LargemapIn the zone: arrive early, or forget about it. Click map to enlarge

It’s New Jesey’s biggest and most spectacular fireworks display, and with it comes a Jersey-scale traffic jam.

Make that two traffic jams — the second one being the result of the first, and significantly harder to untangle.

Img_3415A scene from the after-party, 2007.

Let’s get right to it and say that as always, three rules apply to getting in and out of town for Red Bank’s KaBoom fireworks, which begin shortly after 9p:

• Carpool, bike, walk or take the train into town and then walk from the station. News flash: none of these approaches will kill you.

• Arrive early

• Be patient when the show’s over

The first two rules are necessary because of the staged closing of streets in the heart of town; the later you arrive, the farther away from the action you’re likely to end up hunting for a parking space.

The streets nearest the river and north of Front Street will be closed to traffic at 4p. These include Maple Avenue, Boat Club Court, Wharf Avenue, Union Street and Riverview Plaza (the street that runs from Wharf past the Riverview emergency room).

At 6p, every street in the downtown district will be off-limits to cars. The zone is defined by Spring Street, East and West Front streets, Maple Avenue, Reckless Place and Harding Road.

Thus, that ‘secret’ spot you’ve had your eye on for months? If it’s in the zone, it might as well be on Mars unless you get there before the barricades go up. Anyway, somebody else knows about it, so we recommend you get there no later than 3p. If it’s got a meter next to it, bring enough quarters to get you to 6p.

One change from last year, says police Capt. Steve McCarthy, is that the Riverview Medical Center-controlled Globe Street parking deck will be available to motorists with handicap-ID’d vehicles. But because the deck is so close to the riverfront, those motorists will have to arrive early to get there.

At 7p, southbound traffic across the Cooper Bridge (Route 35) will be narrowed to a single lane. This is less a traffic control issue than a people-control one, McCarthy says; though officialdom discourages fireworks watching from the bridge, plenty of people do it, and so police narrow the traffic to keep them safe.

At no time will the entire bridge be closed. But if you’re headed into town via the bridge (or any other route) after 6p, don’t expect police to tell you where to park. Their main objective will be to keep an ocean of pedestrians safe while diverting cars away from the downtown.

The best viewing spots? This is wide open, really. The most popular spots, of course, are Marine Park and Riverside Gardens Park, and there’s a reason for it: for watching the fireworks, you can’t go wrong. You’ll need a blanket to spread out on the grass. (The caveat at Riverside is that even the paved entryway to the park entrance gets clogged with people staking their claims, making it nearly impossible if you need to leave and return.) The grounds at the Red Bank Public Library are also good, though this is a steep slope, and not for everyone.

For those looking for a more urban experience, there are alternatives. The intersection of East Front Street and Wharf Avenue attracts several thousand people each year who don’t seem to mind either the asphalt or the fact that a scrim of buildings obscures the lower part of the show. Ditto for upper Broad Street, which takes even more neck-craning to see the fireworks. We recommend folding chairs.

West Front Street from English Plaza to Maple Avenue, though, can get scary-crowded, so unless you’re really into studying strangers’ tattoos, stay away.

Of course, if you can cadge an invite to a private party at one of the apartment/condo complexes along Riverside Avenue, all the better. Ditto for some downtown addresses.

Finally, after the fireworks, feel free to hang out a bit or take a leisurely stroll back to your vehicle. Traffic tends to come to a standstill for an hour or so. Instead of burning $4.09-per-gallon gasoline on the road to nowhere, sit and enjoy the mass exodus, which itself is a something to see. Andrew and crew at Zebu will be happy to sell you a beverage to enjoy it by.

* UPDATES: We forgot to mention when we first posted this story that the new parking garage at West Front Street and Pearl Street (opposite Hovnanian’s corporate HQ) will be offering parking spaces for $20 tonight.

Also: Red Bank Police ask that you not call their emergency numbers for information about the fireworks and other non-emergencies. Apparently, some people need to be told this. For fireworks-related info, go to the KaBoom website or call 732.842.7337.

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