In April, we celebrate Earth Day. So much of what we do to at the Safe Routes Partnership not only benefits health and wellness, but is also good for the environment. I am using a BIG win in New Jersey as an example.
New Jersey has been a leader in the Complete Streets movement. The New Jersey Department of Transportation adopted a Complete Streets policy in 2009. The policy is among the top rated internal policies by the National Complete Streets Coalition. Since that time, there has been an active Complete Streets working group encouraging local government to adopt Complete Streets policies. To date, there are 90 municipalities and six counties in New Jersey that have adopted Complete Streets policies (not bad when you consider that there are just over 600 policies adopted nationwide). In addition to encouraging the adoption of policies, we are also working hard to make sure that the policies are effectively implemented. That’s where our efforts were concentrated on a project at the Jersey Shore.
Route 35 is the main highway along the Jersey Shore in north/central New Jersey. It suffered significant damage during Superstorm Sandy and, as a result, NJDOT fast-tracked plans for major reconstruction along a 12.5 mile section of the highway. When the preliminary design drawings released in spring of 2013 included some bicycle and pedestrian improvements, but there was so much more that could be done. The Safe Routes Partnership and advocates from the Complete Streets working group (Tri-State Transportation Campaign, New Jersey Bike and Walk Coalition and the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia) began a full court press to make sure NJDOT fully implemented their Complete Streets Policy. We visited towns along the route, wrote letters to NJDOT, the Transportation Commissioner and the Governor, found champions in communities, mounted letter writing campaigns, encouraged press coverage and provided information on the importance and advantages of fully accommodating pedestrians and bicycles. After months of advocacy, NJDOT finally rolled out the new design drawings on April 1, 2014 (no fooling) and we made a difference!
Preliminary design drawings for Route 35 reconstruction
Revised design drawings for Route 35 reconstruction after the push for Complete Streets
The new plans call for bike lanes for 10 miles of the route and sidewalks along almost all of the 12.5 total miles. Thanks to NJDOT for listening to us and to the citizens in the communities.
So, what does all this have to do with the environment and earth day? The Jersey Shore is a busy tourist area in the summer. The traffic can be horrible. The better the facilities are for walking and bicycling, the less driving people will have to do. Fewer cars means less traffic that results in lower emissions and better air quality. These Complete Streets improvements will improve the quality of life along the Jersey Shore.