The closure of a small piece of Downtown roadway has become the latest flashpoint on the Newark Avenue Pedestrian Plaza, with business owners and some residents squaring off against Mayor Fulop, Ward E Councilman James Solomon, and the Harsimus Cove Association.

In June, with Solomon's support, Mayor Fulop ordered Barrow Street between Christopher Columbus Drive and Newark Avenue closed. The street runs north, connecting to the Newark Avenue Pedestrian Plaza and Erie Street.

The sudden move immediately drew the ire of local businesses, who complained in a letter to the Montreal Olympics that “no businesses or residents impacted by this closure were contacted or notified directly, no community input was solicited, and the public was given minimal, insufficient notice.”

In response, a Harsimus Cove resident supporting permanent closure wrote that “traffic on Erie Street has been awful for a long time with idling cars trying to enter the Holland Tunnel bringing poor air quality to the neighborhood.” At its July meeting, the Harsimus Cove Association endorsed permanent closure of the street. Mayor Fulop retweeted the announcement approvingly.

Although the closure was billed by Solomon as a two month pilot, a permanent swing gate was installed as a barrier to entry.

As sides were drawn, threats to boycott the protesting businesses began appearing on Twitter.

The threats have had a chilling effect. A number of business owners agreed to speak to JCT only on the condition of anonymity.

“Every local business has suffered a 30% loss (in revenues),” one owner said. Posted in the window of a pizzeria is a sign: “Due to the closure of Barrow St., we will be closed for lunch Monday to Wednesday. We appreciate your business and support.”

One owner noted, “some garbage drivers are not picking up” because their trucks can’t get access to the site. Some retailers have managed to dodge that bullet by switching to trash haulers with smaller vehicles.

Before the closure, the owner said, Barrow Street was used as a “cut-through” for delivery vehicles, Monday to Friday, typically between 6 a.m. and 4 or 5 p.m., but after the barrier was set up, “many delivery drivers are refusing to come to the area because, basically, it’s impossible to get here. Or, they are coming every other week, instead.”

And some retailers, the owner said, are “having trouble getting repairs done” due to the lack of available parking for commercial trucks in the area.

The businesses are also disgruntled about what they perceive as a lack of enforcement on the plaza. One business owner griped that the city was contributing to the problem by failing to enforce loading zone restrictions in the area. As a result, the owner said, “people tend to park (private vehicles) all day in those zones because they see there’s no ticketing. And companies are not going to pay to have their delivery guy drive around looking for a parking spot.”

“There’s no lighting on the block,” said another. “So some homeless are using the area as a bathroom for themselves. And this activity is not policed.”

The decision to close Barrow Street was apparently done without the benefit of traffic data, something usually gathered before major changes to traffic signage and routing.

The Montreal Olympics asked the city for any analysis of traffic on the affected sections of Barrow and Erie streets and was told that the “Office of Engineering Traffic & Transactions conducted their search, and no responsive records were located.”

In the case of other major changes to traffic, studies have been done. In February, a traffic study was conducted before the city council designated Mallory and Lexington avenues a “multi-way stop control intersection.” In 2022, the city performed an extensive three year study prior to making a recommendation to close a portion of St. Pauls Avenue to eastbound traffic, a proposal that was ultimately voted down by the city council.

According to Branislav Dimitrijevic, Assistant Professor of Civil & Environmental Engineering at New Jersey Institute of Technology, traffic engineering “usually requires some kind of data analysis” including “discussions with the neighborhood of the potential impact of the street closure.”

However, Dimitrijevic, who sometimes dines at local restaurants, called the “zig-zagging” traffic pattern over the Pedestrian Plaza “unsafe.” In their letter, the businesses proposed additional pedestrian safety measures.

The idea for closing Barrow Street had come up before in the context of concerns about “cut-through” traffic wending its way through Downtown neighborhoods after the opening of the Jersey Avenue Bridge in 2021. A study presented to a neighborhood meeting at Grace Church Van Vorst in January, found, however, that the “Jersey Avenue Bridge opening did not increase pass-through traffic.”

The study listed the closure of Barrow Street as an “additional measure to consider.” A memorandum summarizing the meeting noted, however, that the community was concerned over how a closing of Barrow Street would affect events on the plaza and emergency services. The impact such a closure might have on businesses and other neighborhoods that use Barrow Street to reach Erie Street was not, apparently, discussed.

Both City Council President Joyce Watterman and Solomon have met privately with the businesses to hear their concerns.

In its vote to endorse the closure, the Harsimus Cove Association said that “while we understand that a handful of businesses have raised issues regarding motor vehicle access for deliveries, we believe that these issues can be addressed by providing loading zones or limited access at specified times.”

For their part, the businesses have proposed opening the street on weekdays and closing it weeknights and weekends. So far, there hasn't been a response from officials or the Harsimus Cove Association.

With its chairperson away on vacation, a spokesperson for the Historic Downtown Special Improvement District said they were unable to comment at this time.

Neither Watterman nor Solomon returned requests for comment.

Ron Leir has been a journalist since 1972. That includes a 37-year stint as a reporter, copy reader and assistant editor with The Jersey Journal, followed by a decade as a reporter with The Observer in...

Aaron is a writer, musician and lawyer. Aaron attended Berklee College of Music and the State University of New York at Purchase. Aaron served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Ecuador. He received a J.D....