Cyclists and Pedestrians Complete Our Transportation System
For most people, the word “transportation” evokes images of highways, trains, and planes. For a dedicated section of the public, however, the word also encompasses bicycles and other forms of personal mobility.
Those are the people who gathered at the annual NJ Bike & Walk Summit last weekend, for a day of presentations with a common goal: to reclaim street safety for bikers and walkers.
“Instead of talking about our transportation network, we should be talking about our ‘mobility’ network” declared Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti, NJ’s Transportation Commissioner in her opening remarks, to a burst of enthusiastic applause. “Being able to accommodate bicycles is hugely important.”
Commissioner Scaccetti was essentially talking about the “Complete Streets” policy developed in NJ nearly ten years ago, and updated just this month with a guide to street design that considers the safety of anyone on the move, including cyclists and pedestrians. 150 towns and eight counties in NJ have passed their own Complete Streets policies -- meaning there is still a lot of work to do.
“Failure to treat traffic risk is a fundamental political problem” stated another keynote speaker, attorney Steve Vaccaro, who defends and advocates for bicyclists and pedestrians. In an enlightening look back at the evolution of motoring laws, Vaccaro points to a crucial shift in attitude in the 1920’s, when cars started to rule the road, and courts began to shift the risk from motorist to victim. “The problem was redefined by saying that instead of making motoring safer, keep people out of the motorists’ way.” And that, Vaccaro says, left a legacy of ‘externalizing’ roadway risk to the cyclist.
For example: New Jersey is one of a handful of states that does not prohibit the unsafe opening of car doors on the driver’s side, a common bicycling hazard. Another example: as recently as 2012, a court determined that cyclists shouldn’t be in the shoulder because “roadways are intended for use by operators of vehicles”. Vaccaro concluded, “This is a tragedy and failure of our society.”
The keynote session of the Bike & Walk Summit ended on a more upbeat note provided by Ginny Sullivan, who has made it her calling to open up America’s roadways to bicycle tourism. As Director of Travel Initiatives for the Adventure Cycling Association, Sullivan advised the audience on best practices for developing good bike trail systems, ranging from ‘destination development’ (i.e., making bike tourists feel welcome) to educating local officials on the spending potential of recreational bicyclists.
There ensued a day of workshops for the Bike & Walk Summiteers, on topics ranging from policy to police guidelines; from trail plans to shared use lanes on the bridges to Staten Island. And in the lobby were exhibitors as diverse as: an algorithmically-driven bicycle detector for street crossings, an electric bicycle sharing service, and publicity for a good old-fashioned bike tour of historical New Jersey.