Seeing the Road Ahead…As It Crumbles Before Our Eyes: Bill to Create Empowered Pedestrian and Bicycle Safety Advisory Council Falls Prey to “Pocket Veto” from Governor Christie
by Cyndi Steiner and Aaron Hyndman
It seemed like we would be in store for some significant positive changes on the horizon, as bicycle and pedestrian safety advocates were to have been given a new sounding board with which to shape policymaking in Trenton. Legislation sponsored by state Senators Nia Gill and Diane Allen, as well as Pamela R. Lampitt, Daniel R. Benson, Valerie Vainieri Huttle, and Tim Eustace in the Assembly, to create a Pedestrian and Bicycle Safety Advisory Council had won unanimous approval from the Senate (October 2015) and Assembly (January 2016), and with the Governor’s signature, would have established a new commission designed to carry on the work of the NJDOT’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Council (BPAC). The new Council would have examined issues related to pedestrian and bicycle safety and would advise the governor, legislature, NJ Department of Transportation and other state agencies on solutions that will make New Jersey communities safer and friendlier for bicyclists and pedestrians.
While New Jersey’s DOT has had a BPAC for more than 20 years, and in September 2014 introduced a new version that included other stakeholder agencies, this is the first time that the state legislature would have mandated such a commission and codified it by statute, demonstrating the need for such a council not only within DOT but across transportation, planning, and health agencies. As a result, bicycle and pedestrian safety would have now been elevated to the forefront of state-level policymaking. In other words, we thought we had arrived. We were wrong.
With the previous legislative session having come to a close, Governor Christie had the option of signing the bill into law by today’s noon deadline, or allowing the bill to expire without action: the so-called “pocket veto.” Unlike the standard veto, which carries with it an explanatory statement describing the rationale behind the action, a pocket veto lets the legislation expire with no explanation from the executive, more or less letting it fade away without a trace.
Unfortunately, Governor Christie’s decision (or indecision) today was to let this valuable piece of legislation, one seen as so useful and well-constructed that it passed the ENTIRE legislature – Senate AND Assembly – without a single “no” vote, go unsigned. As a result, it’s back to square one.
The bill (S2521/A3888) would have created an 18-member council within, but not of, the Department of Transportation, to review, analyze and report on a number of issues related to pedestrian and bicycle safety, including the type of motor vehicle violations that are contributing factors in pedestrian and bicycle accidents. By doing so, the Council would serve a vital role in facilitating cooperation and coordination between governmental and private agencies concerning bicycle and pedestrian safety. In addition, the Council would have been empowered to assess and make recommendations regarding State planning processes as they pertain to bike and pedestrian issues. Among other duties, the council would also review the availability and effectiveness of driver education and training programs to educate and inform the public. Perhaps most importantly, the Council would have been authorized to review statutory law and regulations and advise policymakers on best practices for ensuring the safety of bicyclists and pedestrians.
The Council would include representatives from transportation organizations across New Jersey, state agencies, including the DOT, Motor Vehicle Commission, Division of Highway Traffic Safety, Department of Health, NJ Transit, the Federal Highway Administration (as a non-voting member), the State’s three MPOs (North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority, South Jersey Transportation Planning Authority, Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission) members of the public and the Legislature. Two appointments to the Council would represent statewide transportation organizations with regional expertise in bicycle and pedestrian advocacy, with the other two public appointments representing senior citizen issues. And finally, a key piece to the puzzle would have been the inclusion of state lawmakers on the Council (two from the Senate, two from the Assembly), creating a seamless means for ensuring that issues brought up by the Council aren’t put out to pasture, but make their way into the halls of power in Trenton.
With the establishment of this new Council, created under the advice of the NJBWC, Tri-State Transportation Campaign and other partners, we would have been able to use this new platform to the fullest in advancing the key causes in bicycle and pedestrian advocacy throughout the state.
Despite the defeat, we remain dedicated to fighting for progress in bicycle and pedestrian safety, and ensuring that future efforts come to fruition instead of ultimately ending up on a shelf. Especially as it relates to critical measures such as the four foot Safe Passing Law, it’s our hope that the policymakers in Trenton respond to both the dangerous consequences of the undesirable status quo and the opportunities we could have by bringing New Jersey in line with other states. We can even dream: our uniquely compact state can seize the initiative. Let’s have New Jersey be a nationwide leader in making active transportation much safer and more widespread, ultimately making our towns and cities more livable places.
Cyndi Steiner is the Executive Director of the NJ Bike & Walk Coalition. Aaron Hyndman serves as the organization’s Communications Coordinator. Also contributing to this piece was Jim Hunt, NJBWC Lifetime Member and President of the Morris Area Freewheelers.