Thursday, January 26, 2012

Congressmen LoBiondo & Sires - Help Us Get Our 1% Back

Congress is finally moving on a federal transportation bill.

The House will release its bill today (January 27) and vote on it next Thursday (February 2).

The bill does NOT include dedicated funding for biking and walking. It will provide ZERO funding for Transportation Enhancements (TE) and Safe Routes to School (SRTS).

We must get those programs restored to the bill. In 2009 Bicycle and Pedestrian Fatalities represented nearly 30% of all traffic fatalities in the State. Yet TE and SRTS only represent 1.2% of federal transportation funding

Please write and your Congressional representative today. It's especially urgent that those of you who live in the districts represented by Congressman Frank LoBiondo (NJ-2) and Congressman Albio Sires (NJ-13) who both sit on the Transportation & Infrastructure subcommittee. Send an email and make a phone call today:
LoBiondo: Phone (202) 225-6572 or Fax (202) 225-3318
Sires: Phone 202-225-7919

View Congressman LoBiondo's New Jersey's 2nd in a larger map

New Jersey's 13th District of Congressman Albio Sires,

Saturday, January 21, 2012

When It Comes to the Last Mile NJ TRANSIT Exhibits a Split Personality

The perceived and fluid divide between North and South Jersey becomes real when it comes to NJ TRANSIT's bike access.

If you live in South Jersey bike access on NJ TRANSIT is so well integrated that regular intermodal commuters may not even give it an afterthought. Bike racks on RiverLINE, Atlantic City trains and all NJ TRANSIT buses are available at all hours and well used. Bike parking is available at almost every rail station which are accessible high platform stations.

Meanwhile in the northern half of the state bike access ranks near the bottom of all transit agencies in North America. Only a few select bus routes have bike racks and while bikes are permitted in NJ Transit bus luggage compartments bikes are not permitted in the Port Authority Bus Terminal. Bike on rail rules ban rush hour and holiday travel, but perhaps the most absurd policy in NJ TRANSIT's rule book is its ban on bike boarding and egress at low platform rail stations.

Here is the kicker, NJ TRANSIT and its partners have invested heavily in connecting people using the statewide rail network to their final destination. What is known in the transit world as the "last mile". Counties and Transportation Management Agencies (TMA) operate subsidized shuttle services that are scheduled to meet NJ TRANSIT trains throughout the state.

Shuttles fill a need for many off line residents and business in the state. But they are expensive to run and maintain and consequently only provide services during limited hours. When the budget axe flies these services are cut first. In 2009 the Burlink Bus riders saw a 150% fare increase compounded by a reduction in bus service.

NJ Transit also has a Safe Streets to Transit program providing sidewalks and other pedestrian improvements to transit centers. The one million dollar a year program has more applicants than funds available, it will take decades to fill in all the missing links between stations and destinations.

Restoring bike access to low platform stations would offer last mile access day and night and only requires a directive from NJT Commissioner James Simpson to change the policy. You can write to Mr. Simpson on the issue here. Already more than 200 people have responded so far,

On February 25th the New Jersey Bike Walk Summit will present a session on the difficulties faced in attempting to integrate mass transit and bicycles in New Jersey.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

DRPA twiddles thumbs - delays funding Ben Bridge ramp again

The following once again comes to us from our friends at the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia via their blog Greater Philadelphia Bicycle News

Credit: Alejandro Alvarez
At yesterday's DRPA Finance Committee meeting, the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia and Tri-State Transportation Campaign submitted a host of materials supporting the restoration of funding for the Camden-side ramp. DRPA received:
  • 18 letters from area businesses and organizations (including Campbell's Soup, Concerned Citizens of North Camden and AARP New Jersey).
  • The comments from over 1000 petition signers asking that DRPA restore funding for the ramp in its 2012 Capital Program.
  • A joint letter from Senators Lautenberg and Menendez, hand-delivered to CEO Matheussen at the beginning of the meeting.
  • After the meeting, Rutgers-Camden also delivered a letter.
DRPA staff prepared a resolution at the direction of PA Auditor General Jack Wagner, and the resolution was discussed at the meeting. Robert Teplitz, the Auditor General's General Counsel, attended the meeting and spoke up for the need to put the ramp back into the Capital Program. After much discussion, the Finance Committee decided to ask DRPA staff to look into non-DRPA sources of funding and will take up the topic again at its Operations and Management meeting on February 1st.

Much of the funding discussion at the meeting focused on accessing other non-DRPA public funds to pay for the ramp. Commissioner Nash specifically noted that DVRPC was about to announce a competitive Congestion Mitigation Air Quality (CMAQ) funding round, which will make $3 million available to New Jersey Projects.

While it's perhaps understandable that DRPA might want to explore other sources of funding, there are problems with going to the Federal trough:
  • Funds will not be available until late 2012 or early 2013, delaying the start of the project by about a year. Design and construction work for the project will take at least 18 months to complete.
  • The extra environmental work and bidding requirements attached to Federal Transportation projects will increase the cost and the completion time for the project, adding another year and an undetermined amount of money.
  • Congress has a moratorium on earmarks (known locally as demo projects) so that kind of money is highly unlikely (remember the "Bridge to Nowhere"?).
  • DVRPC's CMAQ program is competitive and intended for local governments and agencies to promote innovative clean air programs that are not always bicycle and pedestrian oriented (e.g. synchronized signals, hybrid shuttle buses.) Typically about 20-30 applications are submitted. In the past, DVRPC has doled out the money equitably by county (2002 Competitive CMAQ summary report).
  • Most importantly, DRPA already has $10 million available in the 2012 Capital Program. This money was originally earmarked for Economic Development, but was not spent and returned to the Capital Program at the December 2011 meeting. If not spent on a specific project, the funds may be used to fill in cost overruns for the existing Capital Program.
While the Bicycle Coalition doesn't oppose the use of non-DRPA funding to help build the ramp, we do believe that the DRPA should restore the original $3.2 million to pay for and build the ramp. The ramp is intrinsic to the Ben Franklin Bridge and the responsible agency for maintaining and operating the bridge (DRPA) should not treat the ramp like a frivolous embellishment to be paid for when convenient with other people's money.

Final engineering will determine the real cost of the ramp. Committing $3.2 million toward the project will help leverage any external funding sources that would be needed to complete the ramp in a timely manner. Waiting around for an earmark or studying innovative funding opportunities smacks of delay tactics. Either DRPA commits to building this ramp or they do not.

We encourage people to keep signing our petition. The Operation and Management meeting is at 8AM on February 1st at DRPA Offices at One Port Center in Camden and we will be encouraging people to join us at that public meeting.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Bicycle art show coming to Newark - Submissions Wanted!

The lead for this story comes to us from our friends at the Brick City Bike Collective via their Facebook Page.  The following message comes from the Index Art Center via their FB call for submissions.

Open Call for submissions:
ART CYCLE: An exhibition of bicycle inspired art.

Deadline to submit: 2/10/12
Artists reception: 3/10/12

IAC is revisiting one of our favorite subjects, and hopefully yours BICYCLES!

Marcel Duchamp created his most famous "Readymade" Bicycle Wheel in 1913. Over the last century the influence of the bicycle on art is as diverse and far reaching as the two wheel machine itself.

Bikes have been used as kinetic sculptures, muses for painters and photographers, and as a blank canvas for artists and innovators alike. This exhibition, once again, hopes to capture the spirit of the bicycle, and its place in contemporary art.

Submit your proposals, jpeg images, or video links to Index Art Center :
Please write “Art Cycle” in the subject line.

- Include your full name and all contact info
- Brief description and dimensions of work or installation.
- All mediums will be considered.
- No submission fee.

Deadline for submissions and proposals: February 10, 2012
Opening reception: Saturday, March 10, 7 to 11pm

585 Broad Street
Newark, NJ 07102

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The League of American Bicyclists wants you to represent New Jersey at the National Bike Summit

From the League of American Bicyclists:
In 2010, $700 million of Federal transportation funds were spent on bicycling and walking. In 2012, that figure might be a big fat zero. Dedicated federal funding for bicycling projects and programs has transformed towns, cities and states by enabling them to build trails, stripe lanes and install parking for bicyclists; to deliver bike education and encouragement programs; to hire staff; and adopt ambitious plans to get more people on bikes more often. Those plans are finally starting to bear fruit. Unfortunately, some powerful Members of Congress want to strip away these programs and return to the days when bicycling was simply ignored. Even the popular and successful Safe Routes to School program is under attack.

Don't let Congress turn back the clock on decades of hard-fought progress towards creating a more bicycle-friendly America. Join us at the 2012 National Bike Summit to help defend these critical programs -- just when America needs them the most. We Need You at the 2012 National Bike Summit! Help Save Cycling.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Op-Ed: Toll hikes put more traffic on local roads leaving bicyclists and pedestrians in greater peril

Living in North Brunswick, every time there is a toll increase on the Turnpike my town sees a marked increase in traffic (particularly trucks) on Routes 1 and 130.  Without fail, some of these drivers find their way onto our local streets, including large trucks, where bicyclists and pedestrians are very common.

All across the state, predictions are being made that drivers will change their driving habits to avoid paying the higher tolls (1,2). Instead of being on the highways built to handle large volumes of high-speed traffic, where bicyclists and pedestrians are not allowed, more cars, truck and buses will be on streets intended for small volumes of local motor vehicle traffic, where bicyclists and pedestrians are common.

Yesterday's 50% toll increase on the Parkway and 53% on the Turnpike, along with the prior round of toll hikes in 2008 is part of a policy shift in Trenton to use the toll roads and the revenues they produce as a substitute to raising New Jersey's 3rd lowest in the nation, gas tax (only the fossil fuel producing states of Alaska and Wyoming are lower).  Since a good percentage of those driving on New Jersey's toll roads, particularly the Turnpike, are out-of-state drivers, policy makers in Trenton are using the toll roads as a cash cow to harvest out-of-state money to plug the gap in New Jersey's grossly underfunded transportation trust fund.

This policy is exceptionally shortsighted as many have said publicly (3, 4, 5).  While it's reasonable to charge drivers a premium to drive on these premium roads, using the toll revenue as a substitute to a reasonable state gas tax is not.  All that this policy will do is take motor vehicles off highways that have the capacity to handle the traffic and put them on local roads that cannot.  It also penalizes some New Jersey drivers that just happen to live near or need to use toll roads while letting some ride on other people's coattails.  The rich folks in Morris and Somerset Hunterdon Counties have no toll roads in their counties but plenty of free expressways, while the working-class shlubs in Middlesex, Monmouth Ocean and Union counties will simply have to pay.

As for interstate drivers just passing through, there is also major incentive to avoid the toll roads. A round-trip for a 6-axle truck on the entire length of the New Jersey Turnpike now costs over $113! For most working class truck drivers, being able to avoid that cost is worth an extra hour or so in traffic.  Close to me, truck traffic was already very heavy on River Road in Piscataway which is part of one of those alternative, toll-free truck routes.  Truckers come down I 287 connect to Rt 18 via River Rd and then continue to Rt 1 and ultimately I 295 and I 95.  It just happens that River Road is also a critical route for cyclists needing to go west from New Brunswick, Highland Park and Rutgers University.  Members of local cycling clubs including the Rutgers Cycling Team can often be seen traveling on River Road to the hills to the west in Somerset County.  If a cyclist needs to go between the county seats of New Brunswick and Somerville, River Road is the only road that will get one there without detours that would add a significant amount of extra distance.  Additional trucks on River Road will surely put these cyclists at greater risk.

I can't blame these truck drivers for using River Road to avoid the Turnpike.  I too do everything I can to avoid New Jersey's toll roads when I drive my car.  And just like myself, most drivers do have a choice to either pay for the convenience of the toll roads or opt to deal with a little bit of extra traffic and budget more time driving on the surface roads.  In this time of economic stress it is likely that this new round of toll hikes will see even greater numbers of drivers choosing to save their money and go with the second choice, particularly truck drivers.  Besides petitioning over the long-term to reverse this bad transportation policy, I guess all that we can do in the meantime is just hope that these diverted drivers don't kill any bicyclists or pedestrians.