Thursday, December 18, 2014

A look at Newark's and New Jersey's first parking protected cycletrack before its gone

Well, it might have been too good while it lasted. If you read The Star-Ledger or have been following our FaceBook Page you are likely aware of the parking protected bike lanes on Mt. Prospect Ave in Newark's North Ward, the first that we are aware of in New Jersey.  Columnist Barry Carter has been writing a series (1, 2, 3) about the claimed hardships the streetscape redesign, particularly the parking protected bike lanes have caused the local residents and merchants.  This Tuesday he claimed victory over the bike lanes after Mayor Baraka issued an executive order allowing drivers to park at the curb until the roadway could be entirely redesigned without the bike lanes as they are now.

A sample of the bike lane and streetscaping.

So hearing that the day's were numbered for this innovative facility, I made a small detour during my day at work on Tuesday and visited Mt. Prospect Ave by car and then walked around on foot around the entire Streetscape Area.  For those of you who don't know this project is located in Newark's North Ward which is a vibrant Spanish speaking neighborhood just south of the town of Belleville (see map below).  The bike lanes extend right to the Belleville boarder.

Some of the concerns voiced in Carter's columns may have some validity.  Merchants complained that with the road narrowed there is no place for them to receive deliveries without blocking the roadway.  Similar projects in New York City rededicated some parking spaces for deliveries.  I didn't observe any specific loading zones here but there were also no deliveries going on.  Also, residents complain with the road narrowed, garbage pickup now backs up traffic.  However this only happens for a few minutes several times a week at most.  With the traffic volumes I observed this didn't seem likely to be a big problem, no more than illegal double-parked cars (more on that later).

Cars allowed to park in the bike lanes due to the Mayor's executive order.

The other concern was that the city doesn't have a plan to deal with snow removal from the bike lane.  The photo below of this now legally parked van shows the width of the lane.  However I also think this is non-issue.  In Montreal they don't plow most of their parking protected bike lanes and use them for snow storage.  There is no reason why that couldn't be the plan here in Newark too.

This van shows the width of the bike lane.

However the crux of the argument to remove the bike lanes was that they had eliminated valuable parking that was preventing customers from visiting the stores on the avenue.  Also, since the addition of parking protected bike lanes had narrowed the width of the the avenue, customers now would not longer be able to double park to quickly visit store.  However in the hour I was there on Tuesday December 16th between 2pm and 3pm, parking was not at all a problem.  Again, I arrived by car and was able to find a parking space on just about every block, if not on Mt. Prospect Ave itself, on the immediately adjacent side streets.

Plenty of parking on this side street when I was here.

Now I will confess that I was only here for one hour on a Tuesday afternoon.  I do not live or work there.  Things could be vastly different after 5pm and/or on weekends.  Still parking was plentiful on Mt. Prospect when I was there and on the immediately adjacent side streets.  To the west a block away most of the curb space was free for car parking.  I would be hard pressed to believe that one couldn't find a parking space within any one block on this portion of Mt. Prospect at any time or day.  The only real bone of contention here seems to be people's ability to double-park directly in front of the establishment of their choosing which has always been illegal.

Plenty of parking on both sides of Mt. Prospect here too.

Many more photos and the conclusion after the break.

So what's the conclusion here?  First Newark needs to be congratulated for being the first to install a modern, parking protected bike lane in New Jersey.  Yay!  Despite rejection from the local community, I felt the bike lane was fairly well designed.  However there was NO bike parking seen as part of the streetscaping project.  If its not coming that's a pretty big fail.  Boo!

Also, it may have helped to mark and designate individual parking spaces.  I observed parking space wasted due to haphazardly parked cars.  A more efficient and ordered parking of the cars could have made more spaces available.

Ultimately this might have been too much, too soon for Newark.  Elsewhere where such facilities were installed, there was already a bit of a bike culture in place with people willing to defend and speak up when such facilities were attacked.  There were no local champions here to defend the lanes despite that a large percentage of Newarkers don't have access to a car.  When I was there I only observed three people riding bikes, all of whom seemed not to have the means to afford a car.  I doubt local merchants see these people as valued customers.

Maybe a more conventional bike lane might be the way to go.  As much as we despise it, cars could double park there.  Then as more people use bike in the lane they will complain about the double parking until the city needs to do something about it and local shop owners see bicyclists as valued customers.

Let's look at this as a lesson learned and not as a failure.  A more bikeable Newark is undoubtedly in this city's future.

Much more photos and comments below.

Some parking on this side street too!

Look east on Montclair and spades of parking here too!

More parking directly on Mt. Prospect.

And more here too!

Parking is available here.

Again!  More free parking spaces.

Plenty of parking on this side street too (Mt Prospect is in the background).

More parking on this side street too!

Wow!  Look at all that parking in front of one the businesses that claimed
the lack of parking was killing their bottom line.  More on the side street too!

More available parking!  There was not a single block or side street that
didn't have parking available.

One of the three bike riders I observed on Mt. Prospect Ave in the one hour I
there.  None of the bike riders looked like they had the means to afford a car.

Streetscape and design details.

Streetscape and design details.

Streetscape and design details. These cars were moving.

Streetscape and design details.

Streetscape and design details.

Note the lack of a mixing / merging zone a la' NYCDoT.  The bike lane design
could possibly use a little more sophistication but yellow gore zone was intended
to keep sight-lines open.

Streetscape and design details.

Streetscape and design details.

Streetscape and design details.  The left line on the bike lane should
be dashed to allow cars to merge into the lane ped the MUTCD to
prevent right hooking crashes.  A NYCDoT style mixing zone
may have also helped.

Ughh!  A missed opportunity here.  This sidewalk is way
too narrow for such a busy commercial street even in this
area which is fronted by private homes.

On the other side of the street the sidewalk was wider in front of these homes.

One really good thing with this project, no "beg buttons" required to cross the road.

Note the curb ramps angled into the intersection.  That's a
no-no according to the new PROWAG guidelines. Curb
ramps and the tactile pads must line up with the crosswalk


Jenn said...

How can we request a bike lane in Newark, there are plenty of people that travel from Newark to Harrison Path station and the cars throw themselves at the bikes.

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