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.
NJ has a large pot of unspent Transportation Enhancements (TE) funds dating back to 2009’s ARRA. TE funds are federal transportation funds that are allocated to states by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), and are available for municipalities, counties, transit agencies and others to use to implement projects that increase transportation options. Pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure and safety programs are eligible to receive this funding. The TE program was replaced by the Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP) in October 2012,; TAP also provides funds for bike and pedestrian projects.
In 2014, NJDOT received another $17 million in TAP funds from FHWA. As of 2014, the state had $70.9 million in combined TE/TAP funds unspent and available for projects. At this rate, the pot was never going to be emptied, and the state was at risk of having any portion of the TE and TAP funds rescinded by the FHWA – in other words, pulled back by the federal government.
The NJ Bike & Walk Coalition, Tri-State Transportation Campaign, Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, and the Safe Routes to School National Partnership have worked closely with the NJDOT’s Local Aid office over the past three years to provide advice and assistance in finding ways to make these funds more accessible to municipalities. Efforts included training workshops for towns and counties to learn how to complete and submit a strong application, assisting NJDOT in understanding how other states allocate these funds, and urging NJDOT to establish a regular schedule of solicitations for these funds.
Separately, our organizations support partnerships that create or advocate for large scale, regional projects that have broad support and due to their regional significance, have the potential to impact many NJ residents. Several examples are the Circuit in the Greater Philadelphia Metro Area (Burlington, Camden, Mercer and Gloucester Counties), the Ice and Iron Greenway Project in Essex and Hudson Counties, a countywide bikeway network in Cape May County, and the Morris Canal Greenway project which spans six counties in northern NJ. Regional projects like these are difficult to fund, as they require large sums to implement; the current annual TAP rounds are capped at $1 million per project, and the state aid program (Bikeways) is capped at $1 million per year for the entire program.
In a November 2014 meeting with Michael Russo, Director of Local Aid for NJDOT, we discussed these larger projects and the possibility of creating a program that would fund their construction. Our rationale was that many of these projects had already completed feasibility and conceptual design work, were close to being “shovel ready,” and could put these federal dollars to work quickly. These projects also have “showcase potential,” and will encourage smaller, municipal-level add-on projects through a ripple effect. They will also begin to create transportation networks, where people can get from point A to point B, rather than being stand-alone bike lanes that lead to nowhere.
Together we submitted a letter to Michael Russo in December 2014, and in March 2015, NJDOT announced the Regional TE funds program. At this time, the state’s three MPOs – North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority (NJTPA), the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC), and the South Jersey Transportation Planning Organization (SJTPO) – are all gathering lists of potential projects that will qualify under this new program.
In addition to the health and environmental benefits of creating bike and pedestrian facilities, the economic impacts on local towns is substantial. For example, the Delaware & Lehigh Valley Trail generated an estimated $19 million for the region in 2012, from approximately 282,000 trail visitors. Projects such as the Morris Canal Greenway, the Ice & Iron Greenway, and the Cape May County bike network have the potential for similar benefits to the communities they touch.
Cyndi Steiner, Executive Director, NJ Bike & Walk Coalition
NJ Transit is slated to raise bus and train fares 9% effective October 1, the fifth fare hike since 2002, while the state’s gas tax remains unchanged since 1988, and is the nation’s second lowest. In addition to the fare hikes, the agency is cutting service on several key train and bus lines.
Raising mass transit fares forces more people off public transportation and into their cars, increasing congestion and making the roads more dangerous for those who walk and bike for transportation and for recreation.
Putting more cars on the road works against bike riders and pedestrians in many ways:
Raising fares also affects poorer people disproportionately, as they may not have the resources to afford the fare hike or to change their mode of transportation; not everyone can afford to simply go out and buy a car. Biking and walking enables many disadvantaged to reach transit, to complete their commutes. Cutting service and raising fares causes upheaval for these individuals that those with resources cannot begin to contemplate: a job change, a move closer to work, or worse, a move away from family and friends to another state where mass transit is cheaper.
On the other side of the economic spectrum, today’s millenials, who will be tomorrow’s leaders, are choosing to live and work in cities and towns that provide a variety of transportation options such as mass transit, walking and biking. This generation is opting out of the car-centered lifestyle that saw their parents waste away hours per week trapped on congested roads, as NJ crept towards having the nation’s longest commutes.
With the deplorable condition of NJ’s roads and bridges due to lack of state transportation trust funding, and little political will to make them safer for bicycling and walking, raising transit fares and cutting service is backwards, 1950s era , car-centered transportation policy, and the beginning of a downward spiral that will leave the state with a sub-standard mass transit system amidst roads that are near gridlock with congestion. The country’s most densely populated state should be embracing a mass transit-centered transportation policy that supports and encourages other transportation options. The state’s economic future and the health of the residents depend upon it.
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.]