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.

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