I am the mayor of a city. As far as this discipline is concerned, it's about talent attraction. It's about attracting business. I have to create the kind of city that attracts talent. And putting in bike lanes and trails is a part of that. People in their teens, twenties and thirties are looking for bike lanes and trails. They are looking for that kind of connectivity. They are looking for multi-modal transportation and that's what we are trying to do.Those are the words of the Republican Mayor of Indianapolis, Greg Ballard, who gave a key speech at this years National Bike Summit. If you've been following the bike advocacy news this past week you know that the National Bike Summit happened last week. Maybe you were even lucky enough to go and if you did, you knew that the theme of this year's Summit was "Bicycling Means Business." To get a good understanding of the gist of the Summit, take a look at this great (as always) rundown video by Clarence at Streetfilms. Mayor Ballard's speech is in there.
Unfortunately, most New Jersey political leaders remain completely unaware of how bicycling is transforming cities and towns all across the U.S. Yes there are our darling towns of Hoboken and Ocean City. Political leader in these towns seem to be "full in," but leaders in other towns that talk a good game on bicycle issues, I believe, don't have a complete grip on what will be require of them and of their towns to make them truly bike friendly.
One major indicator of how serious a community or town takes bicycling is the presence of a bicycle and pedestrian coordinator on full-time staff. Save for Rutger's University, not one town, county or other institution has a full-time, exclusive bicycle and pedestrian coordinator. Meanwhile, not far from New Jersey, the City of Rockville Maryland (population: 62,334), is hiring a full-time bike/ped coordinator. Yes, with only 62,334 people Rockville has there very own full-time bike/ped coordinator! There are many towns in Jersey that have at least that many residents, and many others with much more.
So why are New Jersey's towns and so late to the table? Why don't any of our towns or even counties have a full-time bike/ped coordinator? Why are bike lanes still a rarity in our streetscapes? NJDOT is an innovator in policy, and Rutgers University hosts one of the few centers in the nation dedicated to bicycle and pedestrian research and Rutgers is also home to John Pucher, the nation's leading bicycle and pedestrian scholar. Why the disconnect between the state and it's agencies and our local governments where bicycle and pedestrian improvements would be of most use?
Well one theory is that those other states have nothing better to spend those Federal Transportation Enhancement monies (soon, if not already Transportation Alternative dollars), while New Jersey spends almost all of it to help run and fund the nation's only state-wide transit agency, NJ TRANSIT. But I think its more fundamental than that. I just think local leaders still don't "get it."
There are glimmers of hope outside of the usually places, namely in Jersey City, Newark and New Brunswick but change has been still been slow. Bike lanes are still rare in these towns but some good ones have popped lately. However, none of these places have yet made an investment in that big indicator of bike friendliness, a full-time bike/ped director. Even Hoboken and Ocean City haven't yet.
Significant, tangible change needs to happen soon and it will need to happen fast if New Jersey and it's towns hope to catch up. Other cities outside of New Jersey have woken-up long ago to the power of the bicycle to transform their cities and communities. Those cities outside of New Jersey are not just riding away from us but are breaking into a full sprint while our leaders are just starting to look at the bicycle, trying to figure out how the thing works, so to speak. If we don't change fast, New Jersey will continue to see the drain of its young best and brightest to out-of-state cities and towns that do "get it" and know that Bicycling Means Business.