Wednesday, November 02, 2011

ADVOCACY ALERT: New Brunswick to discuss reinstating 118yo bicycle ban

The large, imposing and dangerous Penny-
farthing was still popular when the
original New Brunswick bicycle sidewalk
ban was put into place.
Tomorrow at 6:30pm the New Brunswick City Council will discuss the possible reintroduction of an 1893 city ordinance that would ban ALL cyclists from riding on ALL city sidewalks regardless of age.  According to a September 23rd article in the Rutgers University Daily Targum, the Victorian Age city ordinance was accidentally repealed last year (sorry but I could not find the language of the old ordinance or the proposed reintroduced ordinance O-091101).

When the ordinance was originally passed in 1893, almost all bicyclist were adults and were often called "scorchers" as they were often the fasting things on the roadways (see bottom of page 3).  The large imposing and dangerous penny-farthing was still the bicycle of choice.  Roadways were often made of dirt even in cities and most importantly, the modern traffic laws that we take for granted today were still many decades from being developed.  When one considers this, the law in its time made total sense.  But that was over 100 years ago and the law is clearly antiquated today at least in its old form.

While we at WalkBikeJersey do not usually advocate that adults ride on the sidewalk, there are some situations where it might be okay and even appropriate.  Children under 15 (give or take a year) should be allowed to ride on most city sidewalks.  NJ Route 18 in New Brunswick was recently rebuilt with wide sidewalks for bicyclists to share with pedestrians.  Reinstating the old ordinance would seem to require cyclists to ride in the highway with high-speed traffic where there is often no shoulder.  And yes, we've all ridden down the sidewalk a little bit to get a little closer to our final destination.  As long as this sidewalk riding is done with discretion, care and caution for pedestrians and traffic at intersections, all should be okay.

However, it is also appropriate to ban cyclists from certain sidewalks.  New Brunswick being a city, has a busy downtown with sidewalks that are packed with pedestrians most hours of the day and night.  It is never appropriate for cyclists to ride on sidewalks that are full of pedestrians.  In the central business district even children should refrain from sidewalk riding and walk there bikes.

Yet, the question that should be asked (and often isn't) is, "Why do adults insist on riding their bikes on the sidewalk in the first place?"  Well, the reality is that many adult cyclists have been literally scared off the roads due to poor roadway engineering, careless and sometimes reckless drivers and a long, pervasive, popular but false belief that bicyclists simply don't belong on the roadway that was "built for cars."

If New Brunswick would really like to reduce dangerous bicycle riding on sidewalks, it needs to begin providing well engineered on-road bicycle amenities that have been proven exceptionally effective in towns and cities all across the country for many decades.  Being a college town, New Brunswick is unfortunately, way behind most of its peer college cities in providing appropriate bicycle amenities.

If you would like to attend the meeting to voice your opinion about this ordinance and help begin a constructive dialog with the New Brunswick City Council to provide well engineered on-road bicycle amenities all throughout the city (and not just between college campuses), please attend the New Brunswick City Council Meeting on Wednesday at 6:30pm.  The meeting will be held in the New Brunswick City Hall, located at 78 Bayard Street in the Council Chambers on the second floor.


Neil said...

The meeting is on Wednesday the 9th?

Andrew J. Besold said...

Sorry Neil. The meeting was this past Wednesday, November 2.

It was quite productive and my constructive critique of the cities updated ordinance was well received by the mayor and council during the open comments period at the end of the meeting.

Fortunately for you and all others there is still time to comment. The Council tabled talk on this ordinance till their next meeting which will be on the 16th.

My critique of the proposed ordinance at the council meeting is essential what I wrote above. I did read a paper copy of the proposed ordinance which I received at the meeting and its not as bad as it could be but still restricts children from riding on sidewalks anywhere in the city.

I hope that the city will post the ordinance on their website for all to review. I will try to get it posted here in one form or another but I'd prefer not to have to type the whole thing over manually as its pretty long.

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