Spinning their wheels: 282 new signs encourage biking in JC – but there are no bike paths

More than 200 signs were posted last month all over Jersey City with the words "BIKE ROUTE" and "SHARE THE ROAD."

•••

Published August 31, 2007 by JerseyCityReporter.com
By Ricardo Kaulessar

More than 200 signs were posted last month all over Jersey City with the words "BIKE ROUTE" and "SHARE THE ROAD."

The signs, meant to encourage biking in the city, were posted thanks to a $100,000 state Department of Transportation grant.

However, the city presently does not intend to include actual bike paths near the signs to make biking easier.

In other towns in New Jersey, areas designated as bike lanes are six feet across and have striped paint to mark them.

According to the Jersey City Engineering Department, 282 bike signs have been installed since last month.

Various city officials confirmed that actual bike paths have not been approved so far because the city does not want to take away street parking.

In January of 2006, the Planning Board approved an amendment to the city's master plan to include the "Jersey City Bikeway System" plan, but excluded the bicycle lanes.

The signs signal the implementation of an extensive bicycle system throughout Jersey City that eventually will include bike parking facilities and a program to encourage bicycling for commuting and for recreation.

Downtown resident Dan Levin, a bike enthusiast who commutes daily to his picture framing business in Hoboken, has mixed feelings about the program.

"What Jersey City is trying to do is encouraging," Levin said. "If someone bicycles, that is one less car on the road."

But he noted, "The signs don't do anything by themselves. It's an excuse in going through a process and not achieving any real results."

Activist asks for paths

Levin said that the good-government group that he co-founded, Civic JC, submitted a request recently asking the city to reopen and amend the city's Bicycle Plan section of the Jersey City Master Plan to include on-street bicycle lanes in downtown and citywide.

In the year 2000, the city had the Transportation Policy Institute of Rutgers University prepare the Jersey City Bicycle Plan for the Jersey City Division of Planning.

Under the plan, the city was to be divided into five sections with signs pointing out various destinations: downtown (near the waterfront), The Heights, Journal Square, Lafayette-Greenville, and Liberty State Park.

Now that the signs are installed, a study will be conducted by the city's Department of Public Works to determine if the bikeway system can include actual bike lanes.

The lanes would be placed in possible locations such as Mallory Avenue, Washington Boulevard, Washington Street, Christopher Columbus Drive, and Phillip Street.

There is also consideration to link the bikeway system to the East Coast Greenway, a 2,500-mile series of nature paths and roadways that runs from Maine to Florida. The Greenway will likely also include the Sixth Street Embankment in downtown Jersey City if it can be acquired by the city.

Share the road?

City Council President Mariano Vega said last week that he understands why it would make sense to put bike lanes alongside the signs.

He said that the City Council studied the idea of the lanes, but had to concede that parking would be taken away.

"The real concern for the city was that we did not take out parking on either side of the road, because it would create an inconvenience and a loss of revenue," Vega said. "What we decided to do is to encourage biking, nevertheless, and put the bike signs at critical turning intersections so people can know where they are going to turn."

Vega said there are other bike-friendly initiatives that the city will look to implement, such as bike racks at train stations and other destinations. The bike racks are expected to be acquired under another state grant of $300,000.

The 2000 Rutgers study also recommends strengthening the city's bikeway system with a Jersey City Bicycle Map, encouraging employees to commute by bicycle, and bicycle awareness education.

Vega, as the Director of the Hudson County Department of Parks, Engineering & Planning, also would like to see a countywide system to complement the Jersey City Bikeway System.

Signs of any biking life

According to information from the 2000 Census, out of the 240,000-plus residents of Jersey City, 0.25 percent, or about 600, were bike commuters, although that number is believed to be a low estimate.

Other than the Census, there is no data that can be found at the Transportation Policy Institute of Rutgers University website (www.njbikeped.org) or on the section of the state's DOT website devoted to biking (http://www.state.nj.us/transportation/commuter/bike/resources.shtm).

According to Helmets.org, there are 85 million bicycle riders in the U.S.; 784 bicyclists died on US roads in 2005, and 92 percent of them died in crashes with motor vehicles.

Ricardo Kaulessar can be reached at rkaulessar@hudsonreporter.com