Seeing the Road Ahead…As It Crumbles Before Our Eyes: Bill to Create Empowered Pedestrian and Bicycle Safety Advisory Council Falls Prey to “Pocket Veto” from Governor Christie
by Cyndi Steiner and Aaron Hyndman
It seemed like we would be in store for some significant positive changes on the horizon, as bicycle and pedestrian safety advocates were to have been given a new sounding board with which to shape policymaking in Trenton. Legislation sponsored by state Senators Nia Gill and Diane Allen, as well as Pamela R. Lampitt, Daniel R. Benson, Valerie Vainieri Huttle, and Tim Eustace in the Assembly, to create a Pedestrian and Bicycle Safety Advisory Council had won unanimous approval from the Senate (October 2015) and Assembly (January 2016), and with the Governor’s signature, would have established a new commission designed to carry on the work of the NJDOT’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Council (BPAC). The new Council would have examined issues related to pedestrian and bicycle safety and would advise the governor, legislature, NJ Department of Transportation and other state agencies on solutions that will make New Jersey communities safer and friendlier for bicyclists and pedestrians.
While New Jersey’s DOT has had a BPAC for more than 20 years, and in September 2014 introduced a new version that included other stakeholder agencies, this is the first time that the state legislature would have mandated such a commission and codified it by statute, demonstrating the need for such a council not only within DOT but across transportation, planning, and health agencies. As a result, bicycle and pedestrian safety would have now been elevated to the forefront of state-level policymaking. In other words, we thought we had arrived. We were wrong.
With the previous legislative session having come to a close, Governor Christie had the option of signing the bill into law by today’s noon deadline, or allowing the bill to expire without action: the so-called “pocket veto.” Unlike the standard veto, which carries with it an explanatory statement describing the rationale behind the action, a pocket veto lets the legislation expire with no explanation from the executive, more or less letting it fade away without a trace.
Unfortunately, Governor Christie’s decision (or indecision) today was to let this valuable piece of legislation, one seen as so useful and well-constructed that it passed the ENTIRE legislature – Senate AND Assembly – without a single “no” vote, go unsigned. As a result, it’s back to square one.
The bill (S2521/A3888) would have created an 18-member council within, but not of, the Department of Transportation, to review, analyze and report on a number of issues related to pedestrian and bicycle safety, including the type of motor vehicle violations that are contributing factors in pedestrian and bicycle accidents. By doing so, the Council would serve a vital role in facilitating cooperation and coordination between governmental and private agencies concerning bicycle and pedestrian safety. In addition, the Council would have been empowered to assess and make recommendations regarding State planning processes as they pertain to bike and pedestrian issues. Among other duties, the council would also review the availability and effectiveness of driver education and training programs to educate and inform the public. Perhaps most importantly, the Council would have been authorized to review statutory law and regulations and advise policymakers on best practices for ensuring the safety of bicyclists and pedestrians.
The Council would include representatives from transportation organizations across New Jersey, state agencies, including the DOT, Motor Vehicle Commission, Division of Highway Traffic Safety, Department of Health, NJ Transit, the Federal Highway Administration (as a non-voting member), the State’s three MPOs (North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority, South Jersey Transportation Planning Authority, Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission) members of the public and the Legislature. Two appointments to the Council would represent statewide transportation organizations with regional expertise in bicycle and pedestrian advocacy, with the other two public appointments representing senior citizen issues. And finally, a key piece to the puzzle would have been the inclusion of state lawmakers on the Council (two from the Senate, two from the Assembly), creating a seamless means for ensuring that issues brought up by the Council aren’t put out to pasture, but make their way into the halls of power in Trenton.
With the establishment of this new Council, created under the advice of the NJBWC, Tri-State Transportation Campaign and other partners, we would have been able to use this new platform to the fullest in advancing the key causes in bicycle and pedestrian advocacy throughout the state.
Despite the defeat, we remain dedicated to fighting for progress in bicycle and pedestrian safety, and ensuring that future efforts come to fruition instead of ultimately ending up on a shelf. Especially as it relates to critical measures such as the four foot Safe Passing Law, it’s our hope that the policymakers in Trenton respond to both the dangerous consequences of the undesirable status quo and the opportunities we could have by bringing New Jersey in line with other states. We can even dream: our uniquely compact state can seize the initiative. Let’s have New Jersey be a nationwide leader in making active transportation much safer and more widespread, ultimately making our towns and cities more livable places.
Cyndi Steiner is the Executive Director of the NJ Bike & Walk Coalition. Aaron Hyndman serves as the organization’s Communications Coordinator. Also contributing to this piece was Jim Hunt, NJBWC Lifetime Member and President of the Morris Area Freewheelers.
2015 In Review: Seeing the Glass Half Full as Momentum Builds for Great Bike and Pedestrian Happenings in New Jersey
by Aaron Hyndman
This month, Bicycling magazine gave us a year-end run-down of the “8 Things Top Bike Cities Have Done to Promote Safer Cycling” for 2015. And although there weren’t any New Jersey towns or cities on their list, a lot of great things took place in our state this past year, and the NJ Bike & Walk Coalition was at the forefront of many of them. Bicycling highlighted 8 key categories: protected intersections, inclusion of bicycles on public transit, car-free “Open Streets” events, business support for bike lanes, bike share programs, funding for bike lanes, expansion of protected bike lanes, and suburban bike accessibility. In each of these aspects, we’re pleased to report that New Jersey is also making steady progress, so it’s time for bike and pedestrian advocates in our state to take a bow as we showcase some of the best things going on here in New Jersey.
1 – Protected Intersections
While the first-of-its-kind Salt Lake City protected intersection has yet to be replicated anywhere in New Jersey (or the rest of the nation, for that matter) our state has still seen some progress in designing intersections with added safety in mind. This past summer, Millburn unveiled a fantastic new complete streets redesign for its downtown area that featured tabled intersections and curb bump-outs. In addition, Hoboken’s complete streets redevelopment of Washington Street, a project set to begin next year thanks to an advocacy effort spearheaded by Bike Hoboken, replaces its antiquated design with upgraded intersections including highly visible crosswalks, curb extensions, bike boxes, and improved traffic signals. As other New Jersey cities and towns begin to enact Complete Streets policies, we’re looking forward to the proliferation of better and safer intersection designs.
2 – Inclusion of Bicycles on Public Transit
Bicycling magazine showcased Portland for its inclusion of bike racks on its city buses, as well as the equipping of bike hooks inside MAX light rail cars. To its credit, though, NJ Transit has begun to enact bike-friendly policies to the benefit of multi-modal commuters. As of this year, around 50 percent of NJT buses are now “bike friendly,” with all the buses in the Southern Division currently able to accommodate bicycles. Bikes can also be rolled on to NJT Rail (off-peak), NJT Light Rail (ALL hours on the River Line, off-peak on the Newark and Hudson-Bergen lines), and PATH trains during off-peak hours. We encourage bike riders everywhere to take full advantage of these accommodations as we continue to advocate for increased bicycle access to NJ Transit bus, rail, and light rail transportation. And for those instances when a bike cannot be accommodated on transit, NJBWC’s Bike Depot program (which just celebrated its one-year anniversary!) is expanding to additional train stations to provide bicycle storage that is safe, secure and weatherproof. On the advocacy front, NJBWC also testified against the NJ Transit fare hike this summer, keeping bike and pedestrian issues on the forefront as the state struggles to fund its transportation gap. NJBWC also gave testimony in August before the NJ Senate Legislative Oversight Committee as part of the Amtrak hearings, again, to make sure bike and pedestrian issues remain a part of the discussions.
3- Open Streets Events
Open Streets Minneapolis got the spotlight from Bicycling for putting on its fifth year of closing down major thoroughfares to car traffic for a day of bike and pedestrian freedom. Here in New Jersey, the thrice-yearly New Brunswick Ciclovia, an event that NJBWC helped to create, has garnered widespread acclaim. First held in 2013, the New Brunswick Ciclovia closes streets to cars throughout the City of New Brunswick and opens them for families to run, walk, skate, bike, explore, and enjoy active events along the route. In addition, Montclair celebrated the launch of Bike & Walk Montclair’s first-ever open streets event with this year’s Open Streets MTC, where the Montclair Center Business District was closed to car traffic for an afternoon of interactive fun and exploration by pedal or on foot. We can’t wait to see what these events will bring in the coming years, and we strongly encourage other towns and cities to create their own open streets days.
4 – Business Support for Bike Lanes
Bicycling recognized the work of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition in partnering with municipal agencies and city business leaders to make the case for the economic benefits of better bike infrastructure. Through broad-based support, the ambitious 100 mile “Connecting the City” bike plan is advancing at a rapid pace. In our own state, we were challenged by local business owners along Mount Prospect Avenue to prove that the state’s first protected bike lane would help their bottom line. Afraid of the effects on parking, store owners asked Newark’s mayor to reverse the decision to install the protected bike lane. Fortunately, NJBWC was able to partner with the City and local advocates such as the Brick City Bike Collective in securing arrangements that not only improved the parking situation, but also preserved the protected bike lane on Mount Prospect Avenue. With Hoboken’s Washington Street and Frank Sinatra Drive redevelopment in the works, we’re also looking forward to seeing bike lanes produce some amazing benefits for businesses in that busy downtown as well.
5 – Installation of New Bike Share Programs
Our neighbors in Philadelphia got a thumbs-up from Bicycling for their launch of an innovative new bike share program. But they weren’t alone in their efforts. Hudson County seized the bike share spotlight here in New Jersey as bike sharing systems were installed in both Jersey City, which installed a CitiBike system that was supported and promoted by the advocates at Bike JC, and Hoboken, which installed a system powered by nextbike. Moving into next year, bike share programs are set to expand, with installations in the works in towns such as Princeton and Montclair, as NJBWC continued its bike share planning efforts with students at Montclair State University for a campus-wide and town-wide bike share program
6 – Funding for Bike Lanes
Bicycling saluted Washington, DC for spending more money per capita than any other large top cycling city. In New Jersey, NJBWC and our partners’ efforts to secure viable funding for active transportation projects was a success, with the creation of the regional Transportation Enhancements funds program back in March. With this program, millions of dollars in federal funding have been allocated to shovel-ready regional-level active transportation projects across the state that will create true networks of transportation options for bike riders who need to travel from point-to-point. Look for these projects to be completed within the next few years!
7 – Expansion of Protected Bike Lanes
New York City garnered acclaim in Bicycling’s article for its installation of 385 miles (and counting) of protected bike lanes. We previously mentioned Newark’s Mount Prospect Avenue bike lane as the state’s first parking protected bike lane. We also want to give a shout-out to Ocean City and Bike OCNJ with its growing network of bike routes that includes the shore’s only end-to-end bike lane. In addition, the City of New Brunswick has added bike lanes to some key thoroughfares, and many Camden County municipalities (including Camden, Pennsauken, Cherry Hill, Haddonfield, Voorhees, Somerdale, and Gibbsboro) have added bike lanes to strategic portions of roadways. And very soon, we’ll be able to celebrate the addition of Hoboken’s Washington Street bike lane to a list that is only expected to grow.
8 – Suburban Bike Accessibility
Chicago’s Active Transportation Alliance earned praise in Bicycling’s article for expanding its advocacy work into the outlying suburbs, ensuring that key infrastructure projects made bicycling more accessible for residents of the outer ring, with a focus on kids and vulnerable bike riders. With New Jersey being a primarily suburban state, we’ve made sure to emphasize improvements to bike infrastructure in our suburban areas as well. In our state, county roads tend to be the primary arteries that connect the suburbs, so an important aspect of that is ensuring that our counties that have enacted complete streets policies actually follow through with them. To that extent, we’re proud of the result of our advocacy work in Monmouth County, where the freeholders not only approved the installation of bike lanes on key county roads, but also agreed to help municipalities fund them. Thanks to this agreement, plans for a network of bike lanes connecting the suburbs to the shore can become a reality. Another important piece of infrastructure is the Ice and Iron Greenway, a proposed link between Essex County’s suburbs and the cities of Hudson County. Not only will the Ice and Iron Greenway provide recreation opportunities for thousands, it will also serve as a vital active transportation link allowing bike riders to safely bypass some of the state’s most congested roadways.
Looking to the Future…
Did we miss anything? If we did, head to our Facebook page and let us know! There are so many good things happening, and we’d love to share them with our followers. We’ve had some great successes in the year 2015, but it goes without saying that there’s still a lot of work to be done. We’re celebrating the victories, but the year also wasn’t without its setbacks. Nonetheless, we’re committed to continuing our advocacy work to ensure that projects such as the Ice and Iron Greenway and Hoboken’s Washington Street bike lanes move forward. And perhaps most importantly, we will keep up the fight in Trenton to get the Safe Passing Bill approved by the Legislature. You can be a part of the valuable work we’re doing to make New Jersey a better place to live. Connect with us at our annual NJ Bike & Walk Summit, join our mailing list and make a donation to support our advocacy efforts. The year 2015 was one for seeing the glass half full. With your help, 2016 can be overflowing with success.
Aaron Hyndman is the Communications Coordinator for the NJ Bike & Walk Coalition.
by Aaron Hyndman
A new course offered by the New Jersey Bike & Walk Coalition and Voorhees Transportation Center at Rutgers University–New Brunswick provided law enforcement officers in five counties with the training necessary to help them understand how New Jersey’s motor vehicle code applies to bicyclists.
Although New Jersey law explicitly gives bicycle riders the same rights and responsibilities as drivers of motor vehicles, most people, including many police officers, tend to see the traffic flow from the perspective of a motor vehicle operator. According to Les Leathem, Education Coordinator for NJBWC and creator of the course, “in talking to officers around the state, we found that many of them don’t realize the difference in the way traffic appears to a bicyclist. They also did not fully understand the challenges bicyclists face in dealing with motorists.”
Recent developments in towns such as Upper Saddle River have underscored the difficulties faced in enforcing the laws of the road as they pertain to bicycles. Determining whether or not bicyclists must always ride single file, establishing when a cyclist has the right to “take the lane,” and scenarios related to yielding and passing have all become points of contention as towns across the state wrestle with the mechanics of enforcing safe sharing of the road as proscribed by New Jersey law.
With their seminar, “Title 39: A Bike’s Eye View,” NJBWC and VTC equipped officers with tools they can use to be more effective in dealing with bicyclists as drivers. The courses, held in Camden, Essex, Middlesex, Ocean, and Passaic Counties in August and September, were also designed to help officers deal with motorists as well, who often do not understand that bicyclists have a right to use the road in the same way that they do.
“This program really helps law enforcement officers understand what it is like to ride a bike on the road. Instead of seeing bikes as ‘in the way,’ the course helps officers understand that bicyclists are another part of traffic,” said Arnold Anderson, Community Traffic Safety Program Coordinator at the Essex County Police Academy.
The course, developed specifically for New Jersey law enforcement officers, first addressed the so-called ‘Three E’s of Traffic Safety’: Education, Engineering, and Enforcement, in a classroom session. Officers then got on bikes to practice drills to avoid crashes, and to ride on a variety of roads ranging from low-speed, residential streets to major arterials. Their time in the saddle also took them along roads with and without shoulders so they could understand how roadway design, traffic and road conditions affect bicyclists. “The real power of this course is its dual approach: classroom discussion helps officers become more aware of the motor vehicle code as it applies to bicyclists. Then, getting the officers out from behind the steering wheel of a police car and putting them on two wheels gives them an understanding of how the world looks from the bike saddle.” said Leathem.
It’s a fact that the conditions of most New Jersey roadways present a less-than-ideal scenario for bike riders. “Given that most streets and roads in the state are without bike lanes, bike riders in New Jersey face the perilous task of not only negotiating difficult traffic patterns, but also having to maneuver around roadside debris and avoid cracks and potholes,” said Cyndi Steiner, NJBWC’s Executive Director. “And with our depleted Transportation Trust Fund, future road repairs and enhancements are unlikely to keep pace with demand, so it’s important that our law enforcement officers are getting a first-hand look at the hazards New Jersey’s bicyclists encounter every day,” added Steiner.
The “Bike’s Eye View” course was created by Les in consultation with police officers from around the state. Funding was provided by the NJ Division of Highway Traffic Safety and the program was administered by the Alan M. Voorhees Transportation Center at the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University. Classes were led by Leathem, who is also a national coach for the League of American Bicyclists, and by police officers who are LAB League Cycling Instructors as well.
Police departments from across the state participated in this first course offering. With officers from Beach Haven, Collingswood, Egg Harbor Township, Elizabeth, Englewood Cliffs, Glen Ridge, Gloucester City, Howell, Livingston, Long Beach Township, Maplewood, Morris Township, Newark, Palisades Interstate Parkway Commission, Rutgers University, Secaucus, Ship Bottom, Teaneck, Toms River, and West Windsor having taken part in the training, NJBWC is committed to future efforts to expand the training to other police departments.
Aaron Hyndman is the Communications Coordinator for the NJ Bike & Walk Coalition.
By Cyndi Steiner and Matthew Meisel
Bike lanes have been shown to increase the safety for all road users due to their traffic calming effects: fewer car-car crashes, fewer car-pedestrian crashes, and fewer car-bike crashes. They provide a safe place on the road for bike riders, thereby encouraging more riders, which help reduce the number of cars on the road, easing congestion. All of these benefits ring true for the City of Hoboken, which desperately needs to address the chaos that is Washington Street, the main street through the town’s business district.
But bike lanes —especially protected bike lanes, and bike lanes through commercial districts—contribute to the economic vitality of a community, in at least three specific ways:
Let’s take a closer look.
Bike lanes put more people on retailers’ doorsteps. In dense cities, and even in not-as-dense suburbs, bicycles are much faster and easier to park than cars. (Think about the last time you circled the block looking for a parking space, or drove up and down the parking lot aisles at a supermarket.) In addition, traveling at “bicycle speed” allows bike riders to see and notice more businesses. That coupled with the ease in parking a bike makes it much easier to patronize stores along a road with bike lanes. So, stores at or near bike lanes see more customers. For example:
Bike lanes encourage redevelopment and boost real estate values. When it’s easier to get to where you’re going, real-estate values go up. That’s what a collection of studies from across the U.S., published by the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, says. For example:
Bike lanes make it easier for commuters to get to work. Thousands of New Jerseyans bike for all or part of their commute…some by choice, and some by necessity. Many new companies, especially ones that are looking to attract younger employees, choose office space that is accessible to many transportation modes. And many people commute by bike because it’s the most economical way for them to travel.
Bike lanes are—and will continue to be—an important piece of our transportation infrastructure. But they’re also an important piece of our economic infrastructure: they help shoppers get to stores and workers get to jobs. When that happens, our local economy ultimately benefits, and so do we. Let’s hope the bike lanes along Washington Street are included in the plan for the corridor, for everyone’s benefit.
Cyndi Steiner is the Executive Director of the NJBWC.
Matthew Meisel is an NJBWC member, avid biker and hiker, and even an occasional walker. A native Pittsburgher, he now lives in Montclair and works in corporate strategy.
The Bike Depot at the Bay Street NJ Transit train station celebrated one year of service on October 15, 2015. A few days before, on October 12, the Depot reached a significant milestone: its 1,000th trip was taken by Matt Salvatore of Montclair, who used the Depot to store his bike while he headed to work.
The Depot is a secure, safe, weather protected place to store bicycles at the Bay Street train station. Montclair Township, in partnership with the New Jersey Bike & Walk Coalition, unveiled the Bike Depot on October 16, 2014 to provide safe, secure, weather-protected storage for bikes, helmets and personal items. The Bike Depot, which also has a 24/7 security camera, is used by commuters who pay a small membership fee and then store their bike while they are at work. Members use an access card to gain entry. Memberships range from 24/7 monthly and annual, to weekend-only access. All members are guaranteed a space.
Most bike racks at NJ Transit stations are out in the open, leaving bikes subject to being vandalized or stolen. Because commuters can store a bike securely in the Bike Depot, a safer, higher quality bike can be ridden to the train station, providing an additional transportation option to commuters from a greater distance, from surrounding towns that do not have train stations.
According to Matt, whose wife Elizabeth is also a member, “The Bike Depot has been a great addition to the Bay Street Train Station. Biking instead of driving has proven to be a much more efficient and cost effective way for my wife and me to get to the train station every day. It’s also made our commute less stressful, since we don’t have to worry about missing trains due to a full parking deck or dealing with broken ticket machines anymore. Knowing our bikes are safe from vandals and protected from the weather is a huge plus too. I’m very excited to be a part of this milestone and hope to see Bike Depots opening at the other Montclair stations soon!”
NJBWC conducted a survey of Bike Depot members in August 2015. The average distance that members live from the Depot is 1.75 miles, with the furthest, West Orange resident Bill Launder, commuting almost 6 miles each way to reach the Depot. “I … again must say how much [the Bike Depot] has revolutionized my commute. …I also didn’t commute via bike before. I live just far enough that commuting on a non-performance bike that I would feel ok locking up on the street wasn’t an attractive option.”
Another member, Steve Machnowski, lives in Verona, slightly more than three miles away. “I wasn’t commuting by bike until the Depot opened because the closest station, Walnut Street didn’t have the security I prefer for my bike.” Other members, who are Montclairites and therefore live closer to the station, also expressed security concerns as the reason they use the Bike Depot. Half of those who responded commented that they were not commuting by bike before the Bike Depot was installed. One user likes the flexibility of being able to leave his bike at the Bike Depot when he uses a car service late at night. Another member told NJBWC that she likes the security the Depot provides her while getting ready for her ride home after dark.
Membership has slowly grown throughout the year, so that at this time, the Depot’s 29 available memberships are 70% sold out. The 21 individuals use the Bike Depot in varying amounts. Several use it almost every day, others use it occasionally, and a very few don’t use it at all. One member uses the Depot as permanent storage for his bike, as he does not have storage where he lives. Only six membership cancellations occurred during the year. One found that he lived too close for it to be a time savings over walking. Another said that she did not want to get sweaty riding her bike before work in the morning, an argument for showers at workplaces, and for gyms to provide “locker room only” memberships. A third member was a stalwart Bike Depot commuter until early July, when someone broke into his garage and stole all three of his bikes. Three others cancelled their memberships very soon after enrolling without giving a reason.
The Bike Depot was made possible through grants from Partners for Health, the Sustainable Jersey small grants program (funded by PSE&G), the NJ Bike & Walk Coalition, and in-kind support from The Pinnacle Companies, a local real estate developer with a focus on sustainable projects. Anyone interested in purchasing a membership can enroll here.
A Bike Depot for the Glenwood Avenue parking deck in Bloomfield is currently in development and is scheduled to open in Spring 2016. That Depot is also being funded in part through a grant from Partners for Health.
Advertising space is available on the panels at the Bay Street Depot; proceeds benefit the NJ Bike & Walk Coalition. For information on rates, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Cyndi Steiner, Executive Director, New Jersey Bike & Walk Coalition
In Princeton, It’s Two Steps Forward, One Step Back: ‘Sharrow-ing’ A Vision for Complete Streets
by Cyndi Steiner and Aaron Hyndman
It was all so tantalizingly close. Back in January, Princeton’s bike advocacy groups had secured action from the Town to initiate the process of installing bike lanes on Hamilton Avenue, the Town Council voting 5-to-1 to embark on the beginning of what would hopefully be an extensive network of bike lanes throughout Princeton. But then came the complaints from Hamilton Avenue residents, voicing their opposition to a plan that would take away their ability to park cars on the street in front of their houses. It didn’t matter that the homes that lined Hamilton all included lengthy driveways with the capacity to park several cars off of the roadway. The residents had made their desires known, causing the Town Council to back away from the original plan. Princeton instead opted to not only keep the curbside parking on the south side of Hamilton Avenue, but also to paint sharrows on the north side instead of a bike lane. This sudden reversal was a devastating blow to Princeton’s bike advocates.
The inclusion of sharrows was intended by Princeton officials as a compromise, but to the town’s bicycling advocates, this compromise hardly seems like much of a concession to the cause of encouraging more bike riders to take to the roads. “We recommended bike lanes, to let ‘interested but concerned’ cyclists feel safer on the road,” said Sam Bunting, a citizen member of the Princeton Traffic and Transportation Committee, to NJBWC. “[Town] Council got half-way to approving those bike lanes, but ultimately opted for an unworkable compromise.”
To Steve Kruse, chairman of the Princeton Pedestrian & Bicycle Advisory Committee, the decision was a clear step in the wrong direction. “We are collectively going to nowhere, and short-changing our kids,” said Kruse in a statement to NJBWC. The reality is that sharrows might seem to be a workable alternative, but as far as safety goes, they pale in comparison to the amenities provided by a bike lane, particularly for children who ride bicycles. Furthermore, the rider who is comfortable using a bike lane is not necessarily the same rider who will use sharrows. Therefore, this design leaves those riders with no way back.
Princeton Mayor Liz Lempert describes the currently agreed-upon situation as the best possible alternative. Detailing the town’s plans to NJBWC, Mayor Lempert explained, “I am hoping that in addition to sharrows we can stripe the 7′ parking lane and 3′ shoulder on the opposite side of the road. It’s obviously not the same as bike lanes, but it will define 10′ lanes which will help to slow traffic, and give bikers room in the 7′ space where there are often no cars parked.” Nonetheless, Mayor Lempert noted the frustration many have felt with the lack of progress on installing bike lanes in the town. “Our efforts in Princeton to slow cars and make our streets safer and more welcoming for walkers and bikers have felt at times like one step forward, two steps back,” said Mayor Lempert. “That said, I think we have been making progress in grappling with complete streets.”
While this compromise might seem to town officials like an adequate accommodation for bike riders, the fact of the matter is that it does very little to encourage biking along Hamilton Avenue. A guiding principle of bike infrastructure is that “if you build it, they will come.” Conversely, if you don’t build it, it’s highly unlikely that numbers of bike riders will build up to the critical mass that is needed to have an impact not only on traffic circulation, but also on bicyclist safety. And as Kruse further describes, that leaves the town in that vicious spiral of opponents who complain that traffic speeds need to be reduced, and therefore parking should be preserved to provide traffic calming, yet who also oppose the bike lanes that would provide the needed traffic calming and also provide an additional transportation option. It should also be noted that when no cars are parked on the road, which is regularly the case on a street such as Hamilton, there are no traffic calming effects. On the other hand, when bike lanes are installed, the traffic calming effect is ever-present.
Municipal policy needs to encourage riding, not serve as a barrier. When a town makes an obvious decision to favor the occasional demands of automobile parkers over the consistent needs for safe biking thoroughfares, it sends a terrible message. What people see is that bike riding is not an essential part of a community’s transportation policy, and that bike riders are second class citizens to car drivers.
Time and again, studies show that there is no better way to encourage biking than to build networks of safe bike lanes for riders to navigate through towns, cities and suburbs. The benefits are many. A decrease in traffic congestion, improved health outcomes, and a less-polluted environment are three of the major positives to having a thriving population of bike riders. But for this to happen, there needs to be a substantial population of bicyclists who ride not just for recreation, but as active transportation. Without an adequate network of bike lanes, this can’t be realized.
It’s time for municipalities to do more than just pay lip service to their complete streets policies. Sometimes, that means making tough choices. But when it all comes down to it, the benefits of the greater good have to outweigh the demands for luxuries such as excess curbside parking in addition to off-street parking that already satisfies an abundance of residents’ parking needs.
The roadway is a public good; its intended purpose is to provide a thoroughfare for traffic. Any other use, such as parking, needs to be viewed not as essential, but secondary. Public officials are recognizing the fact that bike lanes have a positive impact our communities. While it’s easy to express support for bicycling infrastructure in theory, in practice, implementing these good ideas takes a bit of fortitude. The time is now for local officials to step up to the plate and follow through on their good intentions, and put the promises to the pavement, giving our communities the bike lanes that are sorely needed. It’s a great first step that Princeton has made the commitment to develop a Bicycle Master Plan. But it can only go so far without the resolve to turn the plan into a reality.
Cyndi Steiner is the Executive Director of the New Jersey Bike & Walk Coalition. Aaron Hyndman serves as the organization’s Communications Coordinator.
[Ed. note: A previous edition of this post stated that the parking ordinance/bike lane plan for Hamilton Avenue had been given the “approval” of the Town Council. The post has been corrected to appropriately reflect that the Town Council’s vote had simply initiated the process, without granting final “approval” of the ordinance.]
Safe Passing Laws Are Common Sense
by Cyndi Steiner & Aaron Hyndman
A May 22, 2015 editorial by the Asbury Park Press called Assembly bill A1600/A1577, the Safe Passing Bill, a “wrongheaded proposal.” Instead of passing a bill that would codify into law the mechanics of negotiating a safe pass, thus ensuring that a pedestrian or bicyclist is not hit by a car, the APP thinks drivers should simply be expected to use common sense.
What exactly does it mean for drivers to use common sense? Here are some other examples: Stop for pedestrians in crosswalks; stop at intersections where there are stop signs and traffic lights; use your directional signals when making a turn; yield when entering fast moving traffic. Certainly, these are simply rules of the road that shouldn’t need much explanation, and yet, the precedent has been set that these measures should be more than just common sense. Instead of relying on “common sense,” they have been established as law by the State of New Jersey.
Why then would the Safe Passing Law not be similarly deserving of enactment? Clearly Senator Nicholas Sacco, the legislator who is obstructing the bill by holding it up in committee, seems unable to grasp the mechanics of a safe pass, illogically deeming it unworkable in cities and towns with narrow streets. But unfortunately, the lack of understanding of the dynamics of road sharing seems to also extend to the Asbury Park Press Editorial Board. In their column, they write: “All too often, that 4 feet would force motorists in the wrong lane, facing oncoming traffic. How safe is that?”
The current state of vehicle traffic in New Jersey is such that most motorists are already accustomed to moving over as they pass bike riders and pedestrians in the roadway. However, all it takes is one driver not to pass safely, and the results can be catastrophic. Given the condition of New Jersey roads, bike riders are forced to navigate and maneuver around life-threatening obstacles with alarming regularity. As vulnerable users, bike riders and pedestrians deserve to be protected, and it’s entirely appropriate for such protection to be codified in state motor vehicle law.
It’s also not unreasonable to expect drivers to easily negotiate a brief maneuver into the opposing traffic lane. This is something that is safely done with regularity, be it on rural roads when cars pass a slow-moving truck or farm vehicle, or in urban settings when a driver moves over to get around a double-parked car or a service vehicle. Over 19,500 bicycle accidents occurred in New Jersey’s 13 northern counties between 2001 and 2011. Last year 170 pedestrians were killed on the state’s roadways, making NJ one of the worst states in the nation for pedestrian safety. Instances where vehicles collide as a result of passing a bicycle or pedestrian are extremely few and far between. The editorial’s notion that the Safe Passing Law would cause a driver, obliged to follow the letter of the law, to suddenly abandon the use of a functioning brake pedal in favor of avoiding a vulnerable road user by blindly swerving into oncoming traffic is almost laughable.
Unfortunately though, the APP Editorial Board takes their ill-conceived notions regarding traffic flow a step further and suggest that “if there is no shoulder, or a narrow one that requires riding in a lane of traffic,” bike riders should “find another route,” and that “if there are no better options for getting from point A to point B, towns should create bike paths.” Not only is this idea contrary to the law in all 50 states which declares that bicycles are deserving of the same rights to a roadway as motor vehicles, this line of thinking threatens to undo much of the progress made toward complete streets and safe roads for bike riders. Ironically, the APP Editorial Board proposes complete streets plans as the solution in a scenario where there is no safe passing law, and on roads that do not provide accommodations for all users, with non-motorized users as second class citizens. This is folly. The editorial board remained silent on what pedestrians are supposed to do when there are no sidewalks or other road infrastructure that would enhance pedestrian safety. Are pedestrians supposed to walk somewhere else also?
The Editorial Board’s comments show a fundamental lack of understanding of who is riding bicycles and who is walking in the roadway. Bike riders, in addition to riding for recreation and exercise, also use bikes as transportation, and often these riders have no other choice, as car ownership and public transportation are out of their reach. These riders are to go ride somewhere else, instead of being able to safely pedal to their jobs, to run errands and otherwise use their bikes to provide for their families? Likewise with pedestrians using the roadways where there are no sidewalks; often this is not a matter of choice, but of necessity due to their economic circumstances. Again, they should go walk somewhere else, regardless of whether or not it gets them to their destination?
It’s a self-defeating argument for the APP to assert that an emphasis on complete streets policies should render a Safe Passing Law unnecessary. Casting aside the legal precedent that establishes bicycle riders as vehicles fully-deserving of necessary safety protections does no favors to complete streets advocates; it only makes it more difficult to convince policy makers that bikes belong on the road in the first place. And in an era of cash-strapped governments, with New Jersey’s Transportation Trust Fund rapidly running out of money, should we really expect that funding can be procured for the thousands of miles of off-road bike paths that the APP Editorial Board suggests as an alternative to safe and effective road sharing? Even if there were off-road bike paths, there is no law in the state that requires bike riders to use them instead of the roadway.
First and foremost, it should be stated that a Safe Passing Bill is not the be-all-and-the-end-all of ensuring the safety of riders and pedestrians who have to navigate roadways populated with automobiles. But it is a start towards raising both the awareness among the general public of a bike rider’s legal right to use the roadway, and the likelihood that there will be bike riders and pedestrians in the roads. NJBWC, along with partners Tri-State Transportation Campaign and AAA, have proposed amending the language of the Safe Passing Bill to clarify that a driver should, if necessary, slow down and overtake the bicyclist or pedestrian when it is safe to do so. Slowing down, providing a safe passing distance, and moving over into the oncoming traffic lane is done now on roads throughout the state- urban, suburban and rural – under many different conditions: when a vehicle is double parked, when someone has opened their car door and is exiting, when emergency vehicles are stopped, and when mail trucks, delivery vehicles, garbage trucks, farm machinery and other service vehicles are performing their tasks and are stopped on the side of the road. If we can safely pass these vehicles in the roadway, we should be able to do that for people. Now that is common sense.
Cyndi Steiner is the Executive Director of the New Jersey Bike & Walk Coalition. Aaron Hyndman serves as the organization’s Communications Coordinator.
Moving in Reverse: Monmouth County Guts Its Complete Streets Policy
by Cyndi Steiner & Aaron Hyndman
In 2010, Monmouth County made a landmark commitment to safer roadways by being the first county in New Jersey to adopt a Complete Streets plan. Sadly, the progress that was put in motion five years ago is in danger of grinding to a halt. Last month, Monmouth County established a set of Bicycle Facility Policy Guidelines that, instead of facilitating the installation of bicycling accommodations, will almost certainly be an impediment to the development of the network of safe bike lanes that the residents of Monmouth County were promised in 2010.
By law, the responsibility to fund the construction and maintenance of county roadways lies with the county government, not the municipalities. However, Monmouth County’s new Bicycling Facility Policy and Guidelines, as stated in Resolution 2015-0352, change that dramatically. According to the new Guidelines, all pavement markings and regulatory signs pertaining to bike lanes on county roadways are to be installed at the municipality’s expense. In addition, the Policy Guidelines also force municipalities to assume the costs of planning and design for bicycling facilities on county roads. These cities, boroughs and townships, already responsible for financing their own roads and streets, are now being unfairly forced to bear the burden of funding installations on county roadways that are not, and should not be, their responsibility. Not only is such a policy unfair, it’s also unwieldy, as it unnecessarily compartmentalizes and complicates what should be a streamlined and centralized planning process under the guidance of the County Engineer.
Fair Haven Mayor Ben Lucarelli describes this action as putting a knife right through the 2010 Complete Streets Policy. Monmouth County’s Freeholders cannot be allowed to renege on their commitment to Complete Streets in such a manner that unfairly passes the buck, imposing financial and logistical obligations on municipalities that are already doing their fair share with regards to their own roads and streets. To do so threatens future installation of the bicycling facilities Monmouth County residents have been promised.
Monmouth County’s 2010 Resolution states that where “practicable,” the Monmouth County Complete Streets Program “shall include all road, bridge, and building projects funded through Monmouth County’s Capital Program.” The facts show that such inclusion is entirely feasible, despite County officials stating that the $15,000 per mile cost of bicycling facilities is an expense that exceeds the county’s financial limitations. Not only is $15,000 a mere fraction of the total per mile cost of repaving a roadway, but federal and state funding for bicycling facilities is also available to counties, thereby mitigating the cost of such installations.
What’s lacking is not the capital required to fund complete streets in Monmouth County. All that is absent is the political will for Monmouth County officials to follow through with the promises they’ve made regarding safe streets for all residents who use them. It’s time to hold the Monmouth County Board of Freeholders accountable, and ensure that they make good on their obligation to provide for their residents the safety of complete streets.
Cyndi Steiner is the Executive Director of the New Jersey Bike & Walk Coalition. Aaron Hyndman serves as the organization’s Communications Coordinator.
[ed. note – A previous edition of this article indicated that the Bicycle Facility Policy Guidelines, passed on April 23, were voted on not during the open meeting, but in executive session. NJBWC has verified that this was not the case, and has amended this post accordingly.]