NIMBY Nimrods

February 11, 2007

Back in the mid-1990s, when I lived in Montclair, an unlikely coalition of downtown black residents and uptown white residents formed to block NJ Transit’s planned “Montclair Connection,” a 1,500-foot strip of railway destined to improve passenger rail service throughout the region. These opponents did not have tremendouly strong arguments on their side. The families living in the downtown homes were being offered good money to relocate from a ratty neighborhood where many of the residents were renters. The uptown residents had bought their houses with the full knowledge that a railway line ran behind their properties. At the time it was a disused railway line, sure, but as they say, things change. They didn’t want passenger trains using those picturesque rail lines behind their houses.

The coalition had managed to stall the planned link for a few years. Then a Montclair councilwoman had the genius idea of inviting a Nation of Islam minister to come speak on the issue. The Nation, then as now, enjoyed a degree of sympathy in the black communities because Louis Farrakhan and his followers had worthwhile things to say about getting your life together, looking after your family and working to become economically self-sufficient. The trouble with the Nation, then as now, was that it also preached that white people had been cultivated in test tubes by an evil black scientist, that Louis Farrakhan had spoken with the sect’s long-dead founder while traveling in a flying saucer, and that on an appointed day, an immense spaceship orbiting the Earth would unleash a fleet of smaller ships that would exterminate all whites in the cities of the world and usher in a new age of righteousness. (Ask me some other time about how the Nation reacted when the film Independence Day came out.) They also had a propensity for saying vile things about Jewish people whenever they felt the need to whip up some headlines.

Anyway, Montclair. The NOI minister came to speak. During his long, fiery speech he informed everyone that the railway link was another sign of “the poison of white supremacy,” which probably came as a surprise to the white property owners. Whatever sympathy the opponents may have once enjoyed immediately dried up and work proceeded on the link. I’m not saying the NOI minister’s speech was the deciding factor. I’m simply noting that when the only allies you can rally to your cause are members of a flying saucer cult, then your movement is on shaky ground.

I regale you with this story because the arguments made by residents in the Sewaren section of Woodbridge against the increased use of Conrail freight lines — as well as the arguments being made against the revival of the Lackawanna Cutoff and the long-running effort to create the Monmouth-Ocean-Middlesex passenger rail line — are rapidly approaching the same frontier of flakiness that was crossed by opponents of the Montclair connection. According to this amusing column by Paul Mulshine in today’s Star-Ledger, some of them are now yelling about the increased potential for terrorist attacks.

I’m not the sort to automatically accuse people of NIMBY — Not In My Back Yard — syndrome whenever they try to block some big project. But New Jersey is a small, densely populated state with a huge transportation problem, and upgraded rail service is the only solution. And while I like to think I am sensitive to the troubles of my fellow man, I’m sorry to say that my sympathy dries up when people who bought their houses next to a train track are angry at the thought of seeing trains using it.


2 Responses to “NIMBY Nimrods”

  1. Alison Says:

    I usually read Mulshine, but I missed this one. Hmmm. Of course, this IS New Jersey. . .people who moved in next to the Freehold Raceway complain about the noisy auto races, people who move into Warren and Sussex Counties want something done about the bears and deer, folks who built along the Passaic want the government to fix their houses every flood year, and wealthy folks who live along the shoreline want both restricted private access to the beach and publicly funded replenishment of said beach.

    Now, considering how well-run public transit is in this state, the residents along the train lines should really have nothing to worry about. Service will be limited to times that would serve business commuters, so their evenings and weekends would be largely undisturbed, just like those Montclair Connection trains. If it turns out otherwise, I’d be completely shocked. New Jersey Transit likes to offer only limited service then complain that people are unwilling to use mass transportation. Somehow they don’t factor in the idea that people who don’t want to stay overnight at their destination wouldn’t take a bus or train that wouldn’t run when they needed to go home, or that people might like to go from one place to another for recreational purposes. All they see is that they did all this work for us, and we’re so ungrateful!

  2. […] same frontier of flakiness that was crossed by opponents of the Montclair connection. According to this amusing column by Paul Mulshine in today’s Star-Ledger, some of them are now yelling about the increased potential for terrorist […]

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