Thursday, December 18, 2014

A look at Newark's and New Jersey's first parking protected cycletrack before its gone

Well, it might have been too good while it lasted. If you read The Star-Ledger or have been following our FaceBook Page you are likely aware of the parking protected bike lanes on Mt. Prospect Ave in Newark's North Ward, the first that we are aware of in New Jersey.  Columnist Barry Carter has been writing a series (1, 2, 3) about the claimed hardships the streetscape redesign, particularly the parking protected bike lanes have caused the local residents and merchants.  This Tuesday he claimed victory over the bike lanes after Mayor Baraka issued an executive order allow drivers to park at the curb until the roadway could be entirely redesigned without the bike lanes as they are now.

A sample of the bike lane and streetscaping.

So hearing that the day's were numbered for this innovative facility, I made a small detour during my day at work on Tuesday and visited Mt. Prospect Ave by car and then walked around on foot around the entire Streetscape Area.  For those of you who don't know this project is located in Newark's North Ward which is a vibrant Spanish speaking neighborhood just south of the town of Belleville (see map below).  The bike lanes extend right to the Belleville boarder.

Some of the concerns voiced in Carter's columns may have some validity.  Merchants complained that with the road narrowed there is no place for them to receive deliveries without blocking the roadway.  Similar projects in New York City rededicated some parking spaces for deliveries.  I didn't observe any specific loading zones here but there were also no deliveries going on.  Also, residents complain with the road narrowed, garbage pickup now backs up traffic.  However this only happens for a few minutes several times a week at most.  With the traffic volumes I observed this didn't seem likely to be a big problem, no more than illegal double-parked cars (more on that later).

Cars allowed to park in the bike lanes due to the Mayor's executive order.

The other concern was that the city doesn't have a plan to deal with snow removal from the bike lane.  The photo below of this now legally parked van shows the width of the lane.  However I also think this is non-issue.  In Montreal they don't plow most of their parking protected bike lanes and use them for snow storage.  There is no reason why that couldn't be the plan here in Newark too.

This van shows the width of the bike lane.

However the crux of the argument to remove the bike lanes was that they had eliminated valuable parking that was preventing customers from visiting the stores on the avenue.  Also, since the addition of parking protected bike lanes had narrowed the width of the the avenue, customers now would not longer be able to double park to quickly visit store.  However in the hour I was there on Tuesday December 16th between 2pm and 3pm, parking was not at all a problem.  Again, I arrived by car and was able to find a parking space on just about every block, if not on Mt. Prospect Ave itself, on the immediately adjacent side streets.

Plenty of parking on this side street when I was here.

Now I will confess that I was only here for one hour on a Tuesday afternoon.  I do not live or work there.  Things could be vastly different after 5pm and/or on weekends.  Still parking was plentiful on Mt. Prospect when I was there and on the immediately adjacent side streets.  To the west a block away most of the curb space was free for car parking.  I would be hard pressed to believe that one couldn't find a parking space within any one block on this portion of Mt. Prospect at any time or day.  The only real bone of contention here seems to be people's ability to double-park directly in front of the establishment of their choosing which has always been illegal.

Plenty of parking on both sides of Mt. Prospect here too.

Many more photos and the conclusion after the break.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Good retail bike parking ain't rocket science

Last week we asked what it might say if McDonald's were to become more bike friendly.  All we were really asking for is better bike parking.  Is that too much to ask? Below is a photo of the bike parking at the Rite-Aid Pharmacy in North Brunswick, NJ which is only 1/4 mile from the McDonald's featured in last week's article.

Two inverted "U" racks, well spaced, right up front!  How hard was that?!?!

In a rare twist, this bike parking was only provided by request of myself and the zoning board during site review. North Brunswick does not have an ordinance requiring bicycle parking and got the parking due to several variances the project required. To my surprise they got the bike parking done perfectly!  Bravo!

Unfortunately good retail bike parking is such a rarity in New Jersey.  My god people this ain't freaking rocket science!  Follow the damned cookbook!  All it takes are two inverted "U" racks, properly positioned and well spaced right up by the front door.  On the rare occasions it is even provided, 9 times out of 10 it is done so wrong, as demonstrated in the selection of photos below, that it is barely even usable.  UGHH!!

Don't forget, all the bike lanes in the world won't do you much good if you don't have a minimally acceptable place to park your bike once you get to where you're going.

Great positioning but that sub-standard "wheelbender" rack
is as cheap as they come and not even secured to the ground.

A "wave" rack squeezed up against a wall.  It's amazing
that these cyclists were able to park their bikes at all.

An inverted "U" rack placed 4 inches from a wall.  Need we say more?

Sunday, November 30, 2014

What would it say to America if McDonalds became "Bike Friendly"?

If you're "bike aware" (and likely you are because you're reading this blog) and have ever visited a fast food restaurant you've undoubtedly seen bikes haphazardly parked to anything secure all around the restaurant site.  A vast majority of these bikes are undoubtedly owned by members of restaurant staff who depend on their bikes to get to their jobs in the restaurant.

A bike parked on a street sign outside the McDonalds on Milltown Road in North Brunswick, NJ.

Knowing that a number of their employees rely on a bike to get to work everyday, one would think that these fast food restaurants would provided some official organized bicycle parking that preferably meets the basic APBP bike parking standards.  Unfortunately this is almost always not the case and the sight of bikes parked to whatever the owner can find is common sight not only in New Jersey but at most fast food and chain sit-down restaurants all across the country.

The above two photos and the one below were all taken at the same time at the
North Brunwick McDonalds. There are three bikes in this photo plus the one bike in the first
photo. Including the author's bicycle (I ate there too), there were five bikes parked at this
McDonalds location at one time, a very high actual demand.  The underutilized lawn
shown here would have made an ideal location for APBP compliant bicycle parking.

And given no official bike parking and left with few other options, owners will often lock their bikes to trees.  Chaining a bike to a tree will damage the bark and eventually kill the tree.  Trees are expensive to replace if they are replaced at all, so the landscaping at the restaurant sites is often left permanently damaged and never given a chance to mature.

This tree shows clear signs of structural damage which was likely caused by bike parking.

So this is why we ask, "What would it say to America if McDonalds became 'Bike Friendly'?"  We are not picking on McDonalds.  Far from it!  We focus on McDonalds because they are clearly the industry leader and we respect them for that.  If McDonalds makes the move to standardize bike parking for their employees and guests, WalkBikeJersey believes that it would send a message across the entire restaurant industry.  Their engineering consultants that do their local site plans would also be educated about proper bike parking design and hopefully the message would get out to the towns that do the site plan review and then possibly even to McDonalds' competition.  There is clearly the potential for a positive feedback loop here.
Employee bicycles locked to the signpost marking the handicapped parking space
at the McDonalds on Route 22 in Somerville NJ.  The signpost is much closer to the
door than the provided bike rack that fails APBP Guidelines.  As such the bicyclists
park on the signpost which could then block wheelchair users from accessing the door.

Also, McDonalds is known for remodeling their restaurants at regular intervals.  Both McDonalds featured in this story were entirely remodeled inside and out within the past 2 years and the North Brunswick location has been remodeled 3 times in the past 15 years.  Their frequent remodeling schedule would allow them quickly implement universal APBP compliant bike parking at large portion of their restaurants.

This APBP non-compliant "wave rack" located at the Somerville NJ McDonalds
was far from the door and not immediately visible.  It was also located too close to
the bushes seen here to be used properly or easily.

Some locations like the Somerville McDonalds have tried to do bike parking but didn't get the details quite right.  This is a good sign but just the beginning.  We hope McDonalds takes the lead here because not only would good bike parking be good for their employees but it would prevent damage to their landscape trees, limit liability when bikes are haphazardly park to signs and it would be good costumer service as well.  And if McDonalds is smart, and we know they are, they could turn this into a great public relations opportunity.

Now if we could only get them to turn the "drive-up window" into a "walk-up window."  We can dream, no?

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Fall leaves New Jersey cyclists in a leafy situation

New Jersey is blessed with many wonderful treelined neighborhoods.  The massive trees that tower over some New Jersey suburbs add character and beauty, provide shade that keep neighborhoods cool during the summer, all while filtering harmful particulates and sucking CO2 out of the atmosphere.  Trees are wonderful community assets that too often go under-appreciated.

These leaf piles take up much of the parking lane narrowing the usable roadway for cyclists.

That said, it's at this time of the year where we blessed with big trees must pay the piper and rake up all those leaves.  So far so good.  However it is how the leaves are stored at the curb awaiting pickup that can cause a real problem for cyclists. Most communities just have residents pile their leaves at the curb in the street.  In neighborhoods with lots of large trees these piles can get deep and wide.  Not only do the piles block the portion of the road that many cyclists use, the leaves can also be blow around getting onto the rest of the road causing even more hazards for cyclists as our friends at the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia discussed earlier this week.

In Westfield, much of the ridable side of Rahway Ave is blocked by leaves forcing
cyclists to ride in the travel lane kept clear by passing cars.  Anyone need a chair?

Leaves blocking the shoulder of NJ 27 in Princeton. Photo - Mark Hommer

Now leaves don't need to be stored this way for pickup.  Other towns have their residents place leaves in biodegradable paper bags and then neatly place those bags at the curb awaiting pickup.  The benefits to this system are obvious.  The side of the roads frequented by cyclists stays clear and clean of leaves, eliminating all of the hazards caused by the other system. There is no reason for cyclists to be exposed to these hazards two-plus months every year when better systems exist.

Leaves neatly awaiting pickup in biodegradable paper bags.

Sunday, November 02, 2014

Will a slight uptick in the economy mean a return to sprawl in New Jersey?


Yes suburban sprawl is alive and well once again in New Jersey and it seems destine to destroy our favorite rural cycling roads.  Prior to the Great Recession, the housing bubble was eating into vast swaths of what makes New Jersey the Garden State.  During that time I personally saw many wonderfully charming, quite rural roadways straightened, blown out and widened to modern "safety standards" to accommodate large new car-dependent developments and traffic demands 30 years into the future.  With a slight uptick in the economy my rides have once again been filled with the sight of new housing starts like that seen below.  While the rediscovery of urban centers and urban living have been absorbing much of the housing boom here in New Jersey, old habits still seem to die hard here in our state.  Also the massive amounts of wealth being generated in New York City and the region make the dream of a house out in "the country" (well it was the country till all of you moved here) all too attainable and attractive for those who can still easily afford this style of living.

New "estate homes" being built in an empty field off of wonderfully bikeable and entertaining Burnt Mills Road in
Somerset County.  Much more of this and the traffic volume on Burnt Mills will render the road un-bikable.
BTW - Note the budget bin fiberglass street lamp.  Luxury indeed!

We've talked about the connection between sprawl and the degradation of New Jersey's wonderful rural road cycling before (if you don't understand it, read that old blog article).  Luckily there is something we can all do to slow and hopefully stop New Jersey sprawl once and for all. On this Election Day you can vote YES for Ballot Question #2 which would permanently dedicate a small portion of the state corporate business tax to fund openspace preservation, park maintenance, new trails (!) and new park facilities.  Support is strong for this question in the local New Jersey media.  For details about the question itself see this in the Daily Record.  And here is The New Jersey Conservation Foundation rundown on what voting YES on Ballot Question #2 would mean.

So voting yes on Ballot Question #2 would preserve open space which means preservation of scenic areas we love to cycle, along with the old quirky roads that have so much charm and make cycling in New Jersey so much fun.  It would also provide monies to build and improve trails, parks and park facilities.

A win on Ballot Question #2 is a win for cycling and the overall health of the Garden State.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

A look back at last weeks Ciclovia in New Brunswick

On Sunday, October 12th the City of New Brunswick held its last Cyclovia event of the season.  John Boyle covered the first event last summer but as I have been away from New Jersey in Idaho, Seattle and then Germany over the past 15 months this was my first Cyclovia and I figured I'd go take a look and offer a fresh perspective on the event.

The weather on that Sunday couldn't have been better and I was pleasantly surprised to find a very well run event, worthy in every way of the spirit and planning of much larger Cyclovia events all over the world.  Admittedly, New Brunswick and the event organizers had plenty of time to refine the event by the time I got to experience it but that only reinforces my admiration of those in charge as it would have been really easy to just give up after one or two possible mediocre events.

What was really wonderful to see was how the Latino community has come to embrace Cyclovia.  Joyce Kilmer Avenue in the heart of Spanish speaking New Brunswick was the center of activity and as a long time resident of the area it was great to see the people in the neighborhood truly embrace the event.  Unfortunately, the University community hasn't embraced the event quite as much but they are working on trying to get to college kids out and on the streets.

Great (Samba?) music!

Overall, I was super impressed at the quality and success of this event.  It was clear to see Cyclovia acting as a elegant bridge between the communities and cultures that reside in the city.  As someone who has become very jaded at seeing one too many poorly executed bike and pedestrian projects here in New Jersey, this event and all the new bike projects going on in New Brunswick giver me hope that we might be turning the corner as to what is expected when planning and building for those who walk and bike here in New Jersey.

Anyway enjoy the photos.  There are many more after the break.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Closing the Victory Bridge to Bicyclists and Pedestrians Does Not Solve the Problem

On September 20th the body of 16 year old Giancarlo Taveras was recovered from the Raritan River after he jumped off the Route 35 Victory Bridge. The death of the teenager drew an outpouring of grief from the Perth Amboy community. As a result the annual suicide awareness walk over the bridge included more than 500 participants on September 28th. Then on September 29th a 19 year old miraculously survived his suicide attempt with a broken leg. That chain of events along, with pressure from the Mayor of Perth Amboy finally spurred NJDOT to do something about the issue. Their solution - set up barricades and close the bridge to bicyclists and pedestrians. Along with a vague promise to put up a fence for the walkway at some point in the future.

The bridge closure severs the only pedestrian and bicycle access between Perth Amboy and Sayreville. A 2 mile bike ride over the bridge is now a 23 mile detour via New Brunswick and a pedestrian's only option is to use the infrequent bus service that crosses the bridge.

We've seen this before.

One month after the September 11th attacks KYW TV Philadelphia news reporter Paul Moriarty (Yes the same Paul Moriarty that tried to ban quick release hubs) filed a report on the potential of terrorists to damage the Ben Franklin Bridge simply by accessing the walkway. Immediately after the report the Delaware River Port Authority (DRPA) closed the walkway to bicyclists and pedestrians. It was only after a concerted effort by the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia that the authority reluctantly reopened the walkway two months later. The DRPA repeated this action in 2005 after the London Subway bombings with a 30 day closing.

It should be pointed out that simply closing this walkway and bike lanes will not diminish the opportunity for people to take their own life on this structure. The bike lane is really little more than a very wide shoulder allowing someone to park without disrupting traffic. There is no such accommodation on the adjacent Driscoll Bridge which carries the Garden State Parkway.  The press has only mentioned in passing that the the body of Anthony Sharpe Jr. who jumped to his death off the Driscoll Bridge was found on the same day that Tavaras was discovered.

Walk Bike Jersey agrees with's editorial that NJ DOT should make the construction of a fence an immediate priority.  For NJDOT the closure is a good choice from their perspective, as it it relieves the immediacy of fixing the problem. Imagine if the Turnpike Authority closed the Garden State Parkway while it considered options to fix the low barrier on the Driscoll Bridge.

Complete streets is more than simply implementing the routine accommodation policy that NJDOT has adopted. It is about the equitable treatment of all road users as a core value of the Department. Otherwise we can continue to expect knee jerk solutions which will result in more collective punishment for people who depend on sidewalks, trails and bike lanes on bridges to get to where they are going.

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