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.

View Larger Map

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

No Bikes on Trains Today (Til Sundown?)

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.

NJ TRANSIT along with Metro North/Long Island RR and Chicago's METRA are the only commuter rail lines with black out dates. But just yesterday 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 NJT's bike on rail policies.

Monday, September 01, 2014

Mapping the Bicycle Level of Traffic Stress in Your Community

In 2011 the Mineta Transportation Institute released the report "Low-Stress Bicycling and
Network Connectivity". It examined the practicality of a bicycling network being defined as "a set of streets and paths that people consider acceptably safe for bicycling". These streets already exist and in urbanized areas actually comprise the majority of streets. The problems lies in the lack of connectivity of these mostly local streets.

The resulting model is called Level of Traffic Stress (LTS) and it categorizes all streets, and intersections into 4 levels of bicyclists comfort :
LTS 1 suitable for children
LTS 2 acceptable to traffic intolerant adult (interested but concerned)
LTS 3 OK for experienced bicyclists (enthused and confident).
LTS 4 Highest Stress (strong and fearless)

After the jump find out how you can create a simplified LTS assessment for your own community on Google Maps

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

WalkBikeJersey releases super-accurate, interactive New Jersey campground map for your summer bike tour

Looking to do some bike touring this summer around New Jersey?  Want a cheap place to stay?  Like to go camping?  Take a look at the VERY detailed interactive NJ Campground Map that we put together for the NJ Bike Map a few years ago.  Both publicly (National, State & County Parks) and privately operated campgrounds have been included here. Click on the campground icons for detailed info about that campground including contact info, number of sites and amenities.  Only campgrounds that one could use for cycling touring have been included.  Members and RV only campgrounds have not been included (ones that appeared to be defacto trailer parks have also been avoided).  Each icon is VERY accurately placed on the map, usually placed either on the campground office or in the center of campground.  Have fun exploring New Jersey on your bike this summer! 

View New Jersey Campgrounds in a larger map

Really cool is the NEW campground on Sandy Hook! Opened by the National Park Service two years ago, this is the only place you can camp on the Jersey Shore AND it's right off the really nice Sandy Hook Bike Path.

Also note, unlike most State and National Parks in the American West, New Jersey Park Campgrounds do not have special "Hiker / Biker" sites for the "passing through" bike tourist (Hint, hint, NJ Parks and Forests!) and rangers will turn you away at nightfall even after a long day on the bike (yes, this actually happened to me).  Advanced reservations for State Park sites require a two day minimum stay which is not useful for the passing cycle tourist and VERY expensive at $50 for two nights ($60 for non-residents)!  NJ State Parks used to hold open a number of campsites for day-of arrivals.  One used to be able to call that morning and make a reservation for a campsite the same night.  We are not sure if that is still the case so do your own research and call ahead. 

Overall, weekends will likely be booked out, weekdays less likely. Some campgrounds might be worth two nights stay like those near rivers, lakes and beaches where one can take a break from the road.

While I've made some updates, please note that this map dates back a few years. Last we checked, the very popular campground at Bulls Island on the Delaware River, north of Labertville has been permanently close (updated on map). Some other campgrounds may have also closed since this map was put together. Call ahead!