Advocacy Moves Asbury Park Forward

After Asbury Park’s Mayor John Moor abruptly shut down NJDOT’s proposed road diet along the city’s Main Street/State Route 71 in October 2015, it appeared that Asbury Park was to remain entrenched in its car-centric approach to transportation issues. Although this city had made great strides towards ending the economic blight of the 1980’s and 1990’s, an important opportunity was going to be missed: the chance to remake Main Street into a safe, vibrant corridor that could contribute substantially to the overall uptick in economic vitality that other parts of Asbury Park were experiencing. It also presented the opportunity to break down the chasm that exists in the city between the east and west sides, creating a fully integrated city where underserved communities could safely connect to the business and commercial center of Asbury Park by reaching them through safer bicycling and walking.

Such was the impetus behind local advocates coming together to create a strong voice for safe streets and a more livable Asbury Park, along with guidance from NJBWC. The group started with a few individuals who were brought together to discuss the rules regarding bikes on the city’s boardwalk, and the discussion soon turned to the city’s rejection of the road diet, which the advocates viewed as a violation of the city’s complete streets policy, passed by the City Council just weeks earlier. Soon the group had a facebook page, a petition, and a google group email list, tools to build their coalition. They began researching various topics related to road diets and circulated these articles among the group and shared them on social media.

As the group grew in number, expertise naturally surfaced, in the form of several urban planners, a community organizer, some legal expertise, and those willing to stand up and be heard. They named themselves the Asbury Park Complete Streets Coalition, created a logo, had a banner made, and marched together in the city’s March 2016 St. Patrick’s Day Parade. One of the urban planners in the APCSC researched all the redevelopment and master plans that the city had sitting on their shelves, not implemented. The planner drafted a white paper about road diets; others created a one-page flyer that the group circulated. They also signed an agreement with the NJBWC to be their fiscal agent, so that they could accept donations.

And they began talking; they had exchanges on social media, and they pounded the pavements, talking to residents, business owners, civic leaders, church groups, and city council members, telling everyone about the road diet and why Asbury Park’s Main Street needed it, and handing out their materials. They asked the question: “What do you like about Main Street?” This became a catch phrase for the APCSC, as it clearly highlighted the need to overhaul this wasteland of a road that served no one well – not businesses, not people on foot and on bikes, not people in cars. The group drafted a sign-on letter and collected signatures from 25 businesses up and down Main Street. They held a public meeting and showing of the film “Bikes Vs Cars” that filled the room at Asbury Park’s Showroom Theater. They continually looked to the NJBWC for guidance, and called in our partners at Tri-State Transportation Campaign. And they got into the press, where there was discussion both for and against the project; at one point, the APCSC advocates were labeled “fanatics” in a local paper, only to be congratulated a few weeks later in the same paper for the advocacy work they were doing to make Main Street a safer, more economically viable place.

In spring and summer 2016, only after they had built substantial grassroots support did they begin giving testimony at city council meetings, introducing themselves formally, asking for information on the road diet, and presenting the sign-on letter to the city council.  They also encouraged city council members to attend several road diet workshops. Their “ask”: Rescind the council’s resolution opposing the road diet, and work with NJDOT to implement the project.

The response: the city needed NJDOT to perform traffic studies during peak summer hours to better understand how a road diet would impact traffic conditions. No rescinding of the resolution, but it was progress when compared to the previous summer’s shutdown of the road diet.

In the fall of 2016, the city hired a transportation manager to advance a bicycle and pedestrian agenda. This gave the APCSC an ally within city administration, and they took full advantage of it. They met with the new manager, they invited him to their meetings, they provided him with their priority list, and they made themselves available as a resource.

As the November 2016 city council election approached, APCSC issued a Candidate’s Questionnaire to all candidates. They received responses from half. Although the same slate of councilors was returned to office, their words had changed; the candidates were now using some of the same language that the advocates had been using, and publicly stating support for Complete Streets projects.

When NJDOT’s traffic data for Route 71/Main Street was released, another of the urban planners within the APCSC analyzed the data and was able to show that Main Street could easily support a road diet, meaning that there was no degradation in “level of service” for car drivers. (The fact that there is no equivalent level of service concept for pedestrian and bike riders is another discussion.)

Fast forward to April 2017, to the announcement by the Asbury Park Sun that the city was awarded a Local Technical Assistance grant by NJDOT to create a bike and pedestrian plan. While this was not the rescinding resolution the advocates are looking for, it is a good first step towards implementing the city’s Complete Streets policy.

The grassroots advocacy of the APCSC got the city this far. Without the group organizing and socializing the message that the streets in Asbury Park needed to be made safer and that the city was missing out on opportunities to further its economic progress and to bridge gaps to underserved and minority communities, these few steps forward would not have happened. The city’s history of creating redevelopment and master plans, only to have them collect dust on a shelf, leads one to believe that the city was planning to do nothing towards implementing its Complete Streets policy.

The APCSC should be looked upon by the city council and administration as a resource during the LTA project and beyond; by providing informed opinion to the project, by posting the public information session dates, by generating interest, providing education and encouraging attendance and input from the city’s residents, and by providing direction to the project, the APCSC can help ensure that the ultimate plan is broad, comprehensive, considers a long-term horizon, and meets the needs of all Asbury Park residents. Another benefit that cannot yet be felt is that the APCSC has saved the city council much grief down the road, in avoiding 11th hour angry mobs claiming to know nothing about the project.

With a new bicycle and pedestrian plan that includes substantial infrastructural changes to Main Street like the road diet originally proposed by NJDOT, and with the advocacy of the APCSC, Asbury Park shows promise of becoming one of New Jersey’s forward-thinking cities, prepared for the future equipped with a street network where all modes of transportation are accommodated.

Cyndi Steiner, Executive Director

 

Proposed pedestrian safety bill takes pedestrian safety backwards

A4449 – Driver and Pedestrian Mutual Responsibility Act – could better be known as the “Driver Immunity and Pedestrian Blaming Act” or the “Get out of the way or get hit” Act. This misguided attempt at increasing pedestrian safety shows little to no understanding of Complete Streets principles, but more importantly, is predicated on the premise that physics will permit a balance between the behavior of human beings and that of 2000-pound hunks of steel.

This bill makes the concept of right of way  less clear and takes away existing protections from pedestrians. The sponsor(s) of this bill are misinformed in that they believe the Stop and Stay Stopped bill (NJ 39:4-36) added provisions and duties that didn’t exist before, which is incorrect, and they, therefore, are attempting to roll back 39:4-36. This bill is worse than rolling back to pre 39:4-36; it actually takes away rights that existed prior to Stop and Stay Stopped.

To begin, 39:4-36 didn’t give any new protections to pedestrians; it simply provided clarity. Drivers had the same duties before 39:4-36; it simply changed the language to “stop” instead of “yield.” This bill reverts to “yield” as opposed to “stop.” Yield is ambiguous and does not provide the unequivocal and clear language regarding the motorist’s duty towards a pedestrian. Increasing ambiguity in New Jersey traffic law does nothing to address the high percentage of pedestrian fatalities the state has been grappling with since at least 2008.

Further, historically, all road users had an equal right to the road. When crosswalks were invented, legislators stated that they recognized the great sacrifice that pedestrians were making by giving up their equal right to the road in exchange for having priority in limited places, like the crosswalk- marked and unmarked. This bill, by failing to recognize unmarked crosswalks, waters down and limits even further those relatively few places where pedestrians have priority. Hardly a balance.

The language in A4449 is also messy; for one, it assumes there are intersections everywhere. Imagine being in rural New Jersey, or on a suburban arterial where there are no crosswalks and possibly no intersection for a quarter to a half mile at a minimum. A4449 would make it illegal to cross the road anywhere but at an intersection, which is impractical at best. Are pedestrians expected to walk the distance to the next crosswalk? In the dead of night, in the cold and snow? As it currently stands, pedestrians can cross at other places than the crosswalk, but must simply yield the right of way to motorists, where before the advent of crosswalks, pedestrians had equal right to any part of the road (this was obviously found to be impractical with the advent of the automobile).

Lastly, the removal of permissive inference in the event of a collision between a vehicle and a pedestrian within a marked crosswalk, or at an unmarked crosswalk at an intersection (“permissive inference” meaning that it is inferred that the driver did not exercise due care for the safety of the pedestrian) is literally open season on pedestrians.

These legislators would do better to explore implementing Complete Streets/traffic calming measures and other street infrastructure that further adds clarity to the expected behavior of both drivers and pedestrians, rather than create a situation where drivers bear virtually no responsibility for their actions. Attempting to equate a “balance” between the physical capabilities of a 2000-pound vehicle in motion with those of a human being is laughable at best, and at worst, blames the victim for what befalls them.

Cyndi Steiner, Executive Director

 

Year-end recap and many opportunities for 2017

From providing guidance to community advocacy groups, to advocating for statewide legislation and funding, to supporting federal policy campaigns, NJBWC was on the job throughout the year, working to make our streets safer for everyone. Although we changed the conversation everywhere we campaigned, there is still so much more to be done in the state. Here is a recap of our accomplishments in 2016:

Statewide efforts

  • We held our 7th and largest state-level bike & walk summit ever, at 275 attendees! We also celebrated the new venue – the Friend Center of Princeton University.
    • Guest speakers included USDOT’s Barbara McCann, the League of American Bicyclist’s Board Chair Karen Jenkins and Executive Director Alex Doty, along with Princeton Mayor Liz Lempert.
    • We congratulated two stalwart community advocates with the NJBWC Advocate of the Year Award: Fair Haven Mayor Ben Lucarelli and advocacy group Bike OCNJ.
  • The Regional TAP program, an idea we proposed to NJDOT, was officially kicked off in 2016, with approximately $15 million being awarded to large projects up and down the state. This significant advocacy win funds large regional bike and pedestrian projects, such as trails in the Delaware Valley region that are part of the Circuit, trails in south Jersey, and the Morris Canal Greenway project in north Jersey, and will spawn many smaller projects that will connect to these trails.
  • In January 2016, we testified in Trenton in support of the safe passing bill which passed the Assembly Transportation Committee.
  • We helped shape the update to the state’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan, which was last updated in 2004.
  • Along with our partners, we called upon the state legislature and Governor Christie to solve the state’s Transportation Trust Fund Crisis and to include funding for pedestrian and bicycle improvements.
  • We participated on the Executive Council of the state’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Council (BPAC) and chaired the Education and Outreach Subcommittee, which produced a new chapter for the New Jersey Driver Manual on sharing the road with bike riders.
  • We participated in the update of the Port Authority’s new bicycle master plan.

 

Community Efforts

  • Our successful outreach in support of the lane markings in Clifton that mark the Morris Canal Greenway saved this project and encouraged the Passaic County Freeholders to expand their Complete Streets efforts to Totowa, Patterson and Little Falls.
  • We are partners with the Asbury Park Complete Streets Coalition in their ongoing campaign for the city to adopt NJDOT’s proposed road diet on Route 71. We also joined APCSC in their presentation of “Bikes Vs Cars,” helping residents and visitors to understand the benefits that the road diet will bring to the city.
  • We spoke out against Jersey City’s time limit on the use of public bike racks by commercial bikes, an ordinance, while directed at Hoboken’s bikeshare system, has impacts to all commercial bikeshare and bike rental systems in Jersey City, effectively limiting options for riders.
  • We were awarded one of the highly sought-after People For Bikes Community Grants to build a Bike Depot in Morristown.
  • We announced our partnership with the East Coast Greenway Alliance and the September 11th National Memorial Trail Alliance in advancing the Ice & Iron Greenway/Meadowlands Connector, a proposed greenway from Montclair to Jersey City.
  • We adopted the Let’s Walk! Program from its creator, Bike & Walk Montclair, enabling the program to expand to seven of the communities served by Partners For Health, the program’s main funder.
  • We gave bicycle traffic skills classes to the entire third grade in both the Freehold Borough and the Rutherford School Districts.
  • We assisted advocates in Millburn to create Bike & Walk Millburn, the latest edition to the Bike & Walk family of local advocacy groups.
  • We successfully advocated along with Bike JC and Safe Streets JC in support of a road diet for Grand Street in Jersey City.
  • We joined Newark’s Lower Broadway Coalition along with 17 community groups, who called upon NJDOT to include in the new Routes 280 and 21 Interchange construction improvements that will make the neighborhood safer and provide better access for pedestrians.

 

Federal efforts

  • We led the 2016 New Jersey delegation to the National Bike Summit, visiting US Senators Cory Booker and Robert Menendez and many of the US Congressional Representatives from the state, urging them to support federal funding for bicycle and pedestrian projects, and to call for performance measures that consider the numbers of people walking and biking in policy decisions.
  • We highlighted the risks to bicycle and pedestrian federal funding by the new Congress and administration, and call upon residents to join us at the National Bike Summit in March 2017 to bolster support for this funding.
  • We joined a host of partner organizations across the nation in calling upon the CDC to keep funding in place for the Healthy Community Design Initiative (HCDI), an effort that brings together transportation and health through health impact assessments and other research to advance our built environment in ways that encourage active transportation.
  • We signed on to a letter requesting that the Trump Administration allocate $120 million to the CDC to implement the first national, coordinated, comprehensive framework to increase physical activity through the Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity (DNPAO).
  • We spoke up for increased bike access aboard Amtrak in the Northeast Corridor as part of the NEC Future initiative conducted by the Federal Railway Administration.

We had a busy year, but there is much more to be done. We are now the only state on the entire east coast with no type of safe passing protection for pedestrians and bike riders. We are one of only 10 states in the country without an anti-dooring law. Our percentage of road deaths attributable to pedestrian and bicycle fatalities increased in 2015 and remains the second worst in the nation. Our municipalities continue to pass Complete Streets policies and then ignore them. Our elected officials still prioritize driver convenience over the safety of pedestrians and bike riders, opting to “strike a balance” instead of aiming for zero deaths. Our state is a long way off from being a place where people can ride a bike or go for a walk and not have to be concerned that they will be hit by a car. Working to make our roads safer, and ultimately, to make our state a more livable place for all of its residents, is every elected officials’ responsibility and continues to direct the work of the NJBWC.

Cyndi Steiner, Executive Director

 

Changes in DC Raise Red Flag for Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety in New Jersey

President-elect Donald Trump’s selection of Elaine Chao to lead the U.S. Department of Transportation, along with a Republican-controlled Congress, may stifle the advancement of bicycle and pedestrian safety efforts for New Jersey.

Unlike some of Trump’s other cabinet nominees, Chao actually has some experience in the department in which she would be expected to oversee. She previously worked as labor secretary under President George W. Bush, and served as deputy transportation secretary under President George H.W. Bush.

But Chao has also served as a fellow with the Heritage Foundation, which has written and advocated for multiple bills that wiped out federal funding for biking and walking. The foundation pushed for a bill devolving transportation to the states that also struck the Transportation Alternatives program (TAP). They used misleading numbers; for example, they stated that the Transportation Enhancements program (precursor to TAP) accounted for 10 percent of all transportation funding, when the truth is it was just 10 percent of one program — or less than 2 percent of overall funding.

Assuring that funding is available for bicycle and pedestrian projects is essential to states, especially New Jersey, which has been designated a “Pedestrian-Bicycle Focus State” by the Federal Highway Administration.  However, the transportation plank of the Republican Party’s 2016 platform is focused exclusively on highways, so the appropriation of federal funds for bicycle and pedestrian safety could come under attack each year as Congress negotiates the next year’s budget.

That’s a big problem for New Jersey, where federal funding represents the lion’s share of funding for bicycle and pedestrian projects in New Jersey. The Garden State currently receives roughly $17 million each year in federal dollars under the Surface Transportation Block Grant (STBG) Set-aside (which replaced TAP under the FAST Act), and these funds are awarded to towns and counties to make roads safer for pedestrians, bicyclists, and drivers. The state-funded Bikeways program, by contrast, allocates only $1 million per year. And although the state’s Transportation Trust Fund is now on a path to solvency, no additional funding was exclusively allocated for pedestrian or bicycle safety during those negotiations.

While the dollars allocated under STBG Set-aside are mandated by federal policy and not directly controlled by the Secretary of Transportation, much of the bike and pedestrian advocacy at the federal level is focused on maintaining funding for non-motorized transport during these negotiations. Attacks were successfully fought off in the Senate in 2009, 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014, and in the House in 2015.

If another attack is to be fought off in 2017, we’re going to rely on New Jersey’s congressional delegation to get in the ring — and it’s our job as advocates to make sure they do. The National Bike Summit, which takes place in March, will present advocates with the opportunity to reach out to members of both the House and Senate. As the League of American Bicyclists’ Vice President of Government Relations Caron Whitaker put it, “If you think this was a year to skip the National Bike Summit, think again.”

By Janna Chernetz, New Jersey Director of Policy, Tri-State Transportation Campaign; and Cyndi Steiner, Executive Director, New Jersey Bike & Walk Coalition

This post was cross-posted on Tri- State Transportaion Campaign’s Mobilizing the Region blog.

 

Asbury Park: What is there to like about Main Street?

Stroad: “…a street/road hybrid and, besides being a very dangerous environment (yes, it is ridiculously dangerous to mix high speed highway geometric design with pedestrians, bikers and turning traffic), they are enormously expensive to build and, ultimately, financially unproductive…The result is an expensive highway and a declining tax base.” Charles Marohn, Strong Towns

Stroads represent the antithesis of a good street – a space that promotes safety, community, good architecture, and financial resilience at the lowest possible cost. Stroads fail to provide safety to pedestrians and bike riders, as they were built to accommodate cars. The lack of bike lanes, adequate crosswalks, safe access to public transit, and a general overall lack of a sense of “people scale” contribute to the high incidence of pedestrian fatalities and injuries on stroads.

In this era of Complete Streets, stroads are the primary target for a massive overhaul, and New Jersey has its share of these aesthetically repugnant, economically destructive, and dangerous roads. Asbury Park’s Main Street through its downtown is State Route 71 and could easily be the picture next to the definition of a stroad. Route 71 runs through Asbury Park from Route 33 in Neptune north to where it becomes Deal Lake Drive and swings east. The section that forms Main Street is a four lane highway about a mile in length.

But it gets worse. Not only is Route 71 a landing strip, but just about every intersecting street is also an expansive swath of pavement with virtually no markings or signage, allowing drivers to zoom away from every intersection at warp speeds, only to slam on the brakes at the next traffic light. And zoom they do. Asbury Park is a sea of pavement built for speed.

Mixed in with this are people on foot attempting to cross at intersections that have no pedestrian signaling of any kind, and people on bikes pedaling along parked cars, many riding against speeding traffic, some trying to reach the beach, others headed to jobs along Main Street, and still others running errands, all hoping not to get squashed on roads not designed for them or for anyone else who is not moving at multiples above the speed limit. It’s the urban equivalent of the wild west, and the last thing anyone appears to be concerned about is pedestrian and bike rider safety. Main Street has outdated traffic lights, no pedestrian crossing signals of any kind, faded crosswalks, and virtually no other street infrastructure that would calm speeding traffic. In fact, the city seems to have virtually escaped the enactment of the state’s 2010 crosswalk law – the “stop and stay stopped” law that requires vehicles to stop at all marked and unmarked crosswalks when there is a pedestrian waiting to cross – as the bollard signage placed in the roadways at many crosswalks throughout New Jersey are can scarcely be found in Asbury Park.

Last Spring, the Asbury Park Complete Streets Coalition asked several hundred residents what they liked about Main Street, and very few could come up with anything. It is the place one loves to hate. But more importantly, many appear never to have thought of Main Street as a place they could love. Why not? Because in Asbury Park, as in many cities and towns in New Jersey, stroads are so much a part of our downtowns that we have come to accept them as something we are “stuck with.”

Late last summer, NJDOT presented a “road diet” – a plan for Route 71 through Asbury Park that would convert the highway into a pedestrian and bike friendly street, calming traffic, improving safety and providing an opportunity to revitalize the downtown, all at no cost to the city. In a hasty move, Mayor John Moor turned down the proposal, calling it his “finest victory.”

This for a roadway that saw 644 automobile crashes for years 2010 through 2014, of which 65 involved either a pedestrian or a bike rider. In those crashes, 195 people were injured, including incapacitating injuries in many of them. That’s almost two and a half crashes every week, with an injury every 9 days.

There are currently about 18 commercial vacancies out of about 150 on this stretch of roadway. That’s 12% of storefronts not earning tax revenues for the city, in an era of cash-strapped municipal budgets and constrained resources. A road that makes it easy for pedestrians and bike riders to reach businesses along it is a road with successful businesses. One need only look at the example of 9th Avenue in New York City to understand that when people aren’t flying past businesses, or having to drive around in search of a parking spot, or who can safely and confidently walk or pedal to reach a store, the businesses thrive.

Many of these businesses are places of employment for residents of the city’s west side, an underserved neighborhood of people who are highly dependent upon bikes for transportation. Take a walk along Main Street (if you dare) and you’ll notice that many of the bikes locked up along the street belong to workers of the businesses.

In June, the Asbury Park Complete Streets Coalition presented the City Council with a sign-on letter stating support for the road diet from 23 local businesses and three state level advocacy groups, including NBWC. They also presented a petition that included signatures from over 400 residents and visitors, all in favor of building a better Main Street.

In short, Asbury Park’s Route 71 is the poster child for a stroad. Walk along its sidewalks,  or pedal along its parked cars, (again, if you dare) and you will hear it screaming for a road diet. With the ongoing revitalization of Asbury Park, the Route 71 project has tremendous upside potential, at no cost to the city.  Call it a gift from NJDOT. It’s time for the Mayor and the City Council to recognize what the many businesses and residents already have, that their “finest victory” is a Main Street that supports safety, community, and economic vitality.

By Cyndi Steiner, Executive Director