Sunday, September 29, 2013

Navigating NJDOT's Public Information Sessions

When if comes to public outreach of transportation projects there is an old joke - There are just two phases of the public involvement  process: Too early and too late.  You attend a public information and suggest putting in bike lanes and you are told, "that's a design detail, so its too early to discuss that". Then several months down the road the final plans for a road project are put out and you ask why bike lanes are not included and the response is "the design has been finalized, its too late".

Engineering drawings can be very hard to read
  Route 38 and S Church St project in Moorestown

The complete streets movement is built on the premise that all road users are considered throughout the project development process. NJ DOT project managers have been for the most part trying to adhere to this process. I haven't seen a major urban/suburban project recently that did not have at least some pedestrian elements. But that doesn't mean that these early designs always hit the mark (especially for bike accommodations) and the public information sessions offer an opportunity to suggest improvements.

The first and most difficult task is finding out when meetings will be held in your area. The best place to look is on NJDOT's home page -  The upcoming public information sessions are listed on the bottom of the center column, this information is updated at least once per week so unless you make the page your browsers default page you probably will want to set up a feed to monitor updates to the site, I use - once you register and set up to monitor you will get email updates whenever the site text changes along with a link to a change log that looks like this.

If you see a project that interests you then follow the links through until you get to the project information handout page which will give you an overview of the project, keep this page available since it has the contact information for the community relations manager.

When you attend the meeting project engineers (usually a consultant) will be located around the room along with several displays of engineering plans and/or conceptual drawings.  If you don't know what you are looking at then ask. Then start looking for the inclusion of complete streets elements, are there bike lanes? crosswalks? continuous sidewalks? If not then ask why these elements were not included in the design. Its good to discuss why these are important to you (especially if you live there) with the project manager who should be present. It's of course also important to ask for their business card. I also take pictures of the design boards, since project drawings are usually not available online.

Then it is time to submit your comments, often comments are taken on paper at the meeting but you could take your pictures home with you and comment later via email. I prefer the latter since I could attach drawings for suggested improvements. Send your comments to the contact from the public meeting to the community relations manager and if possible the project manager.

Finally build your advocacy power by sharing your information with your peers and urging them to participate. If you are member of the NJ Bike and Walk Coalition (and if you care about the issues on this blog you should be) cc your correspondence to them.

We should note that there are many more county projects than state road projects, in the future we will examine the county road design process which varies considerably throughout the state.


Andrew J. Besold said...

Nice article John. The problem as I see it is that many of the consultants doing work in New Jersey have little to no experience design usable bicycle facilities (there are one or two exceptions). I've been to meetings where the consultant would tell me that the sidewalk was the bicycle facility.

A Complete Street policy is only as good as its implementation including the design skills of the engineers and planners. Unfortunately the lack of skill designing usable bicycle facilities is the biggest problem I see facing New Jersey DOT right now.

Andrew J. Besold said...

Oh, and would help if the designers actually rode bikes. I know this is why so many good facilities are getting built in Philly as well as out here in the West where cycling is a big part of life in many communities.

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