Jersey City, New Jersey–It’s the intersection that connects Jersey City to the rest of the world. Several entry ramps and roads merge chaotically, like rivulets pouring into each other and then raging away to opposing compass points.
From the north, drivers pour in through industrial Route 1&9 (what locals call “Tonnelle Ave”). Northerners can also slide in through an exit off the bustling John F. Kennedy Boulevard, which snakes through Hudson County like an extension cord.
Busy professionals leaving New York City pass through daily, many of whom drive straight to Route 78 East, Jersey City’s joint to Newark Airport and to Interstate 95 (the New Jersey Turnpike), which borders the entire East Coast, from Maine right down to Florida.
Trekkers from the south can enter from Route 440 or the Pulaski Skyway (which overpasses the circle’s other roads, along with Route 139 coming from the Holland Tunnel). At its highest (135 feet), the skyway towers over a number of New Jersey landmarks: the Passaic and Hackensack Rivers, the Meadowlands, and the NJ Turnpike, all of which gaze northward at the circle; hardly anyone gazes in.
With panhandlers scurrying for change, flower venders selling their goods and traffic sailing through determinedly, the daytime provides more social excitement than at night, but night, nonetheless, has its distinctions.
While the sun warms another part of the earth, the few provisions of light are the well-known and insipid glares of red, yellow and green radiating from eighteen brave traffic lights into the squalid intersection. Lampposts are rare and car lights are undependable.
At night, nobody stops to buy flowers. Neither do they drop their windows to spare change for the poor, either because the needy have vanished, or because drivers are too frightened by “Jersey City” or because they’re adrift amidst such a complex braid of roads. Here, these outsiders never brake to sightsee as they might when passing picturesque rapids.
Peering from underneath the overpasses, there’s a more objective vantage point from which the circle is better seen.
Built upon eroded concrete pillars and held together by 80-year-old bolts, the overpasses look down on, and across to, the strip of road connecting Route 440 to the circle. On it, a set of tires, dumped onto a sea of trash, stare back through unclothed trees growing from the filthy roadside (the only sight of green). The honks of the enraged drown out the somewhat soothing sound of cars gliding buy.
A residence can be made out on an inroad about 200 yards from the center of the circle. Graffiti drenches its siding, and iron bars, like a prison, cage its windows, through which no flicker of light pours. Ironically, next to this urban fortress is a newly renovated home, whose windows are vulnerable, and outside of which sits some model of Mercedes. Although seemingly hopeless, Jersey City is not without hope.
There is an apartment building about 50 yards from the center, all of whose windows are shut, except for one way up on the top floor, its light strikingly brilliant against the opposing darkness. Forcing itself into such a dreary crossroads, the light challenges the status quo (impoverished, good for nothing, dirty); it demands compassion from outsiders and passion from insiders. The strangest thing about it is that you’d never see it if you’re not into urban sightseeing.
What you can see, though (even while driving), are resting construction vehicles underneath the overpasses and alongside Route 1&9, waiting for the sun to rise in order to continue the construction of new ramps and roads, as well as the reconstruction of old ones. Instead of frail pillars with unreliable reinforcement, the new pillars are made of stainless steel with thick metal bolts for fortification.
In response to the apartment’s light, the new projects agree: fresh entry and exit ramps speak relief to the circle’s crowded and tight braid of tributaries. Traffic will no longer anger commuters, and hopefully, they’ll perceive Jersey City as it ought to be: as a work-in-progress; a polluted river slowly being purified.
The Tonnelle Circle, as the intersection is called, is more than Jersey City’s most confusing circle; it’s a symbol of change and hope. For the down-and-out, this means they can aspire insane dreams, the struggling single mom can see a clearing ahead, and the hustling high school “kid” can reject his lifestyle altogether. The Tonnele Circle is people’s connection to life and vigor, even if they stay in Jersey City. Instead of representing Jersey City’s negative qualities, the Tonnele Circle now bursts with renovation and renaissance.