By James Sinclair
The 2015 New Jersey Bike and Walk Summit was held Saturday, February 21, attracting hundreds of attendees from around New Jersey who are interested in making the state a better place to bike and walk. Held at the Bloustein building in New Brunswick for the fifth consecutive year, the summit was organized by the New Jersey Bike and Walk Coalition in collaboration with the Voorhees Transportation Center (VTC) at Rutgers. From 8am until 5pm, advocates, elected officials, planners and the general public were invited to attend over two dozen presentations on a range of topics concerning bicycling and walking in New Jersey.
Attendees began their day in the Special Events forum, with welcoming remarks from Cyndi Steiner, executive director of the Bike and Walk Coalition, Charles Brown, Senior Research Specialist at VTC, and New Brunswick Mayor James Cahill. The plenary address was given by US Congressman Albio Sires, whose speech was followed by the presentation of advocacy awards to Karen Jenkins, of the Bike Walk Coalition, and Jerry Fried, current lead Bicycle Ambassador at VTC . The opening session concluded with a talk by Jon Orcutt, former policy director at the New York City Department of Transportation who affirmed that New Jersey will soon become bike-friendly, and that cities which don’t will quickly be surpassed by those who do.
From there, attendees could venture to one of five simultaneous presentations spread throughout the building.
A popular early session was “State and Federal Funding for Community Projects” where every seat was taken. Led by the New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT), the session looked at state and federal programs offered by NJDOT to help municipalities plan for and implement bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure. Topics included ways to use resurfacing funds to increase the connectivity of the bicycle network, taking advantage of the transit village program, and tips on what NJDOT looks for when giving grants. NJDOT is especially interested in proposals that add missing links to bicycle and pedestrian transportation networks.
“Who’s watching the kids?” was a session led by Leigh Ann Von Hagen of the VTC, which discussed the results of interviews with parents on differences in gender and perception of “stranger danger”. Data was shown indicating that very few kids bicycle to school these days, with almost no girls doing so. Many of the girls interviewed stated that they have no desire to do so. Further research is needed to see how parents may treat boys and girls differently, and also to look at the benefits of girls-only bicycling programs in raising interest for bicycling amongst girls.
In the special events forum, a panel was discussing “Women and Bicycling” mostly in the context of group rides. They talked about the opportunity to use social media to encourage more women to join the rides, and the problems of overcoming the perception that women do not fit in with cycling groups.
The Middlesex Greenway has been a popular topic throughout the years, and attendees have watched the talks change from future plans, to construction, to finally successful implementation. In “The Middlesex Greenway: It’s Here!” panelists discussed the benefits of the trail, challenges, and lessons learnt during the development. One panelist talked about how successful implementation required bringing in advocates who had no interest in walking and bicycling, because advocates can see the immense benefit a greenway can bring to the area. In discussing the future of the Greenway, panelists discussed raising more awareness about its existence, building additional connections among “desire paths”, adding art, and using social media to report problems and successes.
The fifth session of the first breakout was “Driving with Care in Montclair”, a pedestrian safety initiative that was launched in July 2013. Panelists talked about the implementation of crosswalk stings, where a plain-clothes police officer attempted to cross the street, and drivers who illegally failed to stop were warned or ticketed. With a shockingly low 11% compliance rate for the state law, over 1,000 tickets were issued, and there was outrage as scofflaws called their local government officials to complain. Rather than cancel the program, the safety team put up a board to let the community know how the program was working and how compliance with the law was improving at a steady rate. The community responded well to the information, and complaints diminished as the public saw how effective the program was. The team concluded that community buy-in is essential in deploying an enforcement program.
The panel also discussed “right turn on red” and the problems it creates. Arnold Anderson, a retired officer and current coordinator of the Essex County Community Traffic Safety Program, discussed how state law actually states that drivers “shall” make a right turn on red, rather than “may”. Many times, drivers arrive at a light and look left for traffic without checking for a pedestrian crossing from their right. In Montclair, they analyzed every single intersection to see if right turns on red were appropriate, and if they were not, they were restricted. The municipality also did an evaluation of their speed limits.
For the second breakout session, Betsy Harvey and Deva Deka of VTC were in the auditorium discussing the latest projects from the Bicycle and Pedestrian Research Center. Ms. Harvey went over the results of the New Jersey Bicycle Benchmarking Report, which will be posted on this website shortly. The report looks at current bicycle policies and infrastructure in 60 New Jersey municipalities. Mr. Deka talked about the results of the Distracted Driving and Walking survey, another report that will be made available here in the near future.
Across the hall, Susan Blickstein and Debra Kingsland presented on the new structure for the New Jersey Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Council (BPAC). They talked about the process to create the new structure and how it will better allow the group to advise DOT. The public is invited to the next BPAC meeting, held March 18 in New Brunswick. Additional information can be found on this page.
“What’s health got to do with it?” was the second panel moderated by VTC’s Leigh Ann Von Hagen. The talk focused on using Health Impact Assessments (HIA), an innovative tool to examine the health effects of projects. One HIA was conducted for the Middlesex Greenway Project, and another for the Complete Corridor Plan on Bloomfield Avenue. Elizabeth Sewell, a graduate student at Bloustein, talked about how the Middlesex Greenway will result in health benefits of $55,000 a year now, with that quantity expected to increase in the future as more residents become aware of the trail.
Other morning sessions included looking at grassroots activism in West Windsor, to bring sidewalks to Cranbury Road, and Complete Streets implementation in New Jersey.
The summit then broke for a lunch session in a new format. Three rooms were set aside so attendees could have lunch while discussing a particular topic, with easy access to the food. One room was set aside for bike clubs to discuss their challenges and successes, another for the East Coast Greenway, and finally a third room for community advocates to come together and network. Lunch was followed by a plenary address from Robert Clark of the New Jersey Division of the Federal Highway Administration.
At the conclusion of the address, the summit once again broke up into a series of individual presentations. Continuing in the auditorium was the first attempt at a “Pecha Kucha” which consisted of seven quick 7-minute presentations. VTC’s Catherine Bull opened that session with a fast look at the New Jersey School Crossing Guard Training and Resource Program, including information on how crossing guards provide essential eyes on the streets in understanding how traffic flows around schools.
Another popular session, “Bicycle Stress Level Mapping,” was moderated by Michael Dannemiller, of the RBA group. He discussed an innovative approach to creating a bicycle network map based on the amount of stress each type of infrastructure would cause a rider. For example, an off-road bicycle trail is much less stressful than a bicycle lane on a congested roadway. Developing a map can make it easier to find where missing links exist in a low-streets network. The session provided somewhat controversial as some attendees who are comfortable sharing roadways with motor-vehicles objected to the characterization.
“Connecting the Circuit” was a presentation given about efforts to complete a 750-mile connected network of trails in the Greater Philadelphia region. The session talked about ways to form a coalition and attract funding, and also handed out nuggets of information on future projects, such as protected bicycle lanes coming to Camden. An interesting insight was that counties have a lot more experience in going through the federal grant process, which many municipalities cannot manage on their own. They suggested that rather than multiple municipalities pursing individual grants, the best course of action is for the county to submit one unified proposal on their behalf. The Q&A session revolved around connectivity difficulties.
VTC’s Sean Meehan led the “Safe Routes to School” session and talked about ways to create partnerships. He spoke of bringing together groups with different focuses that are essentially working towards the same result, such as health and transportation advocates. He described how creating a school travel plan is essential to receiving grant money as they provide two extra points in the application process.
The New Brunswick Ciclovia has been a topic before, and members of the planning commission were back to discuss previous success and future plans. One point of discussion was the effect on community health, and how more repetitions are needed to really be impactful. In 2014 there were three Ciclovias, with three scheduled for 2015. The speaker noted that efforts were in place to add a fourth event this year. Aside from health, the Ciclovia has been important in increasing social integration and civic exposure. The speaker talked about attendees who had lived in New Brunswick their entire life and never stepped foot into Rutgers before the Ciclovia.
Not all sessions were about New Jersey. In “Lessons from Roosevelt Island” members of Bike New York spoke of plans to give the island the strongest bike culture in the region. With only one road in or out, low traffic, and beautiful scenery, bicycles are the ideal way to travel the island. In the future, Cornell will open a new campus on the island attracting thousands of people, so creating that culture now is necessary.
As snow began falling in New Brunswick, the final four sessions kicked off at 3:30pm. “How to Implement a Pedestrian Safety Campaign” was led by Elizabeth Thompson of the North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority. She spoke of elements of their current campaign, funding sources, and best practices that were used. Lieutenant Todd Kutcher of the Woodbridge Police Department continued that session with his experiences on crosswalk sting enforcement campaigns. He provided some interesting anecdotes of some of the unexpected complications, including members of the public who called 911 to report a “suicidal pedestrian” and helpful bystanders who wanted to join in by crossing repeatedly the street as well. He also provided information on a sting where an officer was placed in a utility bucket to observe people texting while driving. One important aspect was getting buy-in from the local community, which included speaking to the businesses near the sting to let them know the program was intended to make their street safer, rather than pick on them for a revenue opportunity. Finally, the session closed with a discussion of confusion around the state as to what constitutes a crosswalk, and how enforcement (and compliance) can range enormously from one town to the next.
In “Beyond Great Streets: Hoboken’s Washington Street”, attendees were shown how a great street design can transform a neighborhood. The project team talked about restrictions (not narrowing sidewalks or removing parking while adding bicycle lanes), and specific design treatments such as back-in angled parking and a 10mph “green wave” for buses and cyclists. They talked about the importance of an extremely detailed concept plan and also on partnering with multiple agencies to ensure that construction on the new streetscape matches up with the need to replace water or gas lines.
Jonathan Hawkins, who previously worked at VTC, returned to New Brunswick to present on the “Economic Impacts of Active Transportation in New Jersey” a report that you can read here. He talked about the importance of having a report on hand in an environment where funding is constrained, as they allow advocates to show that improvements in the bicycle and pedestrian network are important economic stimulators, rather than a “frivolous” use of funds.
Finally, “Title 39: A Bikes Eye View” featured a rapid-pace discussion on the problems with New Jersey vehicle laws and difficulties with law enforcement investigations. Arnold Anderson. Who also spoke at an earlier session, talked about how police departments are properly trained to investigation motor-vehicle and motorcycle collisions, but less trained in investigating collisions with bicycles. For example, a department may know how to check a car for mechanical failures that could have contributed to the crash, but do not know what to look for with bicycles. They are also limited by roadway evidence; while cars may leave skid marks, bicycles will not, which makes determining speed prior to a crash very difficult. The discussion also looked at contradictions in Title 39 as to whether a bicycle is a vehicle (yes, but also no), and confusion over the use of shoulders in New Jersey. For example, one line of a law refers to the roadway (from white line to white line) while another refers to the highway, which includes the shoulder. Essentially in New Jersey, riding in the shoulder for a bicyclist is neither prohibited nor endorsed, which can cause legal complications.
The 2015 Bike and Walk Summit provided a large range of interesting topics for discussion, and attendees left with new information in their areas of interest. The conference has grown every year, and the 2015 edition may have been the best one yet.