Friday, October 30, 2009

The connection between Open Space and Biking and Walking

I was reading BikePortland earlier this week and came across an article that talked about the connection between preserving farmland from development and high quality recreational road cycling. While it is something that I've thought about before, I found it interesting that someone else had made the connection to farmland and open-space preservation and maintaining quality cycling particularly right at this moment in time.

A view from Sunrise Mountain Road in Stokes State Forest during an overnight bike tour.

As part of next week's elections, Ballot Question One will ask New Jerseyans if the State should bond 400 million dollars to continue funding the New Jersey Green Acres and Farmland Preservation programs. Previous voter approved bond funds managed by Green Acres and Farmland Preservation have been used to assist in the preservation of the 1.2 million acres of parkland and 180,000 acres of farmland in New Jersey. As cycling and pedestrian advocates you might be asking, "How does preserved land help our cause?" Well, let me suggest a number of ways that it does.

#1 - Preserving land and protecting it from development prevents sprawl in New Jersey's scenic areas. Some of my favorite places to take a recreation road ride are full of beautiful farms and scenic vistas. In these areas much of the land that I pass by is protected from development. Not only does this keep the scenery beautiful but since population densities are kept low, the roads that pass through these areas remain quiet with very low traffic volumes, perfect for cycling. And again it can't be said enough, these areas are just plain beautiful and a real pleasure to cycle through.

Enjoying the view on quiet Rocktown Road in Hunterdon County. The farm in the foreground
and much of the forest on Sourland Mountain in the distance are protected from development.

#2 - Many preserved lands become places to hike and mountain bike. (Not much else to say here.)

Coming down the deserted hairpin on Middle Valley Road in Long Valley, Washington
Township in Morris County (didn't have a real mountain biking or hiking photo available).

#3 - Removing the development potential from land far from municipal services prevents car dependent development where nothing can reasonably be reached by foot or bicycle like schools or parks. Also, taking these lands out of "circulation" can, in theory, help focus development back into city and town centers where amenities already exist and are easily accessible by non-motorized means.

Vacant lots and underutilized buildings wait for more productive uses
less than 5 minutes walk from Trenton's new, world-class train station.

#4 - Parkland that is preserved today can be used as vital links in building future transportation trails. Using pre-existing parks are often a way that trail planners can get a trail through an urban or otherwise densely developed area. This is how much of the East-Coast Greenway is being routed through Northeastern New Jersey.

#5 - Finally while admittedly not directly in line with the thesis of this article, in New Jersey, Green Acres moneys are often directly used to improve the pedestrian environment in pre-existing towns, like with the Morristown Green and Bay View Park in Perth Amboy. It has been long understood that urban open-spaces, as long as they are properly maintained, greatly improve the quality of life of pedestrian oriented cities and towns.

While this all may sound like a promotion to support the bond initiative next week, there is no intent either way. I just want people to be aware of the interplay between preserved lands and the quality of walking and biking, particularly with the bond coming up for a vote next week. Rejection of the bond initiative may actually be a good thing. If the bond is rejected, due to the political popularity of the Green Acres and Farmland Preservation programs, legislators may finally be forced to find a different funding source for land preservation, preferably one that has a dedicated source of annual revenue.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Red Bank residents start "Safe Routes" Group

From their website:

Our group encompasses a wide range of interests (bike commuters, residents who walk/shop downtown, fitness cyclists, etc.). While there are many facets of pedestrian and cyclist safety, we are first organizing around getting safe routes to schools for Red Bank's kids. Via NJDOT grant funding available through the national Safe Routes to Schools program, we believe that we can achieve a signed network of safe routes that connect the west side of Red Bank to the east side. This safe flow of pedestrian and cyclist traffic is important on many levels, not the least of which is that it would allow most any kid in Red Bank to get to most any school.

View Safe Routes to School in a larger map

And according to a press release they had their first organizational meeting on Wednesday, October 21.

The formation of Red Bank Safe Routes is a reaffirmation to us at WalkBikeJersey of the pent up demand New Jersey residents have for wanting to live in communities where they, their children and elderly can safely walk and bike. Places like Red Bank were planned to be compact walkable communities where the car was a luxury and not a necessity. Fortunately for us, New Jersey has many places like Red Bank, built before the needs of the automobile dominated the way the American landscape would be developed. Like those residents in Red Bank and elsewhere throughout or state, all we need to do is just reclaim a little of that roadway space (much of it wasted anyway) back from the automobile.

Best of luck Red Bank Safe Routes!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Videos: Asbury Park Bike Church & More!

I had the good fortune of coming across several good videos today that readers of our blog and all New Jersey bicyclists should see.

The first is a wonderful, *NEW*, 5 minute short about Kerri Martin (WalkBikeJersey's official president BTW) and her Bike Church down in Asbury Park. The new video from Brian Johnson, released earlier this month really gives you an idea of the transformation effect the bicycle and Kerri's efforts at the Bike Church have had on children growing up in an urban environment where kids often face many problems.

The Bike Church from Brian Johnston on Vimeo.

Also is this 2007 production about Kerri and the Bike Church that is pretty much in the same vein as the newer video and is also just around 5 minutes.

Final there is this superb vintage bicycle education video out of the Oakland, California by Progressive Pictures (I kid you not!). It is supposedly from to 1948 but many (comments on YouTube) think its newer, from the 1950's and I tend to agree (look at the cars). I think it's very well done and almost all of the information and lessons given are excellent and still apply today. However, most of the lessons given in the "riding at night" section have been outmoded by advances in technology. There are also some great stunt crashes, some done by children that all managed to walk away with a smile, despite the lack of a helmet! It's geared toward kids but there are adults in the film and the lessons are given in a way that appeals to audiences of all ages.

Anyway I notice a couple of other interesting things that may be of interest to us "livable streets" types. First, did you notice the 15mph speed limit. It is my understanding that they are still considered illegal in most places including New Jersey (DON'T quote me on that). Second are parking space markings on the roadway that are nearly identical to the ones used in the Bay Area today. They are crosses that have a branch that extends out into the traffic lane. These are still in use out in California because (or so I believe) the branch that extends out into the street acts as a guide to cyclists to stay out of the door zone, like that shown below on this street in San Francisco. Oh well. Everything comes around a second time I guess and hopefully for the better.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

UPDATE - Montclair passes 'Complete Streets' policy

Montclair has passed a Complete Streets policy, as reported in this October 13th article from the Montclair Times. The Montclair council was able to quickly move past some differences and approve a slightly revised version of the originally proposed policy. (Click here for the language of Montclair's resolution.)

We at WalkBikeJersey congratulate Montclair for being the first municipality or county in New Jersey, that we are aware of, to make such progress regarding Complete Streets. However, New Jersey still has a long way to go with regards to this and other bicycle and pedestrian safety initiatives.

As reported earlier, the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, NJ Future, along with our friends at the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia and at AARP New Jersey are pushing for a state level Complete Streets policy. We support them in their efforts as this is a critical policy that must move forward if the needs bicyclists and pedestrians are to advance here in New Jersey.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Is GoBus 28 North Jersey First Bus Bike Rack Route

On October 28th NJ TRANSIT will be launching GoBus28 a rapid bus route that will connect Bloomfield, Downtown Newark and Newark Airport. Unlike the other GoBus Route it looks like GoBus Route 28 will be using all new buses (NABI 416 Suburbans) which include bike racks (at least in the photo provided in the brochure). Since NJ TRANSIT has not been selling the bike racks as an amenity we are wondering if all the buses will indeed have bike racks.

If you look carefully you can see the bike rack on the front of the bus

South Jersey bus routes have had bike racks since 2000 and on some routes especially in the Atlantic City Area the bike racks are very well used.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Broad coalition calls for New Jersey "Complete Streets"

Citing the rising rate of pedestrian fatalities in New Jersey, a coalition of planning, environment, transportation and health groups today are calling on Governor Corzine to adopt a "Complete Streets" policy as a means of improving safety on roadways and creating viable transportation choices. The group includes the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, New Jersey Future, the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, the New Jersey Chapter of the AARP, Disability Rights New Jersey, and Environment NJ.

A Complete Streets policy would direct transportation agencies to design for walkers, bicyclists, motor vehicles, and transit riders and vehicles whenever a road is constructed or reconstructed. Tri-State Transportation Campaign has already successfully campaigned for complete streets legislation in Connecticut.

Read the press release and the NJ Future announcement.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Report - Montclair Ride and Lunch

Thanks to everyone who attended the bike and lunch on Saturday, October 3rd in Montclair, organized by WalkBikeJersey and Bike and Walk Montclair. A handful of riders met on at Edgemont Park on a cool drizzly morning to ride around town with Mayor Jerry Fried on newly striped shoulders and talk about the trade-offs between shoulders and bike lanes, the proposed municipal complete streets policy (which was unfortunately rejected last week update: which passed on October 13th!), and the challenges of making cycling safer in a fully developed town.

After the ride we met up at Nauna's Bella Casa for some lunch and discussion, and were joined by some more people who arrived after the ride. Our far-ranging discussion covered issues such as driver education, bike access on transit, bike and pedestrian access on bridges, bike parking and municipal bike parking policies, and youth bike skills education. We also identified needs relating to local advocacy:
  • helping local advocates organize and apply for grants
  • helping local advocates share information with each other on what works
  • bringing greater racial and cultural diversity to the community
  • engaging and gaining the support of bike shop owners
  • fundraising
To my mind, we came up with two big questions:
  1. Is there a way for a statewide group to act as an umbrella organization for local groups, to apply for grants to fund local groups, or to hire a paid staff person to assist multiple advocacy groups?
  2. How can we facilitate communication between people working on bicycle and pedestrian issues across the state (listserv, directory, wiki, bike summit)?
There was no definitive answer to these questions. We'd like to continue having this conversation with advocates in the Central, South and Shore regions, as well as with the NJ Bicycle Coalition, which is probably talking about many of the same issues. A Shore meet up may be next - if so, we'll announce it here.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Montclair Defeats Complete Streets Bill

The first municipal test of a complete streets policy in New Jersey has failed. According to the Montclair Times Township Council rejected a policy that would require complete streets design guidelines for new and rehabilitated streets on a 4-3 vote. "No" voters on council cited increased costs and prioritizing pedestrians as reasons for turning the proposal down.

Montclair is a "built out" township therefore the municipality is not likely to any see any significant new road construction. Like many suburban locations it suffers from gaps in the pedestrian network and near zero accommodations for bicycles.

But as often is the case these days in municipal government any project with a dollar sign attached to it is seen as an tax burden (and political suicide) as opposed to an intelligent long term investment in the community. The Google Street View image below shows that it wouldn't take a major overhaul to "complete the streets". Both streets, which are typical here are wide enough for bike lanes and would require a few gallons of paint. The sidewalks, crosswalk and signals only need to be brought up to modern standards (curb cuts, ped signals, some more paint). At some point these roads are going to be rehabilitated, with much of the many to pay for it coming from the federal government.

We urge Montclair to lead by example for NJ and pass complete streets for the financial and physical health of the community. Lets give long time NJ suburban residents one less reason to flee to North Carolina.

View Larger Map