On September 20th the body of 16 year old Giancarlo Taveras was recovered from the Raritan River after he jumped off the Route 35 Victory Bridge. The death of the teenager drew an outpouring of grief from the Perth Amboy community. As a result the annual suicide awareness walk over the bridge included more than 500 participants on September 28th. Then on September 29th a 19 year old miraculously survived his suicide attempt with a broken leg. That chain of events along, with pressure from the Mayor of Perth Amboy finally spurred NJDOT to do something about the issue. Their solution - set up barricades and close the bridge to bicyclists and pedestrians. Along with a vague promise to put up a fence for the walkway at some point in the future.
The bridge closure severs the only pedestrian and bicycle access between Perth Amboy and Sayreville. A 2 mile bike ride over the bridge is now a 23 mile detour via New Brunswick and a pedestrian's only option is to use the infrequent bus service that crosses the bridge.
We've seen this before.
One month after the September 11th attacks KYW TV Philadelphia news reporter Paul Moriarty (Yes the same Paul Moriarty that tried to ban quick release hubs) filed a report on the potential of terrorists to damage the Ben Franklin Bridge simply by accessing the walkway. Immediately after the report the Delaware River Port Authority (DRPA) closed the walkway to bicyclists and pedestrians. It was only after a concerted effort by the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia that the authority reluctantly reopened the walkway two months later. The DRPA repeated this action in 2005 after the London Subway bombings with a 30 day closing.
It should be pointed out that simply closing this walkway and bike lanes will not diminish the opportunity for people to take their own life on this structure. The bike lane is really little more than a very wide shoulder allowing someone to park without disrupting traffic. There is no such accommodation on the adjacent Driscoll Bridge which carries the Garden State Parkway. The press has only mentioned in passing that the the body of Anthony Sharpe Jr. who jumped to his death off the Driscoll Bridge was found on the same day that Tavaras was discovered.
Walk Bike Jersey agrees with MyCentralJersey.com's editorial that NJ DOT should make the construction of a fence an immediate priority. For NJDOT the closure is a good choice from their perspective, as it it relieves the immediacy of fixing the problem. Imagine if the Turnpike Authority closed the Garden State Parkway while it considered options to fix the low barrier on the Driscoll Bridge.
Complete streets is more than simply implementing the routine accommodation policy that NJDOT has adopted. It is about the equitable treatment of all road users as a core value of the Department. Otherwise we can continue to expect knee jerk solutions which will result in more collective punishment for people who depend on sidewalks, trails and bike lanes on bridges to get to where they are going.
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