By Kelsey Bridges
Commuting to and from work only comprises 20% of all trips taken in the United States. However, it is these trips that create the most congestion as large groups of people flock to the roads within the same 2-3 hour time period during the workweek. Engineers and planners are constantly struggling to mitigate this problem, and one approach is through improved bicycling infrastructure.
Between 2000 and 2009, bicycle commuting increased 70%. A survey on commuting patterns of 55 cities across the United States between 2000 and 2009 revealed cities and regions with the biggest increases in the percentage of commuters who commute by bicycle. The Northwest had the highest percentage of bicyclist commuters, 87%, while the Northeast had the greatest increase in the percentage of commuters who bicycle to work, 127%. The cities with the largest increases tended to be places where little to no bicycle commuting occurred previously; thus New York did not see a large increase during the study time period (20%), while cities that are relatively newer to bicycling scene, such as Baltimore and Pittsburgh, saw huge increases (233% and 250%, respectively). Of concern for New Jersey is that Newark was the only city of the 11 surveyed in the Northeast region that saw a decrease in bicycle commuting of 50%. Although New Jersey is making strides to improve bicycling, it is still behind in the Northeast region.
There are several deterrents to bicycle commuting: bad roads, traffic, and being sweaty at the office to name a few. These obstacles are arguably worse in New Jersey, which has one of the highest population densities in the United States, and high car ownership and road network systems to match. New Jersey also has longer commute times, on average, than other states. Most New Jersey commuters spend at least 30-34 minutes each way commuting. These characteristics do little to encourage bicycle commuting and likely contribute to why New Jersey is falling behind neighboring states.
This lag, however, should not last long as community leaders, activists, and government officials work to come up with innovative solutions to improving bicycle infrastructure. One way to increase bicycle commuting is to utilize the several bicycle paths and trails in the region. These paths can be used to avoid automobile traffic or crossing wide roadways. NJDOT has published a map with riding tours, but they may also be used for commuter purposes. For example, the East Coast Greenwayis 78 miles long in New Jersey and extends from Pennsylvania across New Jersey, passing through many urban centers such as Trenton, New Brunswick, Princeton, Newark, and Jersey City. Since this path goes through many cities, it may be a nice resource for commuters who do not want to spend their entire ride along side vehicle commuters.
There is also great bicycle commuter camaraderie as there are bicyclists who either commute together or blog about routes. A popular blogger, “The Towpath Guy” provides tips on commuting along the 30-mile long Main Canal that runs from Trenton to New Brunswick. He provides information on access points and also best commuter tips such as riding slower in the summer to stay cool. Another example of bicycle commuter lifestyle in New Jersey is the Ridgewood Commuter Group which meets at the same spot every morning to ride 25 miles into Manhattan. The route they take has no bicycle routes, so riding together makes for a safer ride.
Although, New Jersey may not have as many bicycle commuters as neighboring states, it still has an active community that is working to promote bicycling. NJDOT has sponsored several bike paths and safety initiatives. Over 100 communities have adopted Complete Streets policies, and activists across the state work to create awareness of bicycle issues. With this much support, New Jersey will be competing head to head with its neighbors in no time.