It Takes More Than A River to Divide Us: Bike Riders from Both Sides of the Hudson Embrace NJBWC’s Message about Bike Advocacy in New Jersey at Bike Expo New York 

by Aaron Hyndman

 

Happy Bike Month, everybody! Things got off to a great start this past weekend as we had the privilege of participating in Bike New York‘s Bike Expo New York.  As America’s most-attended consumer bike expo, it was definitely the place to be, not only for TD Five Boro Bike Tour participants who came to the event to pick up their packets, but also curious bike enthusiasts from across the region in numbers totaling over 60,000 people for the weekend.

Manning the NJBWC convention floor booth were Executive Director Cyndi Steiner, Communications Coordinator Aaron Hyndman, and NJBWC Lifetime Member Jim Hunt of Morris Area Freewheelers. We had a fantastic time connecting with a diverse cross-section of bike riders from across the tri-state area as well as far-flung regions of the country.  In addition, we were happy to have the opportunity to donate some of our exhibitor space to the League of American Bicyclists, who sent their Board Chair (and NJBWC’s former Board Chair) Karen Jenkins and board member Harry Brull to join us behind the exhibitor’s table.

The expo featured merchandise sales, product demos, giveaways, panels, contests, entertainment, and the latest in state-of-the-art gear, all located in a scenic venue right on the East River at Pier 36. Though Friday’s cold and wet weather left much to be desired, Saturday’s sunshine provided a glorious backdrop to the event, as attendees gathered en masse on the promenade to enjoy the beer garden and food trucks overlooking the river between the Manhattan and Williamsburg bridges.

Of course, there was much more to the event than soaking in the scenery, atmosphere, and assorted goodies. Bike Expo New York provided a valuable opportunity to connect to a multitude of bike enthusiasts from New Jersey and the rest of the New York metropolitan area. As always, New Jerseyans were enthusiastic to learn about our advocacy, outreach, and education efforts.  But just as significant were the many New Yorkers who asked us loudly and clearly “when will New Jersey become more rideable for those of us who want to cross the Hudson with their bikes and explore what the state has to offer?”

Obviously, the simplest answer is that when New Jersey finally becomes a place that provides the necessary safety measures and infrastructure to make bike riding more pervasive among its own residents, New Yorkers also will be able to reap the benefits. For that to happen, New Jersey needs the Safe Passing Law to be approved by the legislature and signed by the governor. And counties and municipalities need to first update their master plans to better incorporate Complete Streets policies that prioritize bike infrastructure and then follow through with funding and implementing such initiatives.  That’s just the first piece of the puzzle, however.

In the grand scheme of things, we have an amazing opportunity to enhance the economic vitality of New Jersey cities, towns, townships, and villages throughout the metropolitan area by making our state better for New York’s bike riders. Unlike the drivers who come across the bridges and through the tunnels using our towns as mere thoroughfares, New York City’s bike riders made it crystal clear to us this past weekend that they don’t want to just pass through.  They want to explore.  They want to get to know New Jersey. And they want to spend money in our shops, bars, theaters, and restaurants.  Making our roads safer for bike riders so that New Yorkers will come across the river to ride would be a boon to our state’s economy, pouring money into our tourism sector and the many downtown business districts that would become open to new customers in a previously unprecedented way.

That’s why the NJ Bike & Walk Coalition has been actively involved in projects such as bike access and ADA compliance on the George Washington Bridge.  And we’re monitoring developments such as improved bike infrastructure on Route 9W, Newark’s BikeIronbound complete streets plan, and potential enhancements to waterfront access for bike riders along the Jersey side of the Hudson.  We will also continue to support the efforts of Bike Hoboken and Bike JC in pushing for a commitment to build safer and more expansive networks of bike lanes.  And also vital is our Ice and Iron Greenway Project, which aims to provide a safe, scenic and car-free thoroughfare linking Jersey City with suburban Essex County by constructing a route that will serve not only those who bike for recreation, but also the riders who bike to and from work.

With all that in mind, it’s quite apparent that our state and region has the potential to unlock its enormous potential if New Jersey’s powers-that-be choose to make a commitment to a state that is more livable through safer and easier biking and walking options. Our interactions with the Bike Expo New York attendees revealed massive amounts of enthusiasm for the many benefits a bike-friendly New Jersey would bring.  Now the ball is in our court. Let’s put New Jersey in play for the bike riders throughout the region on both sides of the Hudson. That would be a win for everyone.

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Aaron Hyndman is the Communications Coordinator for the NJ Bike & Walk Coalition.