Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Who is looking to preserve New Jersey's dirt and gravel roads?

Earlier this month we saw the very successful running of the 7th Annual "Hell of Hunterdon, a challenging, semi-competitive ride that features some of the most beautiful, scenic roads in Hunterdon as well as Somerset and Mercer Counties.  Modeled after the Spring Classics of Europe, the main feature of this ride are the numerous sections of dirt and gravel roads that offer an extra challenge for the riders.

A cyclist's eye view of the 2009 running.  Photo - Hell of Hunterdon.

However, dirt and unpaved roads are also called, "unimproved roads" and engineers hate things that are unimproved or not quite up to modern AASHTO standards.  Near the Hell of Hunterdon route, Long Hill Road in Hillsborough was paved about 10 years ago.  Closer to Lambertville, Mill Road part of this years ride in West Amwell was also paved not so long ago.  How long before more and more of what makes the Hell of Hunterdon a "Modern New Jersey Classic," is paved?  Will Montgomery Road get chip-seal next?  What about Lake Road?  Quarry?  Or super scenic and quiet Stompf Tavern Road that rises from the Delaware River next to a creek bed just upstream from Bulls Island State park?  Will the lovely "Hell" be entirely lost someday soon?

But dirt roads are much more than a challenge ultra-fit road cyclist on a moody spring weekend.  As my friends and I found out, dirt roads can also provide a wonderfully scenic and quite hiking/walking experience.  In West Amwell's and Hopewell Township's Pleasant Valley, Hunter Road (a dirt road close to through traffic due to a rickety bridge and also featured in the Hell) and several others made for a great walk.  It was such a pleasure passing through some of the most scenic landscapes in New Jersey without worrying about cars.  It's called Pleasant Valley after all!

My friend Paul walks south on Hunter Road with Kuser Mountain behind.

My other friend Adam crosses Moores Creek on the bridge closed to motor traffic.

Dirt roads also provide places for people to ride horses as well.  In the ultra-wealth enclave of Bedminster, many of the roads have purposely been left unpaved for horseback riding.  This also has the added bonus of keeping the "riff-raff" out in their Chevrolets (but not my friends and I on our bikes).  And that is likely the ultimate benefit of dirt roads.  They are very effective at preventing most New Jersey drivers from using them as short cuts and therefor provide a quite respite for the adventurous sole that might be on foot, bike or horseback.

Unfortunately, except in some rich locals, no one is looking to preserve and maintain dirt roads as they are.  Admittedly as traffic become slightly heavier on these once hidden roads, it likely becomes more cost effective for local officials to pave them.  That is likely what happened on Mill Road in West Amwell and Long Hill Road in Hillsborough.  But something is also lost when the steamroller comes.  Driver speeds increase and that coziness of a bygone era seems to evaporate.  And in rapidly developing New Jersey, we need places that we can step back into a bygone era and quaint little dirt roads are one of those places.

Who's going to fight to save the dirt roads?

Saturday, February 14, 2015

The importance of Romance in the built walking environment

Couples take a romantic stroll in the park of my
mom's hometown of Bad Kissingen, Germany.
The date was going exceptionally well.  The summer evening was warm but comfortable.  She and I were lucky enough to score a table outside at a restaurant in Freehold's historic downtown.  As we dined al fresco our conversation became more animated and more flirty.  There was definitely a chemistry between us but every five minutes our conversation was interrupted with a  deafening BBBBBRRRRRRAAAAAAAPPPPPP
PPPPPPPP!!!!!!!   of a Harley Davidson or other extremely LOUD motor vehicle who's owner felt the need to showoff.  It became so annoying that the cruising noise became just as memorable as the date.  We both had to just stop our conversation in mid sentence for tens of seconds at a time.  And as we both had parents from Europe (she from Greece and I from Germany) and both of us have visited the Old World numerous times, we both noted that our romantic evening together would never be so rudely interrupted in any restaurant over there.

After dinner we went for a stroll together.  Unfortunately with in a block or two, the scenic downtown gave way to an ugly if not downright scary surface parking lot where her car was parked.  It was clear that our stroll would go no further.  Still, we flirted some more until we both locked eyes, pulled each other close and passionately kissed each other goodnight, right underneath the sodium vapor lights and next to the stinky garbage dumpster.  UGHH!  Not exactly the most romantic place for two lovers to share their first kiss.  Kind of no surprise then that our relationship didn't go anywhere (admittedly it was my fault).

Couples stroll and window shop in the car-
free Medieval center of Bad Kissingen.
By contrast I am always amazed by how romantic my mom's hometown of Bad Kissingen, Germany is every time that I return.  There, even the most hopeless romantic can't screw up!  Granted it was rebuilt by the King of Bavaria in the 19th Century, the Romantic Period, to be the Royal Bavarian Spa Resort but nowhere that I've been to in New Jersey and very few in the entire U.S. can come close to its romantic appeal.  Today, Bad Kissingen survives as a spa and resort town but its 19th Century Romantic glory is not lost in today's hectic world.  Even though I've been coming here every other year since early childhood, I have no problem walking for hours in this beautiful town, day after day.  It is clear that the "lure of the stroll" is not lost on the thousands that visit here each year and those that call Bad Kissingen home.  As a spa and "kurstadt" (cure town in English), walking is often part of the treatment so keeping the town romantically walkable has long been part of the design of the town (a ring-road takes loud through-traffic around town, gates prevent through-traffic from crossing town and most of the old town is totally closed to cars).

Unfortunately, back home in New Jersey, I find it so difficult to find anyplace that has the capability to provide hours of romantic strolling as my mom's hometown.  Yes, places like Princeton, Lambertville, Ocean Grove and Montclair offer romantic opportunities but usually after 15 minutes to a half-hour of strolling the opportunities just seem to peter out.  And rarely does one find that perfect place to give that special new love a VERY memorable first kiss.  You got to make it memorable, right?

Lovers sit before the spectacular rose garden in the center of Bad Kissingen.  This is
just one of a hundred places in Bad Kissingen that would make for a memorable first kiss.

The lesson here?  There is more to a great walking environment than just sidewalks and crosswalks.  Places need to be beautiful if not downright romantic to truly succeed.  Whimsey needs to be celebrated and not lambasted as a costly extravagance.  On this Valentines Day lets not forget that love is often the product of beauty, as much as beauty is the product of love.

The view of Manhattan from Hoboken's Pier C Park is great place to seal
that great first date with a kiss.  He/she is sure to not forget it.

And yes, there is still hope for New Jersey.  Hoboken's Pier C Park, lambasted for cost overruns and delays is a truly world class park.  Even on a cold winters night like that when the photo above was taken, it is still a great place to give that special someone a great memorable kiss.

Go for a walk tonight and find a good spot for a romantic kiss.  Feel free to share your romantic spots to walk and smootch.  I've got to run myself.  Don't want to be late for my date.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

2nd Life Bikes First Annual Swap Meet this Saturday!

Has the cold of winter got you down?  Is your bike hiding for the winter?  Dreaming of shinny bikes on warm sunny days?  Well if this sounds like you, why not take drive or train ride down to 2nd Life Bikes in Asbury Park this Saturday at 11am for their First Annual Bicycle Swap Meet.  2nd Life Bikes' shop is huge so there is plenty of room inside.  Beside the hundreds of classic bikes 2nd Life has in stock, we've been told that there will be 20 vendor tables.  Take a look below at some of the bikes that we've been told will be for sale at the Swap Meet.  Be there or be square!

Be the king and queen of the next Tweed Ride with this stunning Follis Tandem.

Rip up the boardwalk this summer with this restored '68 Sting Ray!

Thursday, January 08, 2015

Helping and Facilitating the "Invisible Cyclist"

While it has been frustrating for me to sit on the professional sidelines of bicycle and pedestrian planning, my recent job foray as a professional driver has given me the ability to see and observe a great deal of the real-world transportation environment of northeastern New Jersey.  Recently I had to get the vehicle washed that I was driving at the Super Car Wash of Elizabeth on Rt 1 & 9 just south of the Bayway Circle.  Super Car Wash employes an army of men to do the detail work of sweeping the inside of the car and drying it off everywhere when it comes out of the mechanized washed.  Nearly all of these hardworking men are from Spanish speaking America.

Well, to my surprise Super Car Wash provided a bike rack for its employees and from the look of the rack in the photos, it would seem that a large number of its employees get there by bike.  While the rack is of the less than idea "wheel bender" variety, it seems to work rather well here as the employees can keep an eye on their wheels. 

Hats off to Super Car Wash for providing bike parking for its employees.  While maybe not quite a "Bicycle Friendly Business" in the eyes of the League of American Bicyclists, Super Car Wash provides a good basic model for other businesses who have a employees that rely on a bike to get to work.  Is providing bike parking really all that hard, particularly when so many of an employer's workers use a bike to get to the job?

Sunday, January 04, 2015

Death by Walking Fuels Increase in NJ Traffic Deaths.

According to the NJ State Police 563 people were killed by motor vehicle crashes in 2014, a 4% increase from 2013. However people in cars and on bicycles actually saw slight declines. There were 170 people killed by motor vehicles while walking in New Jersey, a 28% increase. Pedestrians now account for 30% of all fatalities in New Jersey but as the US Census American Community Survey shows only 3.1% of the residents walk to work.

Sources: NJ State Police and US Census American Community Survey
*Census includes Taxi and Motorcycle riders

Inattentive driving (distracted?), impaired driving and speeding were the primary factors for 73% of all fatal crashes. Traffic deaths take their greatest toll on older New Jerseyans, more than 50% of the victims were aged 50 and over.

The societal and economic losses of traffic fatalities is almost impossible to comprehend. The National Highway Safety Administration estimates that in 2010 the economic and societal costs of each traffic fatality was about 6 Million dollars, which tallies up to a $3.4 Billion loss for the State of New Jersey in 2014, nearly equal to NJDOT's entire transportation budget.

Non-ADA Compliant crosswalk on Route 130 at Holy Cross High where
20 year old Christal Smith was killed by a red light runner in 2013
A Vision Zero approach to road safety has been successfully implemented in Sweden, reducing fatalities by 50% since 1970. In Sweden a resident has a 1 in 38,000 chance annually of dying in a crash, while in New Jersey resident has a 1 in 16,000 chance**.

Traffic volumes and traffic deaths in Sweden are on opposite trend lines.

Recently New York City and San Francisco have adopted Vision Zero policies. While much of the early discussion in NY and SF has been around education and enforcement the Swedes have attained much of their success through improving the infrastructure as quoted in this article in the Economist.

Planning has played the biggest part in reducing accidents. Roads in Sweden are built with safety prioritised over speed or convenience. Low urban speed-limits, pedestrian zones and barriers that separate cars from bikes and oncoming traffic have helped. Building 1,500 kilometres (900 miles) of "2+1" roads—where each lane of traffic takes turns to use a middle lane for overtaking—is reckoned to have saved around 145 lives over the first decade of Vision Zero. And 12,600 safer crossings, including pedestrian bridges and zebra-stripes flanked by flashing lights and protected with speed-bumps, are estimated to have halved the number of pedestrian deaths over the past five years.

Completes Streets policies have been aggressively promoted to counties and municipalities by NJ DOT, but while many local governments have adopted policies few have been willing to implement changes. Vision Zero is the broader reaching goal that provides clarity and accountability for strategies like complete streets policies as well as targeted education and enforcement.
**Traffic fatalities divided by total population

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

No bikes on NJ TRANSIT trains Christmas Day. Eve?

Here we go again!  The Grinch is coming to NJ TRANSIT to kick you off the train on Christmas Day.  It's is another bike blackout day on NJ TRANSIT but not today Christmas Eve which seems backwards because today is a much busier travel day.  Considering that reality don't be surprised if crowded trains today force conductors to kick you off today too.

In case you haven't memorized the rules:

Bicycles are not permitted on trains (with the exception of the Atlantic City Line) on New Year's Day, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Presidents' Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving Day, day after Thanksgiving, Sunday after Thanksgiving and Christmas Day. Bicycles are not permitted on the day before Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, but are permitted on the holidays themselves.

So if you didn't read this in time and you wind up stranded somewhere remember that you can take your bike on the Atlantic City Line, most buses, ferries, PATH and NJT light rail. Bolt Bus will accept bicycles if space is available.

We still feel that if NJ TRANSIT added vertical bike racks to all of its rail rolling stock like that found on the German made RiverLINE lightrail cars, the space efficient storage of bikes would make the need for blackout dates a thing of the past.  RiverLINE trains have no blackout times or days which we feel is in part due to the well designed on-board vertical bike racks.  Connecticut DOT is doing just that and is paying for Metro North RR to install racks on trains serving the New Haven Line.

Bike racks on the NJ TRANSIT RiverLINE.  When not in use
passengers can fold down the seats and sit down.  This space
efficient design could easily be retrofitted to most NJ TRANSIT
heavy and light rail rolling stock.

NJ TRANSIT along with Metro North/Long Island RR and Chicago's METRA are the only commuter rail lines with black out dates. However recently we heard that METRA is narrowing its rush hour restrictions and eliminating black out dates.  With bicycling more popular then ever the time is now to modernize NJ TRANSIT's bike on rail policies.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Where do you park your bike when visiting Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital?

Unfortunately this holiday season someone very dear to me is in Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital.  Being that the hospital is an easy bike ride from my house and the weather relatively warm, I figured why not ride!

A view of the main building and entrance to RWJUH.
Note the nice Sharrow painted on Somerset Street by
the City of New Brunswick.

However when I got to the front door and the ER there isn't a bike rack in sight.  There is one about a block away over by the Cancer Institute of New Jersey but it is still far from ideal.

Hey!  Is that bike parking I see near the front door of the Cancer Institute?

Oh...  Wheelbenders!  Moving along...

So with those wheelbender racks not quite cutting the security threshold and being in front of the wrong building anyway, I decided to park my bike to a stainless steel railing near the front door of the main building but a little out of the way of the main entrance.  Still, since this was not an official bike parking spot I felt uncomfortable about leaving it there.  Not that I felt it was unsafe location but because I felt security itself might try to remove it.

Finally a parking spot!  Note the mailbox in this photo and
its location in the first photo for an idea where I parked.

So what's the deal RWJUH?  Your the flagship hospital of New Jersey and we all know you do a great job promoting preventative medicine.  So why make it hard for people to choose an active means of getting to your hospital, whether a guest or an employee, by not providing quality bike parking that's easy to find? 

I know.  You're busy doing one hundred and one other things.  That's okay.  We understand but we are here to help.  SERIOUSLY!  If you read this blog post just let us know with a reply in the comments.  I'm a professional regarding all things bike and pedestrian and would be glad to quickly show you the finer points of bike parking at such a large institution over lunch.  Looking around you have quite a few places to stick a few bike racks.  It's not rocket science.  Just send us message!