Sunday, November 25, 2012

What were you thankful for this Thanksgivings weekend?

As you likely remember, the weather this Thanksgiving Day was spectacular.  When it became logistical possible for me to ride my bike the 50 miles to dinner at my brothers house in beautiful Long Valley New Jersey, I jumped at the opportunity to do the spectacularly fun ride.   As luck would have it the wind was at my back and the sun warmed the Autumn air just right.  The miles ticked by at fast and seemingly effortless pace and elevated my mood even more than on a typical ride.

With nearly three hours of time alone with my thoughts, I let my mind wander and ended up contemplating the meaning of the holiday.  As someone who is passionate about making the world better for those who walk and bike and inspired by the beautiful New Jersey countryside, I began thinking of what I'm thankful for. While this is far from a comprehensive list, and it sure doesn't replace friends, family and health, I thought I'd let you know of some of the things that I'm thankful for in our small niche in the world.

  • New Jersey Bike and Walk Coalition - It's been a very tenuous first couple of years but New Jersey's still fledgling biking and walking advocacy is getting a little more stable.  For several years the Coalition was being held together by the tireless and valiant efforts of its past presidents, Jim Nicholson and Karen Jenkins.  Without their effots I doubt we would be having a 4th Annual New Jersey Bike Summit this February. 

    However I'm extra excited this year because the Coalition has a paid executive director. I am very thankful that Cyndi Steiner is at the helm simply because she's a highly experienced "bicyclist".  She just doesn't ride a bike once in a while but rather lives her life around the bicycle and uses her bike everyday for spirited high-speed fun as well as practical transportation.  As such she knows, firsthand what its like trying to ride a bike around the state and dealing with its drivers.  But what few people know is she wouldn't be there if it wasn't for Brendan Poh, owner of Cyclecraft, who is significantly underwriting her salary.  Talk about putting you money where your mouth is.  Thanks a bunch Brendan!

  • NJ TRANSIT - Yeah, they sometimes disappoint us bike advocates.  And yes, I don't ride the trains everyday during rush hour to have become bitter but no other state has a statewide transit network like NJ TRANSIT.  With new, world class, rail and bus rolling stock, NJ TRANSIT is becoming an increasingly attractive option.  The new, low-floor metro buses serving the northern half of the state now have bike racks like those found in South Jersey giving bicycling commuters even more multi-modal options.  And it doesn't stop there. 

    While it is a slow process, every time NJ TRANSIT renovates a train station they hit a home run.  No.  The smash grand-slam!  The Trenton Transit Center is again, world class and absolutely spectacular.  Even the new modest Somerville Station is exceptionally pleasant and well thought out.  And these stations are the focus of many of our walkable older towns.  They help keep these towns vibrant and very viable as the stations provide a very critical, car-free link to well paying jobs in New Jersey, New York City, Philadelphia and beyond.

    Now if NJ TRANSIT could give us some better bike parking and vertical bike-racks on NJ TRANSIT rail cars, I'd be over the moon!

  •  Voorhees Transportation Center - Housed at the Bloustein School at Rutgers University, very few states have a transportation think tank with the caliber of faculty and staff like VTC.  Even fewer have one that has an office dedicated to investigating bicycle and pedestrian and Safe Routes to School issues.  And no others have a John Pucher on its faculty, the undisputed leading expert on bike/ped policies and comparing them across states and nations.  When John speaks, the who bike/ped world listens and he's here in New Jersey!

  •  NJDOT - Yes, we here at WalkBikeJersey don't always see eye-to-eye with NJDOT and that's okay.   We would rather have our occasional disagreements with a NJDOT that has a leading and well staffed bike / ped and Safe Routes to School office than dealing with almost all other states.  The bicycling and pedestrian policies at NJDOT are leaps and bounds ahead of a vast majority of other states.  NJDOT's Complete Streets Policy is considered the best in the country.  I've been told that the staff at bike/ped office were instrumental at preventing rumblestrips from being installed on rural roads which had the potential to create significant hazards for bicyclists and ruin many very bikable roads.  Also, NJDOT reserves state transportation monies to fund bicycle and pedestrian projects.  While this pot of money has shrunken significantly over the years it is also something few other states do.

    And while we are on the topic of NJDOT, I'm very thankful for Commissioner James Simpson.  He clearly gets it.  Last year, when we here at WalkBikeJersey bought to his attention of how restrictive new NJ TRANSIT rules were that prevented cyclists from boarding and deboarding trains at low-level train stations, he understood and quickly acted.  I expected a long drawn-out battle on this but we got what we wanted almost immediately.  Thanks Commish!

  • Living in New Jersey - Finally, as simple as it sounds, I wouldn't give up living here for almost anything!  The cycling in our state is truly second to none.  Every time I get on a bike and travel out into the countryside my love affair with our state is renewed and strengthened.  New Jersey has a fantastic network of quite, scenic and endlessly entertaining, centuries-old rural roads that await anyone with a bike, a spirit for adventure and a willingness to explore.  And the quality cycling isn't all that bad once one one enters the suburbs or even the cities.  With a large amount of New Jersey's suburbs and cities built prior to the age of the dead-end cul-de-sac, it is often very easy to find quite residential roads that will take you across town or with a little more investigating, even across the county.

    New Jersey's charms don't end once one gets off the bike.  Again, many our towns and cities were built when the pedestrian was king, not the car.  Accordingly our towns are suburbly walkable with good sidewalk networks, functioning and charming downtowns, with many having access to transit.  Yes, many still need help to repair their pedestrian networks.  Sidewalks need to be fixed and even installed in places.  And in other towns the street layouts have been bent to the will of the automobile but the solid bones of a great walking environment are still there. 

    And if you think I only like rural New Jersey for biking and walking, I invite you to take a ride on pleasantly wide JFK Boulevard East in Hudson County or walk along its spectacular pedestrian promenade.  For several miles you will be 200 feet above the Hudson River with unmatched views of the Manhattan Skyline.  Simply WOW! 

So as this holiday weekend comes to a close, lets not forget how good we have it here.  Yeah Hurricane Sandy did give us a pretty big wallop.  Some of our favorite places, many of which we love to walk and bike, have quite literally been destroyed including many peoples' homes.  And yes, we have a long way to go to make New Jersey a bike/ped paradise we want it to be but we are well on our way and way ahead many other states.  We just need to not forget what we have been blessed with already.

We also need not forget to say thanks along the way.

- Andy B.

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