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.