Advocates and law enforcement got together on Saturday to talk about the bleak reality that New Jersey now ranks as the
nation’s second worst state in pedestrian fatalities, at 23.2% of all its road deaths in 2012.
What’s worse, it’s only .02 percentage points behind New York State that has twice as many fatalities, but less than half as many per 10,000 people, according to 2012 benchmark numbers from the Alliance for Biking and Walking.
These facts provided the tragic touch point for last Saturday’s annual New Jersey Bike Walk Summit that was attended by advocates, planners, law enforcement and bicycle companies.
The event was organized by the NJ Bike Walk Coalition, the only statewide advocacy organization working to create safer roadways and byways for cyclists and pedestrians.
Some municipalities like Fort Lee attended because they have seen record numbers of pedestrians killed by automobiles.
Jeff Miller who heads the Alliance for Biking and Walking highlighted the challenges that New Jersey bikers and walkers face: “We need to be thinking about making biking and walking safer,” he said.
In New Jersey men make up the preponderance of cyclists at 80% with only 20% women riding. Women are the “indicator species,” a term coined by Professor John Pucher of the Rutgers School, that means “they’re smarter,” said Miller.
New Jersey is also 48th in funding for bike ped projects, and has still not passed a “three-foot” passing law. In spending the state is 58 percent behind the national average of $1.79 per person. Miller noted that people interested in making their towns more bikable and walkable can attend training in Baltimore from April 11 through 13.
Some cities, like New Brunwick, are doing something about it. New Brunswick’s Mayor Jim Cahill told attendees how he was making his city safer for cyclists and pedestrians by offering three annual Ciclovias, or open cycling events with closed streets.
The city is also planning flashing crosswalks, a pedestrian safety improvement that has only recently caught on in hip,
progressive towns like Easthampton and Woodstock, NY. New Brunswiick is planning a bike route between the Center City and Douglas campuses of Rutgers University, about 1.9 miles.
Though his talk had little to do with improving cycling and walking in the U.S., attendees were fascinated by a presentation by F.K. Day, SRAM’s EVP and chief of World Bicycle Relief, a program that supplies bicycles in underdeveloped countries.
By working through international relief agencies like UNICEF and Care International, the organization has helped improve the lives, education, productivity and income of many people in parts of Zambia and the Sub Sahara region of Africa. The group got their start when they responded to the emergency in Sri Lanka after the devastating tsunami of 2005, providing 24,400 bicycles that had an immediate impact on the country’s ability to rebuild. At this time, SRAM is not only distributing but also building bicycles in Africa said Day.
Still, in a lunchtime session with attendees, CI asked F.K. Day if this type of program couldn’t be applied in impoverished areas of the United States, where so many people are suffering from lack of employment, and the ability to get around in a car-dominated culture.
“We would be very interested in doing that,” replied Day.
Another presentation by Peter Furth, Phd, and professor of civil and environmental engineering at Northeastern University focused on how to evaluate your town’s stressful roads to create a bike route that people will use without fear.
His extremely useful analysis of perceived stress by users rated different streets in a community and showed that most towns have “islands” of bikable areas, that are disconnected because of large roads, two lane highways, and other extremely stressful—read dangerous—roadways.
By adding safer ways to bike or cross these arteries, towns can reconnect broken pathways to make cycling routes more accessible to everyone, including the least advanced riders.
For example he said, cyclists were unable to ride from San Jose University to San Jose College because of the stress (read fear)
they perceived on connecting roadways.
“We need a way of classifying the facilities that which you can ride a bike that match people’s tolerance level,” said Dr. Furth.
In his analysis, the lowest class of stress is suitable for children, where level two suits the mainstream adult population who say, “I don’t want to fight with cars.”
Using the Dutch criteria where everyone rides bikes, and informed by successful practices in Davis, California, advocates can classify their streets by stress levels, then reconnect the “islands” through small changes.
Any street with more than one lane of traffic in each direction creates unsuitable stress levels for the normal rider. In a one-lane situation, “there is a qualitative difference, all it takes is one prudent driver, and everyone has to go slower behind them.” The presence of space between the rider and parked cars also lends to stress levels—less than 15 feet is not enough.
Blocked bike lanes are another factor, taking the street over normal tolerance levels. Other factors are speed limits or the prevailing speed, the presence of meridians, and the sum of the bike lane and parking width.
In mixed traffic, “the bikes should never have to share space with the cars if the cars aren’t sharing space with each other, and as soon as the road has more than one lane per direction, you need a cycle track.”
More on the Summit coming later this week.