Tuesday, February 15, 2011

What exactly will NJDOT Bikeway Grants help build?

Ed note - If you're going to read one article in WBJ this week, let it be this one.  I spent the better part of three days doing the research and putting this story together because this is really important. Thanks for reading!

Last week both WalkBikeJersey and NJ Off-Road Biking reported about NJDOT awarding $7.6 million in Local Aid grants. The Bikeway Program is one of the four Local Aid grant programs that was a part of that announcement and it alone awarded nearly $3 million in grants for 12 different projects. Unfortunately the information provided by NJDOT does not go into specifics about each project and just gives the names of the projects and the towns where they are located.

Locations of NJDOT Bikeway Grant recipients throughout NJ.
View NJDOT Bikeway Grant Projects 2011 in a larger map.
Zoom in on project area to see project route details
Without specific information it’s difficult to get an understanding of exactly what this nearly $3 million is going to help build. In light of this, WalkBkeJersey decided to do a little bit of on-line investigating to get a better idea where this money is going. Unfortunately again, plans for all but one of these projects were not to be found on-line. However, through newspaper stories, information on local government websites and through some well deduced interpretations and observations from aerial imagery, I was able get a good idea of what is planned for 8 out of the 12 projects. The end result is the interactive Google map above and project reviews below. I’ve done my best to interpret the information I found and only mapped the projects where I felt I had enough information to do so.

Of the projects I was able to get a good idea about, some are well though out and will have clear benefits for all levels of cyclists.  A few seem to be great ideas but are likely see little use due to location.  Others will take many more years and many millions of dollars to make them practical and usable routes.  Then there are those that are well intentioned but the designs and treatments leave much to be concerned about.  So on to the reviews:

The Good:
1 - Middle Township Bike Path - Phase 3
Grant Award: $320,000
This is by far probably the best project funded through the Bikeways grants this year.  The project will be the continuation of a rail-trail in Cape May County that has the potential to act as a core route through the center of the county, providing connections to the numerous private campgrounds, local downtowns and other tourist attractions.  There is even the potential to one day extended it up to Somers Point to connect to the trail that goes up to Pleasantville near Atlantic City as well as the new Rt 52 causeway with its barrier protect bike/ped facility to Ocean City which will open at the end of 2012.  Looking way into the future there is again the possibility of hooking up to the Barnegate Bay Trail to form a Jersey Shore Trail / Bike Route from Toms River all the way to Cape May Point.

2 - Becks-Cornet Bikeway and Pedestrian Trail Project (Raritain Twp - Hunterdon Cty)
Grant Award - $100,000
This is a great little connector path that will connect three otherwise isolated neighborhoods.  This is an excellent local scale project with great bang for the buck.  It will serve local residents very well as it prevents cyclists and pedestrians from having to use Rt 202/31.  It will also provide a safe and shorter route for long distance cyclists traveling across the township and/or county by providing another back road route from Everitt Rd to Old York Rd.

3 - Barnegat Branch Trail Phase V
Grant Award: $350,000
This will be a continuation of the already popular Barnegat Branch Trail that serves as a non-motorized alternative to Rt 9 in Ocean County, which the trail parallels.  The trail is a good project overall and this phase will serve as a key connector.  However, this part of the trail will run immediately west of Rt 9 which is where the old rail right-of-way happens to be.  This is cause for some concern as the trail will essential be a sidepath along much if not all of what is Phase V.  There are numerous roadways and driveways which the trail will need to cross.  If these crossings are not carefully designed, with the understanding that cyclists are NOT likely to stop at every driveway crossing when they are less than a few hundred feet apart, then there will be some safety issues as sidepaths are known for causing problems at intersections and other crossings.

The Ehh (not great, not bad):
1 - Old York Road Bikeway Phase II
Grant Award: $203,000
Parts of the original Old York Road Bikeway just to the east of this phase include very well engineered on-road bicycle lanes that go up and over the NJ Turnpike.  Unfortunately the section built with this phase will likely see the continuation of the sidepath that can be seen in front of Marter Park but I can't say that with 100% certainty.  I do understand that it is desirable to connect the local (high?) school with the park and the neighborhood to the east on Old York Road.  However, this also appears to be a great place for long distance road cycling.  It would be nice to see this project properly serve road cyclists as there are no usable shoulders on any portion of the roadway this project phase will work on.

2 - Freedom Trail Bikeway Improvements (South Brunswick)
Grant Award: $260,000
This is a somewhat isolated rail-trail project that might otherwise seem like a waste of money if it weren't for the fact that there is the real potential to connect to the D&R Canal Towpath and the East Coast Greenway.  The only problem is that US Rt 1 happens to cut off this portion of the trail with the section west of the highway that is connected to the D&R Towpath.  South Brunswick is hoping to have this remedied with a bridge over Rt 1 but at a cost of $5 million plus, I wouldn't hold my breath waiting to see the two sections connected.

3 - Matts Landing Bikepath Phase 2 (Maurice River Township, Cumberland County)
Grant Award: $190,000
At first glance, even without totally understanding it, this appears to be an interesting little project way down in the hinterlands of Cumberland County on the Delaware Bay.  This is a really beautiful and isolated area of the state that is definitely worth exploring by bike.  However, having actually been to Matts Landing (I worked for a while across the river in Bivalve) I know the local roads around and leading up to Matts Landing get such little traffic that additional bicycle specific infrastructure seems unnecessary.  Due to the areas remoteness I am also concerned that the facility is likely to get little use as was the case with the bicycle paths around Bivalve when I was there.  I understand that the state is trying to help develop eco-tourism in this economically depressed area of New Jersey but with other locations around the state desperately needing bicycle facilities to fill actual demands, it seems more prudent to spend the money elsewhere.

4 - West Ave Bikeway (Atlantic Highlands, Monmouth County)
Grant Award: $150,000
This project could be up in the "Good" category if I had more information about it.  As I understand it, this project will connect the two highly popular Henry Hudson and Bayshore Trails that are separated by just few blocks in Borough of Atlantic Highlands.  Having visited the area numerous times to ride the trails and the roads, it appears that at least a portion of this connection will be via a continuation of the trail along the old railroad right-of-way, however I cannot say with any certainty.  Still, it would seem that using some way-finding signage along the local surface streets would be just as effective, as the local roads in this part of town have little to moderate amounts of traffic at most.  In fact that might be exactly what's planned here as the project is termed "bike compatible road" by NJDOT.

The Bad:
1 - Gibbsboro Bikeway, County Rt 561
Grant Award: $140,000
While I don't know exactly where this project will be built along 561 in Gibbsboro, I feel that it is safe to say that this will be a continuation of the same sidepath treatments that can already be seen along Rt 561.  While I'm a great supporter of well design, barrier protected cycletracks, these sidepaths DO NOT fall into that category. From what I can see from the previous projects, these sidepaths are nothing more than wide sidewalks that are given sidewalk style crosswalk treatments at intersections and driveways.  Sidewalks are great and Rt 561 should have them everywhere in Gibbsboro.  However, knowing that a great number of bicycle/car crashes happen when a bicyclist riding on a sidewalk enters an intersection or crosses a driveway is reason for concern when using this design treatment. This concern becomes even greater when one considers the frequent intersections and driveway curb cuts found along Rt 561 in Gibbsboro.  There are just too many opportunities for turning conflicts between bicyclists and motor vehicles for this type of facility.  Not to sound too much like John Forester but bicycle facilities designed to accommodate even the most timid cyclists should still treat the cyclist like the operator of a vehicle and not like a pedestrian.  And finally, with the construction of these sidepath projects, Rt 561 remains entirely unimproved for vehicular cyclists.

2 - Maurice River Bikeway Trail Phase V (Millville)
Grant Award: $390,000
It would seem nice to go for a bike ride on a path along a scenic river but at what point does the cost to create such a trail become too great?  With a grant award of $390,000 to build little over 1000ft of bicycle path, one can't help but ask this question.  Yes, this part of the path will navigate through wetlands which greatly adds to the cost.  But soon after this portion is complete, the next segment of path will be forced down a narrow corridor behind an industrial site.  Not exactly scenic.  Beyond that, it is still nearly a mile before that path would reach its southern terminus and its (likely) only other access at Fowser Rd.  Before reaching Fowser Rd the trail would likely again need to navigate numerous wetlands, with all the associated additional costs.

If one then considers the presence of local roadways, the transportation utility of the trail also comes into question.  Just to the west, 3rd Street already provides a more direct route for cyclists between the Fowser Rd area and Main St. Millville, all while avoiding Rt 47.  As such it is difficult to see this trail serving much of a transportation purpose when more direct route already exist on secondary road like 3rd Street.

While there is the potential for a great scenic pathway here, I cannot help but question the cost of this project in money and ecological disturbance, particularly when another safe route already exists for pedestrians and bicyclists.  If this was a critical connector for a large regional trail that would connect to areas beyond Millville and Cumberland County, then the project might be worth the costs.  However as just scenic trail with limited access and utility, it would seem that this money would be better spent elsewhere.

Don't know enough to comment:
1 - Seawood Harbor Bicycle Trail (Brick Twp, Ocean County)
Grant Award: $190,000
2 - Wildwoods Elevated Bike Path Connector Project
Grant Award: $290,000
3 - Bike, Hike and Roll Throughway Extension (Elizabeth)
Grant Award: $290,000

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