In April 2000, the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail of NJ Transit opened the first segment of the long-awaited passenger service starting from Bayonne through Jersey City. When the 20.5-mile railway service is completed in 2010, it will make its way to the Vince Lombardi Park-Ride in Bergen County. The concept for the Light Rail began during the administration of former Governor Thomas Kean in the late 1980s.
Riders traveling on the Light Rail through Jersey City compare it to an earlier time when trolley cars moved through the community's local streets. Jersey City has thirteen stops on the railway line: Danforth Avenue (East of Garfield Avenue), Richard Street (East of Garfield Avenue), Liberty State Park and Park-Ride (between Communipaw and Johnston Avenues), Jersey Avenue (South of Grand Street), Marin Boulevard (South of Grand Street), Essex Street (between Hudson and Greene Streets), Exchange Place (Hudson Street between York and Montgomery Streets), Harborside Financial Center (East of Greene Street between Morgan and Steuben Streets), Harsimus Cove (Metro Plaza Drive), and Pavonia-Newport Mall Drive East; the western branch from Liberty State Park travels South to Garfield Avenue (between Union and Carteret Streets), Martin Luther King Drive (at Virginia Avenue) and West Side Avenue (at Claremont Avenue).
Several of the stations are located near new and familiar Jersey City sites. Liberty Science Center and the Central Rail Road of New Jersey Terminal can be reached from the Liberty State Park station. The Paulus Hook Historic District, Sugar House, Morris Canal Little Basin, and nineteenth-century row houses are within walking distance from the Essex Street station. New Jersey's tallest building, the Goldman-Sachs Tower on the site of the former Colgate-Palmolive Company Complex, Commercial Trust and Fleet Bank buildings, J. Owen Grundy pier, and new apartment complexes appear against a background of the Lower Manhattan skyline en route to the Exchange Place station. And the landmark Hudson & Manhattan Railroad Powerhouse is in full view as one travels on to the Harborside Financial Center station.
On the western spur of the Light Rail, the new Jersey City Medical Center is reached from the Garfield Avenue station. The campus of New Jersey City University is a short distance from the West Side Avenue station.
Along with the construction of the stations, N.J. Transit wished to incorporate original artworks in the design of several of the stations. It obtained a federal grant of $2.5 million for the project. Ana M. Alaya, writing for the Star-Ledger comments, "In displaying artwork in stations along its new line, . . . NJ Transit is upholding a tradition of displaying major artworks at transit hubs that is firmly established in places from Mexico City to Paris to Moscow." In Jersey City, four stations display artworks reflective of the history and cultural of the city and its environs
A 20-foot-long bronze relief map on the platform at Exchange Place was designed by artist Gregg Le Fevre. It depicts the rail line from North Bergen to Bayonne. Weather vanes of the tortoise and the hare, inspired by Aesop's Fables, by June Wilson extol the plight of the commuter.
Two large silver disks and a Saturn-like steel sculpture is mounted at the Liberty Science Center station.
Life-sized porcelain and steel portraits taken from photographs of Jersey City residents by artist Grace Graupe-Pillard appear at the Garfield Station.
The Martin Luther King Drive station has seven art works. A quotation from Dr. King's "Letter from the Birminghuam Jail" is enscribed in a granite slab. There is a bust of Dr. King by the sculptor Jonathan Shahn, son of Ben Shahn. He also designed bronze reliefs whose content serve as a reminder of the civil rights movement. A 5-by-16 foot enamel mural of individuals with outstretched arms entitled "In Praise of Nature, Education, Life and Spirit" is by Ben Jones, an artist and professor at New Jersey City University.
The tribute to Dr. King is fitting. He visited Jersey City twice within the three years prior to his assassination on April 4, 1968. On September 22, 1965, Dr. King received an honorary degree of Doctor of Laws and Letters from Saint Peter's College (now Saint Peter's University). He had received the Nobel Peace Prize the previous year. On March 27, 1968, Dr. King visited the Metropolitan A.M.E. Church (northeast corner of Bergen and Belmont avenues). Over 2000 individuals tried to find a seat in the church with a capacity for only 1,000 to hear his ten-minute speech. He urged his audience to participate in the "Poor People's Campaign" on April 22 in Washington, DC, that he himself never lived to see. The former Jackson Avenue and Public School No. 11 (Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. School) on Bergen Avenue are also named for the slain civil rights leader.
Alaya, Ana M. "NJ Riders on Fast Track to Art World." Star-Ledger 21 July 2000.
Gomez, John. "Hudson-Bergen Light Rail Historical Tour." Jersey City, NJ: Franklin, 2000.
Kaulessar, Richards. "Martin Luther King--40 Years Later." Jersey City Reporter 25 September 2005