Bicycle and Pedestrian Considerations in the Development and Design Review Process: Options for New Jersey Municipalities

 

More and more New Jersey municipalities are recognizing the benefits of being a bicycle and pedestrian friendly community. In addition to easing roadway congestion, making walking and biking a viable transportation mode for both utilitarian and recreational trips has environmental and social benefits as well. Biking and walking allows for healthier communities by providing opportunities for exercise, by contributing to a more egalitarian and connected transportation system, and by providing opportunities for community interaction and sense of place. This positive change is being fostered in New Jersey communities at all levels of government, but no player can have a greater impact in changing a community than the community itself. The following article, identifies some of the way communities can bring about these types of changes to New Jersey’s already crowded streets.

Policy Tools

Communities have the opportunity to create change through creating supportive policies and decision making frameworks. There are several key tools that communities can use to promote positive change. These tools include creating and updating official documents (master plan) and official policies (resolutions; ordinances), promoting local feedback and leadership (committees, advocates, public process), and supportive and interconnected decision making (check lists; reference official documents, conforming policies with official documents, etc.). One particular opportunity for communities to incorporate and utilize these tools is during the development and design review process.

Ordinances

New Jersey state law allows municipalities to pass local laws, or ordinances, within their own jurisdiction. Ordinances are limited to certain categories, including municipal land use which allows for zoning, subdivision and site plan ordinances. Zoning ordinances govern land use and building characteristics, including type, height and location; subdivision ordinances create developable lot parcels; and site plan ordinances assure proposed developments conform to municipal land use law. Municipalities may use ordinances to address bicycle and pedestrian accommodations as well, either by including them in a zoning or other existing ordinance, where suitable, or by passing a specific bicycle ordinance. They can address everything from roadway maintenance to bicycle parking and shower requirements. For example, ordinances may mandate that developers make certain kinds of improvements or adhere to certain design guidelines, such as a minimum width for sidewalks or the use of bicycle-safe grates on roadways. Ordinances often include a penalty for violations, generally a fine.

Resolutions

A resolution is similar to an ordinance in that it is passed by the governing body and is enforceable by law. While resolutions generally have the same legal effect as an ordinance, a resolution may be specified as non-binding, meaning it is not enforceable and is intended only to serve as a means of support by the governing body. A resolution may address the same issues as an ordinance, although the process for passing a resolution is simpler and may be done in one meeting.

Master Planning

Giving attention to the needs of bicyclists and pedestrians through recognition in Master Plans serves as both a visionary and regulatory tool geared towards planning for a future the community desires. By including specific bicycle and pedestrian elements or a comprehensive circulation element within their master plans, municipalities provide a vision and framework for decision making and policy development as the municipality evolves. This allows decisions and policies as well as improvements to be considered and developed in a manner consistent with the master plan.

Informal policies

Not all municipal policies need to be formally passed by a governing body. Many policies may take shape through the internal workings of a municipal agency, such as a planning or engineering department. A department director may choose to more actively consider bicycle and pedestrian accommodations and can instruct department staff to do so during their daily duties.

Leadership & Advocacy

Strong leadership is important for instituting any type of change in the community. In terms of contributing to the development process, it can be critical to successfully negotiating with a developer on the inclusion of bicycle and pedestrian accommodations. During development or redevelopment, this role can be taken on by the Mayor, township administrator or agent of the municipality, as long as that individual understands the needs of the community. This may also take the form of a citizen task force or another type of advocacy group that is focused on a particular issue. Effective leadership and advocacy is aided by supportive policies and planning.

Integrating Tools in Decision Making

The regulatory tools available to municipalities have specific qualities that make each one useful in certain cases but often overlap as well. The result is that these tools are often used in conjunction with each other and in some cases provide municipalities with several options for achieving their desired goals. Consideration in design review and complete streets policies are two examples in which municipalities may use these tools to promote bicycling and walking.

Consideration in Design Review

Influencing the development and redevelopment of the built environment is a necessity for communities trying to enhance the quality and quantity of bicycle and pedestrian facilities. Planning and design review boards may institute provisions requiring the consideration of bicycle and pedestrian accommodations during the development process. This may result from an ordinance, resolution or language in the master plan and may take the form of a checklist. Inclusion of bicycle and pedestrian considerations in design review allows communities to consider development impact on bicycle and pedestrian accommodations and opportunities to identify required and/or desired improvements.

Complete Streets Policy

Complete Streets policies are designed to ensure that all users, including bicyclists and pedestrians, are considered during the design of new and retro-fit roadway projects. Adoption of a complete streets policy signals that a municipality intends to deviate from automobile-centric development and is invested in creating viable transportation options that are safe for all users. Complete streets policies can be enacted by multiple means, be it an ordinance or resolution passed by a governing body, a rewrite of design guidelines or an executive order.

Throughout New Jersey, communities are doing all of these things to help provide residents with more options when it comes to transportation. From the installation of bike lanes, sidewalks, or even implementing bike share programs, communities are quickly seeing the benefits of an active lifestyle, and what it can mean for your overall health. The New Jersey Bicycle and Pedestrian Resource Center looks to provide exactly this type of assistance to government officials, community organizations, and concerned citizens looking to pursue these policies so that transportation options become more available for residents. Through the BPRC’s helpdesk, questions can be asked on how to go about pursuing these items and reaping the benefits. The helpdesk can be reached by calling 848-932-6814 or submitting your question via email at bikeped@ejb.rutgers.edu.

Advertisements