Monday, December 29, 2008

Happy Holidays from The Bike Church in Asbury Park

The Bike Church( of Asbury Park participated in 501(c) Trees - a holiday exhibit of Christmas trees decorated by local non-profits in Monmouth County. The Bike Church used a slightly aternative approach and made their tree/menorah out of a used Schwinn.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Comment on NJ's Global Warming Plan

From the Tri State Transportation Campaign's Mobilizing the Region (MTR):

The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s recently released draft Greenhouse Gas Plan shows promise of real change, provided that the recommendations survive the trip through Trenton.

Public meetings are being held in January click here for more information and to view MTR's expert opinion.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

New Jersey Bicycle Fatalities Nearly Double

22 and still counting.

Compared to 12 last year, 12 in 2006, 17 in 2005, 16 in 2004, 11 in 2003 and 15 in 2002.

Most cite the rise in the cost of gas getting more people out of their cars and on to bikes. However there could be a general awakening in America and New Jersey to the potential the bicycle as a highly functional, green and lean transportation tool. Hopefully it is more of the later and not the cost of gas.

As reported in Wednesday's Daily Record, these numbers are a major concern that the Director of the Division of Highway Traffic Safety, Pam Fischer has to get more aggressive in trying to reduce. I've had the pleasure of sharing lunch with Ms. Fischer once and she seems to be a very competent and compassionate person. I'm quite sure that we at WalkBikeJersey could come up with a few ideas to help her out on our shared missing of bicycle as well as pedestrian safety.

I'll start with two:

#1 - An aggressive public safety awareness campaign about bicycling. I believe there was a radio campaign recently that reminded drivers about the rights of pedestrians and the duties of drivers around pedestrians as specified under NJ Title 39. Something similar focused on biking would be great since we are all aware that too many drivers honestly believe cyclists have no right to the road and should ride on the sidewalk if at all.

#2 - A blinky light give-away. I know that I read somewhere that the Chicago Bicycle Federation (now the Active Transportation Alliance) along with the Chicago Police did a sting operation where they pulled over cyclists who did not have lights. Instead of giving the offenders tickets, they gave them lights instead. Similar programs are done in Washington DC and San Francisco. I'm quite sure that if you looked at the numbers, many bike crashes and probably most of the fatalities happen at night because inexperienced (or lazy) cyclists did not have lights. This would seem like an easy and relatively inexpensive program to do. Decent LED light sets start at paltry $12.

Director Fischer, please let us know if we could help. Really!

Does anyone else have any ideas?

Rutgers' John Pucher Strikes Again!

For those of you who don't know, Prof. John Pucher is probably the most well known and widely published scholars on bicycle and pedestrian issues in the English language. His specialty is comparative analysis between nations of the beneficial economic impacts of walking and biking (often along with transit). When he is involved in the publishing of a paper on the topic, the entire bike/ped world stops and listens.

And he lives right here! In Jersey no less!

His latest is no exception. Working with four other colleges the last paper is titled, "Walking, Cycling, and Obesity Rates in Europe, North America, and Australia" has recently been published in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health.

The results in a nutshell: "Countries with the highest levels of active transportation generally had the lowest obesity rates." In fact the paper shows that "Active transportation is inversely related to obesity in these countries."

So essentially the more a people walk, bike and take transit to work the less likely they are to be fat. Seems like a simple enough concept but this report is pretty strong evidence that this is indeed the truth.

It's been getting some pretty good nation press too.

Oh and he goes by "Car Free John." It is a name which he really lives up to since he doesn't own a car and walks, bikes and takes transit for nearly all his trips. However, he has been know to mooch a ride off of friends once in a while. Hey! No one's perfect!

Extra Deadly / Dangerous Week for Peds & Bikes

This has been an exceptionally deadly week for pedestrians on New Jersey's roads. A total of 6 Deaths! Most disgusting is the first story about how thieves used a stolen car to rundown and kill an 87yo man for his hard earned money. The rest aren't any better (if they ever could).

Garfield man dies from head injuries in hit-and-run robbery
Jersey Journal • Friday, December 12, 2008

Rahway woman, 92, struck Monday by SUV backing out of driveway dies
Home News Tribune • Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Pedestrian dies in Morristown hit-and-run crash, driver charged
The Star-Ledger • Sunday, December 14, 2008

Woman hit by school bus in Lacey dies
Asbury Park Press • Wednesday, December 17, 2008

North Plainfield police trying to ID accident victim
The Star-Ledger • Friday, December 12, 2008

Galloway Township woman killed by car while walking along Moss Mill Road
The Press of Atlantic City • Friday, December 12, 2008

Man is seriously injured in hit-and-run in Newark
The Star-Ledger • Sunday, December 14, 2008

Disabled Man and His Dog Victims of Hit and Run
NBC News 10 Philadelphia • Monday, December 15, 2008

Egg Harbor Township Car hits bicyclist along Zion Road (1st article)
Pedestrians hit in crosswalk (2nd article)
The Press of Atlantic City • Monday, December 15, 2008

Pedestrian hit in Chatham
Daily Record • Saturday, December 13, 2008

And BTW. All stories have been gathered by the New Jersey Bicycle and Pedestrian Resource Center and are released via email listserve at least once a week in their New Jersey Bicycle and Pedestrian News Digest. It's a great resource for those who want to stay abreast of all that is bike/ped in New Jersey (along with our blog of course) and signing up is very easy.

To give you an idea the latest digest covers the past six days, had 42 articles / links, 31 of which are New Jersey only stories. Nearly every digest is as comprehensive.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Cycling 'could help boost (Scottish) economy'

On a much happier note, The Scotsman reports that "Scotland's economy could benefit by up to £4 billion each year if we cycled as much as people in parts of continental Europe."

£4,000,000,000 = $6,120,000,000

Holy economic stimulus Barack!

What other reason do you need to bike.

The report "Towards a Healthier Economy" is from Transform Scotland Trust.

What's the difference between Assault by Auto and Careless Driving?

If I told you that a driver got charged with Careless Driving after killing a cyclist and another was charged with Assault by Auto for hitting, but not killing a pedestrian you might think I had my facts mixed up. Unfortunately that is not the case.

The (Bergen) Record reported on December 6th about a case where a plumber was unloading his truck and was seriously injured after he was hit by a driver who then fled the scene. The surprisingly, all too rare but seemingly appropriate charge of Assault by Auto was issued against that driver.

In the more tragic case of the cyclists killed by a driver, it currently seems that justice may be going astray. The Record this time twice reported the case of Camille Savoy who latter died and was memorialized
by fellow cyclists. In this case it seems that Savoy, an experienced and cautious cyclists, was hit and killed by a driver as he road close to the white line that demarcates the shoulder in a manner many are calling totally legal. How this only could only be Careless Driving is a question many want answered (read the extensive coverage, including photos of the scene, read the last 10 posts on this very good blog).

The remains of Savoy's bike as photographed by Rob Glick on Benepe's Bike Blog.

This is again another good reason for a "Safe Passing Law" preferably one that requires motorists to pass cyclists by "half the width of the lane."

Thursday, December 11, 2008

A Three Foot Safe Passage Law In NJ?

NJDOT and the NJ Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Council have been working on a 3 foot passage law for NJ. The language has been developed for this but it has yet to be introduced into the legislature. With bicycle crash deaths on the verge of doubling in NJ in 2008 we feel that it is essential that this proposed bill passes.

Stay tuned for details about a campaign to get a bill introduced into the State Legislature in the next few days.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

52 Pedestrians hit in New Brunswick this Year

The Daily Targum (R.U.'s daily paper) reported yesterday that 52 pedestrians were hit by motorists in New Brunswick so far this year. Having spent way too much of the last 16 years of my life riding a bike and walking around the city, I still found this figure quite high but was not entirely surprised.

I'll theorize a little why this might be.

New Brunswick is rather crowded town with many, many pedestrians. It also has a population of younger people due to the University; some of which may not exhibit the best judgment either while behind the wheel and when walking (Yes, when walking! I've seen too many oblivious college kids walk against the red light while yapping on their cell phones to only wonder why they nearly got hit by a car).

Also it seems the city is doing all that it can to encourage more driving into town which is evidenced by the thousands (yes, thousands) of new parking spaces that have been built in town over the past decade. About 1,000 more are scheduled to be built in the near future as well.

With an increase in the number of cars and pedestrians from the increasing enrollment at the University and new downtown buildings, it might seem that a rise in this figure is all but inevitable. However there is much that the City of New Brunswick can do to remedy this problem.

#1 - More traffic calming: George St. between Albany St. and Livingston Ave is probably the best example of traffic calming in all of New Jersey. The nature of the street in this location makes it very uncomfortable to drive with any real speed (the nasty bumps sure help too). Speed has been proven time and time again to be the primary factor in traffic deaths, particularly with regards to pedestrians. Building more streets that make it very uncomfortable to drive above 15 or 10 mph has been proven in Europe to be the most effective means to reduce pedestrian crashes and has been adopted widely there. It wouldn't surprise me to find out that very few pedestrian crashes have happened on this stretch of George St. due to its current design (even though I nearly got hit just tonight by a driver who clearly drove right through a red light at George and Livingston).

#2 - Re-engineer traffic lights: Several years ago many of the traffic lights in the downtown were re-engineered to require pedestrians to push a button to get a "Walk" signal. Considering that at times more pedestrians are crossing these intersections than motor vehicles, it seems that this was a poor if not absurd decision. Imagine if one needed to get out of their car and push a button to get the light to change! Often times these buttons do not seem to work or if pushed late in the cycle, will require the pedestrian to wait until the light goes green then next time through the cycle. Pedestrians just assume that the damned buttons don't work and never bother with them again. Also these buttons can be difficult if not impossible to find for blind pedestrians (there are quite a few in New Brunswick) which calls into question ADA compliance issues. At George and Albany it is possible for pedestrians to get stranded in the island in the middle of Albany since nobody thought of putting a pedestrian signal activation button there. Finally the pedestrian signal between the train station and the Ferren Deck never seems to work and when it does, the wait for pedestrians is intolerably long so pedestrians just give up waiting, take their lives into their own hands and cross when they can.

#3 - Crack down on illegally parked cars: Who really cares if that car in the 5th ward doesn't have a parking permit! As long as it is not otherwise illegally parked, it is not causing a safety hazard. However, downtown illegally parked cars can be found at nearly every street corner; parked directly in front of stop signs, within 25 feet of the corner and sometimes directly in the crosswalk itself. These illegally parked cars cause a clear hazard not only for pedestrians but other motorists too. Unfortunately, I rarely see these cars ticketed because agents are too busy in the outer wards giving parking permit and expired meter tickets.

#4 - Build bike lanes: The reason for on-street bike lanes is two fold; one to give cyclists a safe place to ride in the street (where they belong) and away from pedestrians on the sidewalk, and two, to act as a traffic calming device to slow down cars. In October the Targum reported that the long (way too long) awaited New Brunswick Bikeway Study is finally near completion. From what I read in the article it seems the city will only approve a bike lane or route if it does not infringe on the movement of motor vehicles at all. Unfortunately this is exactly to wrong approach the city should take. Bike lanes should not purposely obstruct cars but restricting cars to a certain degree does slow them down which is safer for bicyclists and pedestrians alike.

#5 - Close George St. between Albany and Livingston to all but bus and emergency vehicle traffic: It would better to eliminate this traffic as well but that might be too much to ask. Once Rt 18 is completed there will be little reason to cross town on George St. and as the Rt 18 project proved (and many other road and freeway closures around the U.S.) traffic patterns can adapt to to restriction and permanent closer of a through route. Downtown is bustling hub of activity these days, a far cry from the verge of economic collapse it once faced at the end of the 1970's when the current streetscape was built. New Brunswick doesn't need to fear an abandonment of its downtown it once did back then. Downtowns are hot! People now want to be in them and New Brunswick's is one of the hottest. The people that go to the establishments along this stretch of George St already park several blocks away and walk to them. Closing the street to traffic could only be a benefit making it a wonderful place to stroll, dine alfresco and simply enjoy life!

In closing, police can only do so much enforcement and crossing guards can only be posted at a certain number of intersections. While there have been some innovative ideas by the City on these fronts, they can only go so far. The time is right for on-street innovation. Most of the city streets where built or updated under a "move as many cars as efficiently as possible" philosophy. While that may have a place on the freeway it shouldn't be a design practice for city streets. Cities are about people not cars. It's time to relinquish some of the city, its streets in particular, back to the people.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Moorestown Wants To Be Bicycle Friendly

Originally posted on Philadelphia Bicycle News by John

June and July 2008 was a tough time for Moorestown. Two high profile bicycle fatalities Comcast Counsel General Stanley Wang and Moorestown High Student Will Christianson were both killed about one mile apart on Route 537.

Township Manager Chris Schultz and Bicycle Coalition member Mike Zickler have organized an ad hoc bicycle advisory committee to look at improving bicycling in the township. It is hoped that this committee will be formalized in early 2009.

The first major task of the committee is to create the framework for a township bicycle route map and plan. Safety and maintenance issues have also arisen as priorities among committee members.

If you are a Moorestown Resident and would like to participate please contact Township Manager Chris Schultz.

In our Byzantine structure of municipality-school district-county-state government bicycle friendly suburbs are only achievable when the local residents demand it from local officials. Consider approaching your town council or commissioners asking for bicycle improvements, the BCGP is ready and waiting to provide assistance.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Follow-up: Hoboken bicycle lanes

I promised not to beat this specific topic to death but I received confirmation that the first bicycle plan for the city of Hoboken does indeed call for the placement of a bicycle lane along the left side of one-way Madison and Grand Streets.

The situation in Hoboken City politics with this entire bike plan is very delicate and the final plan including the proposed treatments for Madison and Grand Streets came after a long period of negotiation. The last thing I would want is to disrupt the good work that was done in Hoboken to get to the point they are now. Hopefully this will be a fairly bold first step (of many) for the city as it strives towards bike friendliness.

Heck! They are even going to try using Sharrows. Sharrows! I don't know of another location in New Jersey that has even dared suggest the use of sharrows. For that alone they deserve a round of applause!

That said there is still the idea of those left side bike lanes which continue to bother me. What makes me really uneasy is that the sole reason given to place the lanes on the left side of both Madison and Grand Streets was only to reduce the potential for doorings. The consultant was said to have said that placing the lane on the left side of a one-way street would reduce to potential for doorings by 75% and that this was reason enough to use such a treatment.

I relayed this reasoning to a friend of mine who has much more experience with bike/ped planning than I. He seemed to agreed with me and thought that this reason alone really doesn't cross the appropriate threshold needed to place them on the left side of the street.

Needless to say, this practice leaves me very uncomfortable particularly since the reason given here is so general and could apply to nearly all one-way streets in New Jersey. For nearly a century and by New Jersey law (see below), bicyclists were expect to stay to the right just like all other slow moving vehicles. Staying to the right is ingrained into my mind and into the minds of countless other serious cyclists all across New Jersey and most places beyond. It is also where car drivers expect us to ride our bikes. Changing such a fundamental rule of the road for all but the most exceptional circumstance will only lead to confusion and possibly worse.

From Title 39, New Jersey's Statutes regulating the operation of roadways:

39:4-14.2. Keeping to right; exceptions; single file

Every person operating a bicycle upon a roadway shall ride as near to the right side of the roadway as practicable, exercising due care when passing a standing vehicle or one proceeding in the same direction; provided, however, that any person may move to the left under any of the following situations:

(a) to make a left turn from a left-turn lane or pocket;

(b) to avoid debris, drains or other hazardous conditions that make it impracticable to ride at the right side of the roadway;

(c) to pass a slower moving vehicle;

(d) to occupy any available lane when traveling at the same speed as other traffic;

(e) to travel no more than two abreast when traffic is not impeded.

Persons riding bicycles upon a roadway may travel no more than two abreast when traffic is not impeded, but otherwise shall ride in single file except on paths or parts of roadways set aside for the exclusive use of bicycles.

L.1951, c. 23, p. 71, s. 17. Amended by L.1977, c. 388, s. 1, eff. Feb. 23, 1978; L.1983, c. 257, s. 1, eff. July 7, 1983.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

An indecent (left side) proposal in Hoboken?

Back in October Bike Hoboken reported that bike lanes would be coming to the left sides of Madison and Grand Streets. Whether or not this is actually true could not be confirmed. However I thought I'd use this as an opportunity to talk about bike lanes on the left side of one-way streets.

I must first however, commend Hoboken for going ahead and aggressively pursuing turning their city into a more bike-friendly place. Hoboken like New York City (along with nearly all of Hudson County) is ideally suited for bicycle use. Being so dense, distances are typically short and quickly reachable by bike, often much faster then by car. Still, riding around Hoboken and the rest of Hudson County is a rather scary proposition for all but the most experienced and bold cyclists so some on street amenities are sorely needed. So go build 'em Hoboken!

That having been said, anyone who has ever ridden a bike in New York City will know that bike lanes are typically found on the left side of one-way streets, like that pictured below. If what Bike Hoboken reports to be true, undoubtedly the idea to put the bike lanes on the left side of the road came from across the Hudson.

For those that don't know the original reason to put bike lanes on the left side of the road in NYC came from conflicts that arose on the avenues with buses and bikes as the buses pulled in and out from the curb when they make stops for passengers. My understanding is that for New York City to put bike lanes on the left and only on the left of one-way roads NYCDoT had to actually ask for a change their design standards at an administrative level to allow this as an accepted design practice. This need to put bike lanes on the left to avoid conflicts with buses has now lead to a design practice that has seemed to default bike lanes to the left side even on small, lightly traveled one-way streets where no or very little bus traffic exists.

Okay, so you might be asking, why is this a big deal. Well because placing bike lanes on only the left side of the street breaks the 1st of the 5 basic principles of Vehicular Cycling - "Stay to the right and ride in the direction of traffic." Now some of you may be saying, "Oh boy, Vehicular Cycling and grumpy John Forester" (I've dealt with him on a professional online forum and yes, he is VERY argumentative). While I agree that Vehicular Cycling has failed to get people out and on their bikes in the numbers needed to institute real change and "safety in numbers," I also believe that good there is a great deal of wisdom and truth to Vehicular Cycling. VC is a must-know skill that is absolutely needed once the bike lane or path ends. And accordingly, bicycle facility design should not as a general rule break the rules of Vehicular Cycling; sentiment many of us heard at the Common Ground Seminar at Rutgers last month.

I've argued many times before to our friends on the east side of the Hudson on Streetsblog why the default placement of the lane on the left is not a good idea. Those that promote it say that besides eliminating the bus conflict (which admittedly may be a good enough reason on Manhattan's avenues) that left side placement puts cyclists on the driver's side of the motor vehicle lanes where cyclists can be better seen. Also where cars are parked to the left of cyclists, there is less of a chance to get "doored" because there is not always a passenger in a car but there is always a driver and that driver will always need to get out and open the driver's side door (not the passenger side).

Admittedly the above are all good and valid benefits that arise when bikes lanes are placed to the left side of the motor vehicle lanes but it must be noted that this practice produces considerable hazards as well. Since a left side lane is totally uncustomary, it causes confusion for experienced and novice cyclists alike. I've had a friend from Philly with way more urban riding experience than me (he's older, cycled since he was a kid and has lived in Philly all his life) exclaim, "What the Hell is the lane doing over there?!?!" when I told him the bike lane was on the left side after he started riding on the right side of 8th Ave just as we got out of Penn Station and rode up town to Central Park. Also left side lanes encourages illegal contraflow (wrong-way, against traffic) riding particularly among inexperienced riders. This is not surprising since in 99% of all places in other parts of the worlds where I've ever seen a bike lane on the left of a one-way, it was placed there for exactly that purpose so to provide cyclists with a safe short cut against the flow of traffic as in the example below from my mom's hometown in Germany.

Finally there is also another reason why not to put bike lanes on the left. Particularly on wide multilane avenues being on the left side of motor traffic exposes the cyclists to faster cars, those that typically pass the slower traffic that is properly staying to the right. This was apparent to me on 8th Ave Manhattan this past Summer as all the taxis were flying past me just over my right shoulder at (a deadly) 45mph while traffic on the right side of the Avenue was at a near standstill.

With all that said, I did a little research. I found a copy of Bicycle Compatible Roadways and Bikeways: Planning and Design Guidelines published by the NJDOT in 1996. It may be a little old but the document is still surprisingly contemporary (most of the basic modern design standards for bicycle facilities had been developed by then) and it is still the latest document on the topic, specific to New Jersey. In that document it says, "Bicycle lanes on on-way streets should be on the right side of the street, except in areas where a bicycle lane on the left will decrease the number of conflicts (e.g., those caused by heavy bus traffic)" (funny it should use that example).

So getting back to Hoboken. I did a little looking at Madison and Grand Streets on Google Streets View. These streets were pretty narrow, typically with parking on both sides and not quite enough room for two cars to run side by side between those parked. Also traffic appeared almost nonexistent on the StreetViews with not a bus being driven in sight. If what I "virtually" observed is actually the case with these streets in Hoboken then it would seem that there is no valid reason to run these bike lanes on the left, at least with these two streets.

Again the Hoboken example and my conclusions about it are all highly speculative. I simply used this case so I could explain my opinion about left-side bike lanes, hopefully start a dialog and help us all learn something about bicycle facility design practice. I know I did from my little bit of research above.

Thoughts from those who must still think the Earth is flat

Ahhh.... The lovely Heritage Foundation. Still calling walking, biking and transit "19th Century transportation." That's almost as bad these days as saying your a staunch supporter of The Flat Earth Society.

Anyway, got wind of this from a nice mass transit blog called The Overhead Wire. On that blog they link and quote the latest in 1950's transportation ideology coming out of best known right-of-center think tank in the land:
At the same time, many environmental groups, labor unions, consultants, and construction companies are urging the federal government to redirect federal transportation policy toward 19th century transportation options by shifting federal resources from highways and autos to transit and trains, as well as hiking and biking, in the belief that these latter modes--while slower and more costly (emphasis mine) --are more fuel efficient and environmentally friendly. With an opportunity to receive greater subsidies, the transit and train lobbies have moved aggressively to influence Congress and the media, and many in Congress are already promising to push for these changes.
Besides the derogatory and frankly stale references to walking, biking and transit as so "19th Century" (travel in Northwestern Europe to see how backwards these modes really are) the rest of the essay does bring up some interesting statistics about mode share and other strategies to reduce auto dependence. My purpose with this post is not to debate them point to point where I disagree (even though I could easily). Why waste my time (I've got something else to post!) when the entire planning profession has proven their argument shallow and false time and time again. Rather I simply wanted to point out the continuation of this right-wing trash talk.

Not that there isn't room for debate. Some of the points this essay makes are interesting. However to continue to write off the three most efficient modes of transportation on Earth that:
  • provide equity in transportation
  • have been proven time and time again to work all around the world and here in America
  • can often be much faster than a car
is simply downright laughable and without merit. Such old and tired rhetoric must be called out particularly when it comes from an organization as powerful as this.