces to private boat owners.

How much more would this Alternative cost? Hard to tell. The shorter harbor wall would have to be built out into the water instead of along the banks of the cove. I do not know the geology of Weehawken Cove, how much Hudson river mud lies there before the schist bedrock?  How many sunken ships will be unearthed whiles building a harbor wall? Where will the  Trans-Hudson Express Tunnel, Access to the Region’s Core (sorry) Gateway Project tunnel be eventually built and what precautions need to be taken for it?

After much discussion it looks like the least expensive alternative will be built (?). Still I hope the my proposal inspires some improvements for pedestrians and cyclists along the waterfront.

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