Thursday, May 27, 2010

New Jersey drivers the dumbest in the Nation

New Jersey may rank at the top in general education scores but that somehow doesn't mean a thing when it come to how stupid we are when it comes to our driving. GMAC Insurance again released its results on driver competence (see CNN story) where they polled drivers of their behaviors and tested them using questions from a general written drivers exam (not state specific). The results for New Jersey drivers were dismal; literally at the bottom of the barrel. Nearly 40% of New Jersey drivers would fail a sample driving test, which is 3.6% more then the next worst state. Unfortunately little has changed in the past 3 years GMAC has been doing the survey (see this GMAC Insurance web page).

U.S. Average Test Scores
(Source: GMAC Insurance)
Check out the below chart for the breakdown by state from this CNN sidebar. Naturally, you'll need to scroll all the way down to find New Jersey.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Op-Ed: Don't you know that bicycling will KILL YOU!

I don't know if any of you caught the article "Grown-Up Cyclists Need Helmets, Too" in the New York Times last Thursday but it really got my blood boiling when I read it. Simply put, this article screams "CYCLING WILL KILL YOU!!!" It even equates bicycling with smoking. No joke! Nothing about the health benefits, the joy of riding or anything else good about cycling. The underlying message is just "Wear a helmet or die." Plus, the timing was just perfect being right before Bike to Work Day.

Now I'm not against the use of cycling helmets. I use one just about every time I ride. When I ride for speed, where I'm pushing the limits of my skills and my machine(but not the law) I feel that there is never really any choice. I know from experience that pushing the limits can cause crashes. If your riding for maximum speed, I think one would be a fool to not wear a helmet, but I still believe this is a free country so I will leave that choice up to you if your an adult.

However, even when I'm casually cruising to work or to the local store I will wear one even though I wish I could do otherwise. It's not that I feel that the act of riding a bicycle like this is dangerous (my point is exactly the opposite), however unlike Holland, Denmark or Germany (and Davis, California), where riding a bicycle without a helmet is considered normal and safe, I don't feel like we live in a culture here where vulnerable road users are treated with the proper amount of respect we deserve. Shoot, I have experiences about once a week with drivers who find it amusing to purposely drive inches away from taking my life! In such an environment, I feel like I have not other alternative but to wear a helmet as a necessary last ditch, last line of defense.

Still, riding a bike is not the dangerous, deadly activity as these cherry pickers of statistics in this article would have you believe. I don't argue that 90% of those who died in bicycle crashes weren't wearing helmets however there is much more to this statistic than just the use of bicycle helmets. My casual observations from reading many bicycle crash reports is that most deadly bicycle crashes, when they do occur, involve an automobile and a crash injury for which a bicycle helmet would be of little use. Many victims were also breaking the law themselves or were the victim of a driver breaking the law and involved in a crash where 12 ounces of Styrofoam would have been of no help (ie. massive internal injuries to the body from being run over or hit at high speeds). And crashes with motor vehicles rarely involve experienced and well trained cyclists (who often wear helmets) and also know how to keep them selves out of predictable crashes. What actually makes cycling somewhat hazardous in this country are our homicidal drivers, a lack of proper infrastructure for bicyclists and unsafe bicycle operation by the cyclists themselves.

Anyway, the best way to avoid a brain injury is to avoid the crash in the first place. To work on this front the article could have mention using lights at night but it fail to do so even though it touches upon riding during the evening. The article instead gives you bad advice by giving the reader the impression that a bright colored helmet is all you need even though that would be illegal in all 50 States. It also says nothing about learning how to ride a bike safely and legally. Somehow, that Styrofoam cup on you head takes the place of all that.

If the brain injury people really want to make a real impact in reducing brain injuries in the US, they should help to reduce bicycle crashes on the fronts I list above. They also need to stop being hypocrites. Driving or riding in an automobile is the leading cause of brain injury in the US. Clearly a well engineered helmet for car passengers could prevent many of the brain injuries people suffer every year. However that idea would likely cause a riot because it would be suggesting instead that "DRIVING A CAR IS MUCH MORE LIKELY TO KILL YOU THAN RIDING A BIKE!!!" It also might actually require some of them to change there own habits. While that would be a real solution to reducing brain injuries, it's politically safer to pick on cyclist instead.

In the end, this New York Times article won't get people to wear helmets while riding a bike. In fact, I'm quite certain that many more people who read this will be convinced that cycling is just too dangerous and give it up entirely.

Scenes from last weekends South Orange Tweed Ride

I know these are a little late but here are some pictures from last weekends South Orange Tweed Ride which I made the point of attending (I'm all about the tweed rides!).

All in all, while there were only a handful of us dressed for the occasion of the 16 or so riders who did participate. We all had a lovely time riding around the spectacularly beautiful Montrose Historic District. The weather couldn't have been more perfect with sunny skies and temps in the low 70's with very low humidity. Perfect for not sweating in all that tweed!

The bottom three images are of Dr. Cheryl Allen-Munley’s venture into bicycle helmets for women secretly disguised as lady's hat. Pretty cool and sneaky stuff!


Wednesday, May 19, 2010

New Jersey moves up to 8th in Bicycle Friendly Rankings: Also receives Bronze Level Award

Watch out #5, Oregon! Were coming for you next!

I don't know how the heck we managed to rank so high in the League of American Bicyclists, Bicycle Friendly States 2010 Rankings but we did. I'm just flabbergasted. Heck! Even California ranked a mediocre 19th.

Well, actually I do have idea why we ranked so well and here's how.

To start, NJDOT continues to work hard to make walking and bicycling safer in New Jersey. NJDOT has a full-time staff of 5 working on bike/ped issues and good track record over the past decade or so in helping local communities fund and plan bicycle and pedestrian projects. As an additional part of the Bike/Ped Program, NJDOT also has 3 consultant firms under contract to aid local communities come up with bike/ped plans and help NJDOT review highway projects for bike/ped friendliness. Even in our current budget mess and with a new administration, it seems like these NJDOT programs might be spared any trimmings from the budget axe. And not to be forgotten, late in 2009 NJDOT issued a Complete Streets Policy which is a really big deal and is something very few states can say.

Along with what NJDOT does in Trenton, it also helps to fund (with the aid of federal monies) the New Jersey Bicycle & Pedestrian Resource Center and the New Jersey Safe Routes to School Resource Center at Rutgers University which employs the equivalent of about 5 full-time staff working on these issues. Part of what these two centers do is research and education along with hosting the New Jersey Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Council amongst many other tasks.

To complement the work and improvements at NJDOT, there was the formation of the New Jersey Bicycle Coalition in 2009 and the first New Jersey Bicycle Summit this year that they helped to host with NJDOT. Both were critical in helping boost New Jersey's rankings. Without the Coalition and the Summit I'm convinced that New Jersey would have fallen in the rankings despite the Complete Streets Policy promulgated in December.

Overall, bicycling in New Jersey is better today than it was in 2009 or any year before anyone was keeping score. However, bike lanes are scarcer in New Jersey than zits on a supermodel's backside (but somehow we ranked 3rd for infrastructure) and New Jersey is one on only a handful of states that still don't have a single Bicycle Friendly Community even though there are at least one or two that could attain it if only they applied for it. If we have any hope to maintain or even improve our spot in these rankings these two area will need to see improvement which will require the full cooperation of both municipal and county governments. Also, we will need to move forward on a bicycle legislation agenda (something the NJBPAC has been hard at work putting together already) and work more closely with local law enforcement to better educate the police on the finer points of bicycle law along with proper and safe bicycle operation.

Here is New Jersey's 2010 BFS Rankings by Category:
Legislation - 15th: Tie with 10 other states (Ranking seems fair)
Policy & Programs - 3rd: Tie with 8 other states (Ranking seems fair, well deserved)
Infrastructure - 3rd: (Really?!?! I don't know how we ranked so high)
Education - 31st: Tie with 3 other states (Really?!?! That low, even with NJ BIKE SChOOL running in 2009?)
Evaluation - 9th: Tie with 9 other states (Ranking seems fair)
Enforcement - 25th: Tie with 12 other states (Ranking seems fair, I guess)

Below are the Top 20 (of 50) Bicycle Friendly States:
1. Washington - Silver*
2. Wisconsin - Silver*
3. Maine
4. Minnesota - Bronze*
5. Oregon - Silver*
6. New Hampshire
7. Iowa
8. New Jersey - Bronze*
9. Arizona - Bronze*
10. Delaware - Bronze*
11. Maryland
12. Florida
13. Kansas
14. Colorado
15. Massachusetts
16. Michigan
17. Wyoming
18. Virginia
19. California
20. Nevada

Friday, May 14, 2010

A quick review of the Mercer County On-Line Bicycle Map

John at the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia reported earlier today that the Mercer County Bike Map produced for the county by DVRPC is now complete.

John reports:
The bike map was created when DVRPC did an initial computer analysis of the roads using a "Bicycle Level of Service Model". It that was then opened to the public, who provided comments and offered changes. More than 100 changes were made to the maps due to the comments.
The use of both Bicycle Level of Service Model which evaluates such things as "traffic volumes, traffic speeds, pavement widths, and whether there is a usable shoulder" and the 100+ comments from local riders has produced a very effective and mostly accurate evaluation of Mercer County's roads for cycling.

A key evaluation factor in the Bicycle Level of Service Model is traffic volumes, something which many other bicycle maps never use in roadway evaluations. It's a real shame that other skip this variable because I consider it to be the most important in evaluating the bikeability of roadways. It's simple really when you think of it. A roadway could be narrow, with no shoulder and have a high speed-limit but those three detriments to bikeability are just about totally negated if cars are only passing by every few minutes or so. Traffic volumes are critical and I think using that variable to evaluate the roadways is what has lead to such a good product here.

However, that's is not to say that I feel this map is perfect. I disagreed with the rating of a dozen or so roads and all of them were considered "major" roads. It is my opinion that a select number of these roads rated as "Unfavorable" are actually "Fair". Still that's not too bad when you consider this map literally evaluates hundreds if not thousands of roads, including most local residential streets too.

Case in point is Washington Ave from Princeton Borough to Princeton Junction, a road that I have ridden many times, even during rush hour. It's quite wide and has a shoulder for much of it (although the shoulder has too much debris and sand in it). I'd give it a "Fair" rating and not the "Unfavorable" rating given. The same goes for Cherry Hill Road on the other side of Princeton Borough. However, don't confuse Cherry Hill Road with Cherry Valley Road which was very appropriately rated at "Unfavorable."

Finally, I think it would be good to indicate which roads and trails are unpaved. This detail can be of great help for those of the skinny tire set. And dirt roads almost always have very little traffic which naturally makes them favorable routes for those riding bikes equipped for such surfaces.

Still, overall this map is a very good product and a job well done. Probably the best county bike map ever produced for a New Jersey County (county governments and TMAs take note!). I'm impressed and it really takes a lot to impress me.

Now all I ask is, "When is the print version coming out?"

Thursday, May 06, 2010

New Jersey Bike Month Events!

Courtesy of the NJ Bicycle and Pedestrian News Digest (all the NJ Bike/Ped News you would ever need, besides WalKBikeJersey of course, once every 5 days).
May’s 1st Friday Ride… ‘Public Art’
Brick City Bike Collective • Friday, May 7, 2010 – 7pm

1st Annual Tweed Ride (New Jersey’s first?)
South Orange / Maplewood Bicycle Coalition • Saturday, May 15, 2010 – 10am

Sixth Annual Family Hilltop Bike Ride or Hike
Hilltop Conservancy • Saturday, May 15, 2010 – 11am

Tour de Montclair
Bike&Walk Montclair • Sunday, May 16, 2010 – 10am

14th Annual Bicycle Tour of Edison/Metuchen
East Coast Greenway, Edison & Metuchen • Sunday, May 16, 2010 – 9am

South Orange / Maplewood Bike Week Events (May 16 – 21)
South Orange / Maplewood Bicycle Coalition

Ride of Silence (three official NJ locations)
Ride of Silence • Monday, May 17, 2010 – 7:00pm
West Windsor:

7th Annual Tour de Elizabeth
Groundwork Elizabeth • Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Jersey City Ward Tour
Bike JC • Sunday, May 23, 2010

14th Annual Trenton Bike Tour
Trenton Cycling Revolution • Saturday, May 29, 2010 – 8:30am

Seventh Annual West Windsor BikeFest
WWBPA • Saturday, May 29, 2010

The Lantus Tour of Somerville Cycling Series
(NJ’s premier and America’s oldest bicycle race)
Somerville area • Friday, May 28, 2010 through Monday, May 31, 2010

May 2010 Biking Event Calendar (more events)
NJ Off-Road Biking

For more Bike Month events in the area surrounding New Jersey see the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia Bike Month page and Transportation Alternatives NYC Bike Month page.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

New Jersey Bicycle Friendly State Survey

The League of American Bicyclists is asking New Jersey bicycle advocates their opinions regarding the bicycle friendliness of out fair state. If you can complete the survey by May 10th at 9am give it a shot at

The survey asks advocates to critique what's good and bad about the state of cycling in New Jersey. Completing the answers had me thinking and since it forced me to articulate what I feel is good and bad here in New Jersey, I figured I'd share my answers with you on the most critical questions.

Q - What is this state’s greatest strength or accomplishment in its efforts to promote bicycling?
The state government has many people working towards advancing the needs of bicyclists and pedestrians. There are 5 dedicated FT persons at NJDOT, 5 FT persons at the Voorhess Transportation Center at Rutgers University and 3 consultant firms under contract with NJDOT consistently including the RBA Group and 2 others.

Also the recent implementation of a state DOT Complete Streets policy. The formation of a New Jersey Bicycle Coalition (Finally!) and our first NJ Bicycle Summit.
Q -
What are its weaknesses in its efforts to support bicycling?
The many layers of NJ government have stifled the construction of on-road bicycle facilities. While NJDOT may "get it" and has passed a Compete Streets policy, they only maintain federal and state highways which are often not the preferred routes of travel by bicyclists in New Jersey. Our county governments maintain and design all county roads while our individual municipalities do all local roads. Unfortunately almost all of NJ's county and most municipal governments are still totally clueless about meeting the needs of cyclists and as a result on-road bicycle facilities like bicycle lanes are nearly nonexistent.
Q - What should this state focus on in order to better serve cyclists?
Requiring all state funded, local roadway projects to meet NJDOT's Complete Streets policy guidelines.

Moving forward on modernizing our state's vehicle code to include more favorable and clearer language on the proper operation of a bicycle. Also we need to work on a "Vulnerable Users" bill to protect road users not surrounded by 2 tons of armored steel.

That's my 2 cents. What do you think?

Pennsylvania Transportation Funding Crisis a Precursor For NJ?

PA Governor Ed Rendell called for a special session of the PA Legislature to fund a projected $472 million dollar transportation funding gap after the Federal Highway Administration rejected a bid to toll I-80. According to the Transport Politic Blog the Governor has proposed several solutions including raising the gas tax to 42 cents a gallon (3X higher than NJ's current 14 cents a gallon), tolling state roads, authorizing regions to tax themselves and introducing a Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) Fee. One State Representative proposed doubling transit fares to pay for the deficit (sound familiar?).

New Jersey's Transportation Trust Fund, which was created in 1984 as a pay-as-you-go funding source for transportation investment, is now overburdened with debt and will go bankrupt by mid-2011. The Tri State Transportation Campaign cites a new report that the deficit created by the shortfall could be nearly 1 billion dollars a year with a potential loss of 1.6 billion more in federal matching funds.

What could this mean for bicycling and walking? It depends how you look at it. The lack of maintenance/construction on roads creates some interesting dynamics.
  • New Jersey's new complete streets policy roads should mean more sidewalks, bike lanes and better traffic signals for new road projects
  • Projects that widen intersections make bicycling and walking more difficult and dangerous.
  • Since the TTF contributes money to NJ TRANSIT another round of fare increases/service reductions is possible
  • Closed bridges reduce truck and motor vehicle traffic on connecting roads could make life easier for bicyclists who can often cross closed bridges.
  • Potholes make riding more uncomfortable and increases the risk of losing control of the bike.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Attendees Needed!! The Alliance for Biking and Walking, Winning Campaigns Training in Edison NJ

The Alliance for Biking & Walking, Winning Campaigns Training to be hosted by the New Jersey Bicycle Coalition is in danger of being canceled if minimum number of participants (25) is not met. The Alliance for Biking & Walking is only hosting 6 of these Winning Campaigns Trainings in the US this year. The host site in Edison NJ is within a 5 minute walk of the Edison Train Station which is on the NE Corridor line.

Obviously, the New Jersey Bicycle Coalition is very worried that this event will have to be canceled which would be a setback for the young organization. This is an excellent training opportunity for any person involved in the Livable Streets movement, even those that may not be directly bike/ped oriented. In fact, I've been told that much of what is taught in the training session can apply to any type of community activism and that all groups are welcomed to sign up.

Finally, if attendees are members of the Alliance for Biking & Walking they can sign up for the discounted rate of $75 vs $125 (if not a member of the Alliance, join the NJBC for $15 to pay a total of $90). However interested persons will have to act very soon since these early bird rates will go up by tomorrow May 4th.

For more information see the relevant links below.

New Jersey Bicycle Coalition Winning Campaigns Webpage

Alliance for Biking & WalkingWinning Campaigns Trainings Webpage for Edison.

Moorestown Bike Plan Public Meeting - May 11

The first Public Meeting for the Moorestown Bicycle Plan will be held on
Tuesday, May 11th at the:
Moorestown Public Library.
111 West 2nd Street
Moorestown, NJ 08057-2471

View Larger Map

The event will be conducted in an Open House format, from 3:30pm to 7:30pm, with information on display in the library's meeting room (meeting flyer). You can also comment online through the Community Walk website.