Sunday, November 02, 2014

Will a slight uptick in the economy mean a return to sprawl in New Jersey?


Yes suburban sprawl is alive and well once again in New Jersey and it seems destine to destroy our favorite rural cycling roads.  Prior to the Great Recession, the housing bubble was eating into vast swaths of what makes New Jersey the Garden State.  During that time I personally saw many wonderfully charming, quite rural roadways straightened, blown out and widened to modern "safety standards" to accommodate large new car-dependent developments and traffic demands 30 years into the future.  With a slight uptick in the economy my rides have once again been filled with the sight of new housing starts like that seen below.  While the rediscovery of urban centers and urban living have been absorbing much of the housing boom here in New Jersey, old habits still seem to die hard here in our state.  Also the massive amounts of wealth being generated in New York City and the region make the dream of a house out in "the country" (well it was the country till all of you moved here) all too attainable and attractive for those who can still easily afford this style of living.

New "estate homes" being built in an empty field off of wonderfully bikeable and entertaining Burnt Mills Road in
Somerset County.  Much more of this and the traffic volume on Burnt Mills will render the road un-bikable.
BTW - Note the budget bin fiberglass street lamp.  Luxury indeed!

We've talked about the connection between sprawl and the degradation of New Jersey's wonderful rural road cycling before (if you don't understand it, read that old blog article).  Luckily there is something we can all do to slow and hopefully stop New Jersey sprawl once and for all. On this Election Day you can vote YES for Ballot Question #2 which would permanently dedicate a small portion of the state corporate business tax to fund openspace preservation, park maintenance, new trails (!) and new park facilities.  Support is strong for this question in the local New Jersey media.  For details about the question itself see this in the Daily Record.  And here is The New Jersey Conservation Foundation rundown on what voting YES on Ballot Question #2 would mean.

So voting yes on Ballot Question #2 would preserve open space which means preservation of scenic areas we love to cycle, along with the old quirky roads that have so much charm and make cycling in New Jersey so much fun.  It would also provide monies to build and improve trails, parks and park facilities.

A win on Ballot Question #2 is a win for cycling and the overall health of the Garden State.


The Amateur Transporter said...

This is part of the "induced demand" cycle.

First, Christie steals the ARC tunnel money to widen NJ highways.
Second, less congestion on NJ roads leads people to expand commuting distances.
Third, developers start putting in McMansions, office buildings, and shopping malls in distant places.
Fourth, the next Christie widens highways again.

Sadly, since the tax revenues from the new building aren't enough to pay for all the infrastructure to support those McMansions, we all pay a big price.

For more on this:

Joseph said...

As someone who grew up in South Jersey and now lives in one of the area's only actual charming old towns, I find this development extremely depressing. Does no one in New Jersey know what Strong Towns are about? Do New Jersey municipalities think that the federal government is going to be able to fund their sprawling infrastructure forever? All they're doing is making more towns that'll cost us all more money and from which every kid who's old enough to drive moves away from when they go to college. You look at people moving back to old towns in the state and you realize people here are absolutely insane.

Andrew J. Besold said...

Thanks for your comments. As an bicyclist and urban planner myself, and lifelong Jersey resident, the pattern I see is that the houses come first. These people likely work at pharma jobs in the Somerville / Morristown areas maybe Verizon in Bernardsville. Then more houses come till the point that commercial development becomes viable in these far flung areas. After the shopping comes, then the offices, then the higher density development and then all the cycling is shot to hell by this point! A good example of this is the North Branch area on Rt 22 in Somerset County.

Yes, some of these people will commute to NYC but most just work at the offices on the I 287 ring.

Frank Warnock said...

Much of the blame for this falls squarely on the NJ voter. Wasn't there a major open space referendum some years ago that proposed raising the gas tax by some pittance, to help fund buyout of development rights? As I recall, it was soundly rejected.

Andrew J. Besold said...

Not quite Frank. Every open-space referendum has passed in New Jersey as far as I can remember included the last one this past election day. This new referendum changed the state constitution and now creates a stable source of funding for open-space, parks and trails from the corporate income tax.