Plan to make George Street in New Brunswick into permanent pedestrian mall is picking up

Mayor, council review plans for year-round dining — or seasonal ideas, such as festivals or outdoor skating, for three-block area

Like many municipalities, New Brunswick closed off streets during the pandemic to allow for outdoor dining. The move was made to help business stay open.

As it turns out, it was good for a whole lot more.

Earlier this month, New Brunswick Mayor Jim Cahill and the city council reviewed an impact study and several design options to make the three-block area of George Street between Bayard and Albany streets a permanent pedestrian plaza.

The plans, prepared by Hasbrouck Heights-based DMR Architects, include an option to convert George Street to an outdoor area that features year-round activation, including outdoor dining, performance spaces and winter festivals — perhaps even a skating rink.

Francis Reiner, director of planning and development and a partner for DMR Architects, said the concept is catching on around the state.

“We’re seeing a lot of municipalities exploring ways to encourage public gathering in ways that are reflective of their culture while supporting economic growth and sustainability,” he said.

“In New Brunswick, we provided four options, including a no-build, which would keep the existing, summer-only closure, one-way traffic conversions for either vehicles only or buses only, and a complete closure to convert the area into a permanent pedestrian plaza.”

As part of the assignment, DMR studied how these options would impact traffic on nearby streets, emergency vehicle access, public transportation routes for New Jersey Transit and Rutgers University buses, as well as parking, wayfinding, and trash and recycling pickup.

The plans could provide for a central 24-foot-wide spine, which includes outdoor seating and temporary Tivoli lighting during the spring, summer, and fall months and year-round programming.

DMR Architects is currently providing professional planning services to more than 15 municipalities.