Cammie Kornely on her way to work today, Bike to Work day. Last week she escorted 14 kids to school on Bike to School day. “It was pouring rain,” she said.
Meanwhile, around the corner just one block away in Fort Lee, NJ, parents lined up for an hour dropping their kids to school by car. The streets were clogged with motor vehicles. Ninety-nine percent of these drivers are making trips of two miles or less since the high school is situated more or less in the middle of Fort Lee.
Yet approximately three students ride their bikes to school. The rest are either driven by their parents, walk to school, or drive themselves.
They may be taking direction from their parents. Less than one percent of the Fort Lee population uses bikes to go to work. Fort Lee is ideally situated for commuters to New York, with most homes only blocks from the George Washington Bridge, with direct access to the bike path that takes cyclists across to Manhattan.
But day after day, the streets of Fort Lee are packed with drivers from Fort Lee, and surrounding Bergen County communities sitting in their cars waiting to get on the bridge–which now costs between $8 and $12 to cross.
The lack of bike use in the town is ironic: Fort Lee is the one reception point for thousands of cyclists coming from Manhattan to ride north through New Jersey and New York along Route 9W. Traffic counts by the New Jersey Department of Transportation last October show over 1500 cyclists using the road on weekends.
Fort Lee residents are notorious for their lack of empathy for things cycling related. There are no bike paths in the town–none. And there are no bike racks.
And this is not for lack of trying by the administration under Mayor Mark Sokolich, who, recognizing that Fort Lee was a big pass-through town for cyclists coming from other parts of Bergen County or from New York, worked with the New York New Jersey Port Authority and the Palisades Interstate Park Commission to create a path from the George Washington Bridge to Hudson River Drive, a relatively safe, low car density road along the Hudson.
Lore has it years ago members of the town voted down a proposed one-mile bike path to be built connecting the lower school and the middle school through a tranquil section of the suburban-like town. It was turned down because residents did not want to give up space for driving.
At a recent public hearing to review plans for two major residential and commercial developments to be built adjacent to Interstate Route 95 and the George Washington Bridge, residents lined up to complain about worsening traffic to come their way. When it was suggested by this reporter that they take up cycling, those residents present at the meeting scoffed at the idea, citing it as “too dangerous,” and “what, at my age?”
Still, the administration of Fort Lee–notably Mayor Sokolich and the planning board need to take a greater leadership role in encouraging cycling. The mayor, though invited, has not been present nor have any of his planning department at the annual New Jersey Bike Summit where ideas about creating traffic-free communities are exchanged among like minded people, many of them representing towns throughout New Jersey such as Hoboken and Morristown.
Always present at those meetings is the person in charge of bicycle and pedestrian projects at the state’s department of transportation, Sheree Davis. Ms. Davis has been tasked by James Simpson, the chief at the DOT to make New Jersey the leader in Complete Streets– transportation, roads, and streets that are usable by all users.
Let’s hope Fort Lee gets the hint.