How do Complete Streets Policy-Holding Municipalities Differ From Other Municipalities?

It is no secret that communities across New Jersey are all unique in their own way. Some of them are much more walkable and bikeable while others rely heavily on the automobile. Each municipality faces their own challenges in order to accommodate all of its residents’ and visitors’ needs. Thus it comes as no surprise that Complete Streets have permeated the agendas of mayors across the state. As of August 15th, 104 municipalities have passed a Complete Streets policy. While the remaining 462 municipalities have yet to pass a policy, an important question arises: What are the fundamental differences between policy holding municipalities and non policy-holding municipalities? Are policy holding municipalities more urbanized?  Do they utilize other forms of transportation? What might be the reason that these municipalities have enacted legislation while others have not? After extensive data gathering, VTC has assembled a set of tables comparing the two variables in terms of demographics, economic indicators, transportation, and pedestrian safety.

Demographics

About 34% of New Jersey’s residents live in municipalities with Complete Streets policies. The average population of policy holding municipalities is about 28,500 compared to just over 12,500 for the counterparts. Policy holding municipalities are much more densely populated, averaging 5,230 people per square mile versus 3,003 in municipalities without policies. Differences in age are also interesting. Policy-holding municipalities have an average age of 39.7 years, which is younger than the 42.3 years found in the other municipalities.

Further examination reveals major differences in racial diversity. Municipalities with Complete Streets policies tend to have fewer Whites and more African Americans, Asians, those of other races, and those claiming two or more races. Hispanics also comprise a larger percentage of population in policy holding municipalities. Additionally, voter registration information indicates a larger democrat presence in policy holding municipalities. The comparison of demographics suggests that policy-holding municipalities are much more highly urbanized and diverse than their counterparts. It comes as no surprise that most of New Jersey’s large cities, including Newark, Jersey City, Trenton and Camden influence these statistics.


Economic Indicators

Per capita income is slightly higher for policy holding municipalities, averaging just over $41,000 versus $39,400 for municipalities without policies. Median household incomes differ by a mere $800, in favor of policy holding municipalities, at $83,700 versus $82,900. Not surprisingly, policy holding municipalities have a lower rate of homeownership (67.1% vs 76.3%) and accordingly, a higher rate of renter occupied units (32.9% vs 23.7%). The unemployment rate, as of the most readily available complete dataset, is virtually identical between the two variables, at 8.1%. The final economic metric obtained for this analysis, tax base per capita, is significantly lower for policy holding municipalities ($200,023.17 vs $265,347.85).

Economic indicators provide more insight into the kind of municipalities that currently have Complete Streets policies. For one, the fact that average incomes (both per capita and household) are nearly identical in both variables, suggests that income on its own is not the driving factor behind making streets more accessible to all modes of transportation. Secondly, while there is a significantly lower tax base per capita in policy holding municipalities, the municipalities can accommodate more peoples’ needs in a smaller area, as the average densities have confirmed, with less spending. This is why roads operating close to capacity, with multiple modes of transportation, are more financially prudent than roads that support a select few, while costing the same to maintain.

Transportation

The average commute time is slightly lower for policy holding municipalities (29.68 vs 30.05 minutes), though this difference likely doesn’t have much significance in terms of policy adaptation. Mode-share seems to be another story. Policy holding municipalities exhibit higher rates of alternative transportation use. 70.4% of residents in policy holding municipalities drive alone to work, almost eight percent lower than the counterpart. Policy holding municipalities also display higher rates of carpooling, public transportation use, walking, usage of taxis, motorcycles, bicycles, and other modes.

This continues to validate that urbanized centers are the first to catch onto Complete Streets. Although Complete Streets can be implemented anywhere, it seems like the municipalities with more walkers, bikers and public transit users are the first to sign up (The first municipal policy was adopted in 2009). The need for complete streets is more pressing in these urbanized communities, where a lack of facilities can create major issues, in places where not everyone can drive as an alternative. It can be argued that the very existence of Complete Streets elements will foster the use of alternative transportation, and it is on these grounds that more suburban, and rural communities must be persuaded.

Pedestrian Safety

Pedestrian safety was calculated by dividing the number of incidents (pedestrian injuries or deaths) in a year by the total population of the corresponding municipality on the corresponding year. As the table below indicates, municipalities with polices enacted tend to display higher rates of pedestrian injuries and lower rates of pedestrian fatalities than the counterpart. This does not suggest that adopting a complete streets policy will result in more pedestrian injuries. Instead, it once again demonstrates that urbanized centers have adopted policies first and the remaining, mostly suburban and rural municipalities have fewer pedestrians. The census only recognizes the work-bound walker, leaving many people who walk for errands and leisure out of the equation. If two thirds of Hoboken’s residents are able to grab a coffee, visit a friend and go grocery shopping on foot at a rate of 52 injuries per 100 thousand people, and only a handful of people in a suburban municipality do the same, then it should not come as a surprise why the rates are higher. More people walking equals more injuries. In future studies, a more sophisticated approach must be utilized in order to standardize the number of walkers, not just those that commute to work, to put into perspective how safety in numbers can be a good thing.

It is also important to note the significance of having a higher injury rate but a lower fatality rate. Complete Streets can work to calm traffic, which means that in the case of a collision, the pedestrian is much more likely to survive. While eliminating all collisions would be best, reducing fatalities is a good start.

Complete Streets are helping New Jersey promote alternative modes of transportation. The policies have mostly been adopted in urbanized, diverse municipalities. These municipalities tend to utilize a higher rate of alternative transportation, including more walking. Although the rates of injuries are higher for the reasons mentioned above, municipalities are taking great strides to improve pedestrian safety to eventually lower these numbers. It must be remembered that most municipalities have only adopted policies within the past few years. As time moves on, their progress will make quality of life much higher.

The New Jersey Department of Transportation and many others have been energetic in promoting active transportation across the state. Active transportation contributes to the physical health and economic vitality of communities and its expansion across the state is essential to resilient New Jersey.

 

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