The 12-month study will explore the feasibility of transit-oriented development in the area within a half-mile of the Derousse Avenue hub. It launches in January 2024, funded by $100,000 in TCDI grants.
By Matt Skoufalos | July 17, 2023
A new planning study will explore the feasibility of transit oriented development (TOD) at the Pennsauken Transit Center.
Earlier this month, the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC) awarded a $100,000 Transportation and Community Development Initiative (TCDI) grant to NJ Transit to gauge the potential for TOD at the transit center on Derousse Avenue and within a half-mile of it.
TOD is a community redevelopment strategy that involves designing “compact, walkable, pedestrian-oriented, mixed-use communities centered around high-quality train systems,” according to the Transit Oriented Development Institute.
“This makes it possible to live a lower-stress life without complete dependence on a car for mobility and survival,” the Institute notes.
TOD is also a fundamental component of the NJ Transit Transit Friendly Planning Program, which endeavors to help New Jersey municipalities create better accessibility to mass transit as well as anchoring community amenities around it.
The NJ Transit TCDI grant application notes a number of underlying factors that could support the case for TOD in the neighborhood around the transit center.
Those factors include: the scarcity of dense housing options in Pennsauken, an uptick in its population over the past decade-plus, and a population facing barriers to accessibility that reliable mass transit may help address.
In terms of units per acre, Pennsauken has some of the least dense housing in Camden County, “which indicates a higher presence of suburban sprawl within the Township,” NJ Transit wrote in the application.
Between 2010 and 2020, the population of Pennsauken climbed from 35,885 to 37,074 people, up 3.3 percent, according to U.S. Census data. NJ Transit noted that that’s a faster growth rate than the Camden County average (1.9 percent), but still shy of the state average (5.7 percent) growth rate during the same time period.
The neighborhoods in the study area also comprise areas that DVRPC analysis has determined to have significant Indicators for Potential Disadvantage (IPD).
As scored on a scale of 0 to 36, the study area rates an IPD score of 24, “with well-above-average representation of ethnic minorities and foreign-born residents, and above-average representation of youth, females, racial minorities, [people with] limited English proficiency, disabled [people], and low-income residents,” according to the NJ Transit grant paperwork.
Ridership at the Pennsauken Transit Center “has experienced varying trends,” NJ Transit wrote, with an average of 54 weekday riders on the Atlantic City Rail in 2022 (up 25 percent from 43 in 2019), 86 weekday riders on the River LINE (down 50 percent from 162 in 2019), and eight weekday riders on the NJ TRANSIT Bus, Routes 404, 417, and 419 (down 63 percent from 22 in 2019.
Broadening access to the transit center is another consideration in the study. The NJ Transit application notes that the sidewalk network around the center “is fragmented, with considerable gaps and portions… in need of repair or replacement,” and “very limited” bicycle infrastructure.
To evaluate whether the area would be suitable for TOD, the study will combine data analysis and background research — real estate market intelligence, housing reports, redevelopment plans, climate change impact assessments — with a community engagement plan to help envision what kind of project would best meet its needs there.
Three public meetings are planned throughout the course of the project, including a virtual introduction of the study, a physical walk-through of the space, and an in-person roundtable discussion with community stakeholders.
The study begins in January 2024, and is expected to take a year to complete.
Pennsauken Township Administrator Tim Killion said the process is “no risk, all reward” for the township.
If it pays off, Pennsauken will have a blueprint from which to invite additional investment in the community. If the findings aren’t favorable to redevelopment, the study will reveal that as well.
“Anything we can do to investigate opportunities to grow and evolve the township, we will be supportive of,” Killion said.
“If we can enhance a neighborhood, enhance an area where we can encourage more people to use public transportation, [and] to come live in this town, we’re all ears.”
Killion said he has no specific expectations of the study or its outcomes. Whether the planning study reveals an opportunity for housing, shops, ways to increase access and ridership at the transit center, or neither, it’s all to the benefit of the township.
“That station is a beautiful station,” he said. “We also have the light rail on top of it. If we can get more people thinking about it and also living there, it’s a hop, skip, and a jump to Philadelphia.”
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