Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Updated NJ Bike Map available to review and comment; Meetings to come

Even Lance needs to check the map sometimes
NJDOT is holding a series of meetings to introduce and discuss the final draft of the New Jersey Statewide Bicycle Map and Resource Guide. In addition to attending the meetings, interested members of the public can comment on the maps via the NJ Bike Map Project website.

The bike map is intended to be a resource for education, advocacy, and trip planning. It includes locations of bike lanes and major multi-use trails. Roads are graded as Most Suitable, Moderately Suitable, and Least Suitable. The three grades for evaluated roads is not unlike the ratings for the BCGP regional bike map, but  with a different methodology being used the road ratings may differ on the respective maps.

WalkBikeJersey has been on top of this project from the beginning with extensive analysis.  We were flattered to find out that NJDOT and the project consultants have taken almost all of our suggestions to heart even though that meant totally reworking the project.  The updated draft map is a great improvement from the original draft and has now become a useful navigation tool for cyclists.

That said, it could be even better (I know, always the perfectionist).  While we are very grateful of the massive effort that went into rating the bicycle suitability of hundreds of roads, the end results is still less than perfect.  Some roads that I know to be perfectly dreamy to ride a bicycle on, at any time and on any day, are rated as "Least Suitable" while others that I would only be caught dead on are rated as "Moderately Suitable" (at least they weren't rated as "Most Suitable").   The more I study the latest map, the more it seems apparent to me that only roadway width and speed limit was use to calculate bicycle suitability and the most crucial factor "traffic volume" ignored.  Maybe the data on traffic volume wasn't available but as I discussed in WBJ's prior analysis, traffic volume is the most critical factor when determining bicycle suitability. 

The result is that if one takes just a cursory glance at the map one would think that New Jersey is a horrible place to ride a bike as the red lines of Least Suitable roads dominate.  We all know that's not true.  Cycling in New Jersey rocks!  Whether that be on the bucolic roadways near the Sergeantsville Covered Bridge in rural Hunterdon County or riding high above the Hudson on JFK Blvd in Union City, Hudson County.  And where road conditions do suck, there is almost always a bicycle friendly alternative.

On a more positive note, the scale of the latest drafts has been enlarged so that fine details are easier for cyclists to read but I still wish it was larger.  And finally, for all you bike tourists out there, all public and private campgrounds that are tent camping friendly have been accurately mapped.  This is courtesy of yours truly here at WalkBikeJersey who spent nearly 60 hours of researching and digitizing a campground data layer for NJDOT and their consultants to use.

Don't forget to give you comments and to attend the meetings.  Three meetings will be held in the North, South and Central parts of the state:

Tuesday, April 24
The George Luciano Family Center
Cumberland County College
Vineland, NJ

Thursday, April 26
Frelinghuysen Arboretum
53 East Hanover Avenue
Morristown, NJ

Thursday, May 10
NJDOT Headquarters
1035 Parkway Avenue
Trenton, NJ
Tuesday, April 24

If you choose to review and comment you must register as a user on the bike map website.

The original version of this post first appeared in the Greater Philadelphia Bicycle News published by the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia.  It was edited and reposted in with their permission.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

$27 million for Newark streets but barely a dime for bicyclists

Show me the bike lanes!

It's hard to believe that in this day and age, in New Jersey with the nations best Completes Streets policy no less, that a massive sum of money could be spent on improving the traffic safety in a major city and save for one small exception, bicycle facilities are left off the table.

On April 10th, the Newark Patch reported on a the infusion of $27 million to be spent on over a dozen roadway projects in the city.  While almost every one of these projects make major improvements in pedestrian safety, only a single project, the Irving Turner / Jones / Norfolk corridor will receive bike lanes and that's likely only because the roadway is part of the East Coast Greenway.  With the 12 other projects listed, there is no mention about the installation of a bike lane, bike path, bike parking or a bike route.  I find it highly unlikely that there are no other streets on this project list that couldn't use some bicycle infrastructure.  This is a real shame considering that every one of the streets impacted by this massive injection of capital improvement funds will likely not be looked at for another 10 years, if not more.

To put the poor state of "bicycling level of service" in the Brick City into perspective, I need to tell you a story.  Recently, I made an unlikely bicycle journey from New Brunswick all the way up to the Bike NY offices just off Columbia University in Manhattan.  No mass transit.  No ferry.  Just the GWB.  The trip was remarkably easy up until I entered the City of Newark.  From New Brunswick to Elizabeth, I was able to use quite residential streets and overly wide county roads that only have one lane in each direction, relatively light traffic and little parking.

Oddly enough, while Newark was built on a modified grid network, the are no clear north/south or east/west routes that are light on traffic and easy for cyclists to navigate.  Once I left relative calm of Weequahic Park, I was thrust onto mean Elizabeth Ave that was packed with rush-hour traffic.  It took all my speed (with a 30mph tailwind) and all my vehicular cycling skills for me to safely navigate up to Lincoln Park and then over to the relative safety of Iron Bound backstreets.  Once I made it across Truck 1&9 (on the new and "soon to improved some more" sidewalk) and into Jersey City, the riding again became relatively easy and enjoyable.  Riding across Jersey City, into Hoboken and northward to Fort Lee was fairly easy because the roadway network naturally has options that aren't choked with traffic.  Even major streets leading up to the Jersey City Waterfront were nearly deserted, even during rush-hour, due to smart planning policies long in development in Jersey City that are now proving their benefits by allowing residents to get to work by other means.

Again, I hope my judgement is off-base.  Maybe I just don't have all the facts.  Yes, the traffic calming measures will indirectly improve bicyclist safety by slowing down traffic.  However some of these could put bicyclists into jeopardy if the needs of bicyclists are not expertly and competently considered when these traffic calming measures are designed.  However, I still find it very unlikely that none of the other projects, besides the one listed above, couldn't benefit from some, if not a whole host of bicycle amenities.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Four cyclists hit Easter Sunday by suspended driver

Photo by John Degutis via NJ Herald
Some of you may have heard about this crash as we at WBJ were informed of it from the good folks down at the NJDOT Bike/Ped offices.  For details about the crash see this well reported story from The New Jersey Herald.

Despite the cyclists riding single file on the right side of the roadway, 25-year-old Robert Whitesell, of Frankford, struck all four of them, one after another in rapid succession.  Whitesell, who's license was already suspended, hit the four cyclists and then fled.  He was also involved in another crash earlier in the day.

Whitesell was charged with reckless driving, leaving the scene of an accident, failure to report an accident and driving while suspended in this crash.  However once again an unlicensed/suspended driver hits a pedestrian or a bicyclist and is once again not charged with more serious charges like reckless indifference or assault with a deadly weapon.  How much more egregious must a drivers actions be before law enforcement starts charging drivers like the felonious criminals they really are?!?!  The laws need to change that make driving an automobile without a license a felony, period!  Crash or no crash!

As for a possible New Jersey "three-foot passing law," if it were written like most others across the country, it would have done little here except possibly increase the fines that Whitesell would be facing by a few hundred dollars.  Reckless driving is already an appropriate charge for hitting a cyclist riding legally on the roadway (buzzing a cyclist by less than 3-feet should be considered careless or reckless driving, no new laws need be required).  What would be truly helpful is a clarification in the New Jersey Vehicle Code about the legality of crossing the double yellow line to pass cyclists and a vulnerable user law that treats a crash with a bicyclist or pedestrian by a careless or reckless driver as a much more serious offense then that of a simple fender-bender.

Sunday, April 01, 2012

Delaware & Raritan Canal Towpath repaired and resurfaced

The Delaware & Raritan Canal Towpath is in the process of being resurfaced to repair flood damage from Hurricane Irene back in September.  Much of the work is likely to have already been completed but there could still be some rough spots particularly in the area south of South Bound Brook which saw some very bad damage.  From the look of things that I saw, the towpath looked as good as it was just prior the Hurricane Irene and likely better.

The freshly resurfaced pathway at the Manville Causeway.

However, it would appear that once again no binding agent was used to help cement the crushed red shale aggregate together from water caused erosion.  A quick and low effort pawing at the surface with my shoe easily put a divot in the surface an inch deep.  This calls into question whether the trail surface will just wash away again in the next flood just as I predicted the first time I reported the trail resurfacing nearly two years ago.  

In other D&R news, there is a minor but well marked detour in South Bound Brook as some sort of major earth moving is being done between the canal path and the Raritan River near the Queens Bridge over the Raritan.  Fortunately, when the factory site was redeveloped in S. Bound Brook a number of years ago, the old train bridge that went over the canal to access the old factory was saved and an access path was built to allow easy and convenient access to the canal from the local neighborhood (many locals could be seen accessing the towpath when I stopped for a quick look).  This wise move years ago is now paying off as this access now provides a critical function allowing for a simple and safe detour and not one that would require trail users to ride on a dangerous section of Easton Ave near Interstate 287.

Oh yeah!  Don't forget that the D&R Canal Towpath is a large and vital link of the East Coast Greenway here in New Jersey.