My last blog post about bike and walk projects was a bit negative.
I didn’t mean for it to be that way, but, unfortunately as we all know, there are obstacles we face when when seeking new improvements to the bike and walk environment.
This post will have a lighter touch to it. (It’s all happy awesome stuff!) In reality, the NJ Bike and Walk Summit, which was about a month ago now, was inspiring. There are a lot of awesome things happening for bicyclists across the country. Even right here in New Jersey and New York there are a lot of great things to look forward to.
Many of the positives of bike and walk projects were harped on at the summit, and the most spoken about seemed to fit into three categories: benefits to the community, to your health, and the economy.
Why promote bike and walk projects?
Bike and walk projects are important for many reasons, and these are just a few.
Benefits to the Community
Without a doubt, the most memorable talk at the Bike and Walk Summit was one done by a leader from the YMCA in Camden, NJ. What made his discussion so amazing was that the issues faced in Camden are so much different than you find in many other communities.
Getting the people, especially in Camden to walk and bike more is all about creating a safer and healthier community.
For example, obesity in camden is at 60%. Bike racks at schools were actually taken away because too many bikes were getting stolen, and students are prohibited from biking to school.
Parents in Camden don’t want their children to be outside walking and biking because they think it is too dangerous.
The issues in this community are much different than those faced in many others, but, the end goal is the same–a healthier, safer community. (Note: I’m writing a little bit more about what they did to support biking and walking in Camden in a later section.)
Bikes get people outside, interacting with new people, they give many people a freedom they didn’t have in the past, exercise built into their day, and fun.
Safe ways to get around without driving–like biking and walking–makes better communities for younger and older people who need alternative ways to get around.
Walking slows people down and lets them see thing from another perspective.
Fresh air is just so darn good for you! Which brings us to our next topic…
Benefits to your Health
We all know that exercise is good for you. But, are you supposed to get 30 minutes of exercise a week, or 30 minutes a day? Are we supposed to get 1 hours of cardiovascular exercise ever 3 and half days until the first full moon in April? Can someone please tell me what an Anaerobic is? I think I have one one me.
Just kidding, but really! The research is always changing. What is clear though, is that staying active is an integral part of living a health life.
Building an environment where biking and walking is easy and safe–for pleasure and transportation–is one way to keep our communities healthy.
When you bike just 2 miles to work, 15 minutes there and 15 back, you’ll be building exercise into your daily routine.
People who bike are not just healthier physically but they are happier too! Like, forealz!
Here are a few articles to prove it:
3. Are you old? Shave off 12 years by jogging and cycling.
4. Why are bike commuters happier than you? I can think of a few reasons.
5. Be less fat. Yeah I said it. Burn 10,000 calories a month with a 30 minute commute, 5 days a week.
All of this health talk is making hungry. But, nothing makes me hungrier than money, so let’s talk about the Economy.
Benefits to the Economy
Building bike lanes costs wildly less than building roads for motor vehicles. They’re less to maintain too. Oh, and they help bring in money for local businesses(I definitely don’t not love local business).
Increased bike lanes and bike racks have proven to increase sales for businesses in the area. Twelve bikes can park in the area allocated for one parking space. Property values go up in areas where biking and walking is safe and easy to do.
According to this recent article from StreetsBlog DC, in a Memphis neighborhood, some people got together, spent $500 on paint, and created their own bike lanes! Six months later… “commercial rents on the strip had doubled, and all the storefronts – half of which had been vacant – were full.”
Apparently, 3.8 billion dollars per year can be saved in health care costs in the U.S. if just HALF of SHORT trips in the U.S. are done by bike, during the SIX WARMEST MONTHS OF THE YEAR! Imagine if you replaced ALL SHORT TRIPS ALL YEAR! (Just imagine it, don’t hurt your brain calculating.)
The League of American Bicyclists has a great report on the economic benefits of bicycle infrastructure and one example comes from North Carolina’s Outerbanks. By conservative estimate they generate $60 million a year in bicycle tourism. This yearly return comes from a $6.7 million ONE TIME investment.
We could go on and on, so I’ll stop there.
I wanted to tell you a little bit about complete streets, because we’ve been hearing a lot about them.
One anonymous reader asked, “If streets are not complete can you fall off of them?” (can I be sued for making up anonymous reader questions? Lawyers please contact me with the answer.)
What are complete streets?
One of my favorite forums at the summit was about complete streets. I wasn’t exactly sure how complete streets policies worked–I just knew that they were good.
Complete streets policies can differ between one city or state to another. What is important across the board is when designing and maintaining streets that engineers are taking all users into account.
All users refers to the specific needs of drivers, pedestrians, bicyclists, transit vehicles, emergency responders, and more. Clearly, this is a difficult and important task.
For example, did you know that NJ has adopted a complete streets policy, and the U.S. Department of Transporation also. Even, New Brunswick has one. New Jersey is actually known as a leader for advancing Complete Streets policies, however, we are still way behind when it comes to actual infrastructure.
This from NJDOT
“NJDOT finalized a Complete Streets policy in December 2009. The policy requires that future roadway improvement projects include safe accommodations for all users, including bicyclists, pedestrians, transit riders and the mobility-impaired.
This policy is implemented through the planning, design, construction, maintenance and operation of new or rehabilitated transportation facilities within public rights of way that are federally or state funded, including projects processed or administered by the Department.”
Then why aren’t there bike lanes on Route 1?
Some representatives of the NJDOT were there to lead the forum, and one of them said something that struck me–NOT ALL STREETS NEED BIKE LANES. I’m all like, “What?!” I want them everywhere, sir. Thank you, sir.
These are some of the exemptions for complete streets.
1. Non-motorized users are prohibited on the roadway.
2. Scarcity of population, travel and attractors, both existing and future, indicate an absence of need for such accommodations.
3. Detrimental environmental or social impacts outweigh the need for these accommodations.
4. Cost of accommodations is excessively disproportionate to cost of project, more than twenty percent (20%) of total cost.
5. The safety or timing of a project is compromised by the inclusion of Complete Streets.
This is why in some areas that DO have complete streets you don’t see bike lanes and pedestrian projects happening everywhere.
One way or the other, complete streets are very important because they change the way that engineers and city planners put together the map. They make it a priority to include all users in the discussion of new roads.
Beyond this, they are a part of the way these projects are funded. If New Brunswick wants funding for city street maintenance projects, then they are more likely to be granted money, and/or granted more money if they are paying attention to the complete streets policies laid out by NJDOT.
In the end this certainly encourages cities without Complete Streets Policies to move in that direction. However, until all of the municipalities, counties and states inact policies, there are will be gaps.
This is a spectacular video(that I can’t embed) from NJDOT about Complete Streetscomplete streets.
I know you’re getting board, so this is going to be the last section. It’s kind of long, but it’s so amazingly interesting! (Trust me.)
Advocacy Groups and Projects to Pay Attention To
Here are a few more things to keep an eye on.
1. New Brunswick Ciclovia
New Brunswick Ciclovia is number one only because I’m really excited about it. For those of you who have never heard of Ciclovia before, here is a nifty video to show you the ropes.
I loved this video the second I saw it a few months ago. It just shows how positive an affect this project has on the community. At it’s heart it’s all about just being outside, walking, biking, and being with your family and friends.
This is coming to New Brunswick! This is a huge project and it takes so much effort to put something like this together, so the fact that the people behind the project in New Brunswick are willing to do this is truly amazing.
We learned at this forum that 50% of school aged children in New Brunswick are reported overweight or obese. Beyond that, 37% of the population reports someone in the family has diabetes.
These are things that can be corrected with an increase in physical activity. Just biking or walking to school and a greater utilization of New Brunswick’s parks could help many families.
Glenn Paterson, the Director of Planning in New Brunswick mentioned that a large part of the goal of this event is to:
1. Promote active transportation in the city
2. Promote social interaction and community engagement
3. Increase support for sustainable development
4. Increase utilization of NB Parks
5. Have fun!
New Brunswick is a small city, however it is a dynamic city with three distinct population groups. One of the largest, of course, is made up of Rutgers University. Then, there is a large immigrant population, as well as many long time New Brunswick citizens.
A large goal of Ciclovia would be to get them all out, interacting and engaging each other.
The Ciclovia will be somewhere between 2 and 3.5 miles, and will most likely span from College Ave, to George Street, and Joyce Kilmer.
A tentative date is set for October 6th, 2013, but follow @nbciclovia on twitter to keep up to date!
As I mentioned earlier, Bryan’s talk about the issues families face in Camden was the most striking.
He is passionate about creating a safer environment for kids in Camden and they are going about it in many ways. One of the focuses of his talk was about developing relationships with other organizations and businesses to help cultivate this environment.
With the YMCA Bryan worked with the schools & police deparment, Board of Education, Campbell’s Soup, Rails to Trails, and more.
They have taught kids to ride bikes, fix them, and they even took a group from Camden to Trenton by bike. Sadly, these kids still are not allowed to ride their bikes to school.
Bryan who grew up in Camden during the 70′s, said that things began to change in the 80′s.
“In the 80s, things began to change. “Camden became so unsafe that kids stopped playing outside together,” said Bryan. In the 90s, schools eventually closed afterhours. Kids literally became “prisoners in their own homes” and played inside or in front of their homes where their moms and aunts kept a close eye on them.”
It’s really this disparity in America that pisses me off. Am I feeling that middle class guilt? I think so.
But, we really need to support people like Bryan and programs like Safe Routes to School who will at least help us close gaps.
Keep an eye on these programs, and I’m sure they’re always looking for supporters and volunteers!
The East Coast Greenway
The East Coast Greenway is just a super cool idea. Think of it like the Appalachian Trail, except it will connect cities and towns, can be walked or biked, and goes from Maine to Florida.
The goal is to create a continuous and safe route, which can be used as commuter route in your own city, or between them, and even to take the entire journey from north to south. Some of the Greenway will be completely on off-road trails, and some will incorporate on-road routes.
It’s possible that you have used the Greenway without even being aware of it. For example, in New Jersey, the D&R Canal is a part of the Greenway.
To be honest, at this point some of the Greenway is a bit choppy, and not as functional as it hopefully one day will be. But, the more projects like this the better and we will continue to move forward.
To sum all of this up, a lot of really great, really cool things are happening. Was that eloquent enough?
I recently did an interview(I’ll let you know when that goes up on the web) with Ash Blankenship of The Urban Times, and he asked me a really good question. Do I think that biking is a fad or a changing?
And I ask you: knowing all of this, how could bicycling be just a fad?
And then I ask you: What do you think? Is bicycling just a fad or a changing?
By bicycling, I think Ash and I both refer more specifically to bike commuting–I don’t think two wheelers are going anywhere!