Building A Better Gas Tax

Friday, December 30 by JerryFoster

A new report by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP) reveals that New Jersey hasn’t raised the gas tax in 20 years, while roadway construction costs have skyrocketed. Effectively reducing the purchasing power of our taxes, this lost revenue is significant – “annual losses in New Jersey are over $500 million.”

According to the report, “taxes and fees paid by drivers (the most significant of which is the gas tax) make up a smaller share of total highway funding than at any point since the creation of the Interstate Highway System in 1957.”

In our previous post, Who Pays for Our Roads, we looked at the components of New Jersey’s state roadway funding (consumer gas taxes, oil industry taxes and general sales tax), and noted that property taxes fund local and county roads. We also reported that New Jersey’s gas taxes only pay the interest on past roadway improvements, and improvements are 99% paid with borrowed money.

Adjusted for roadway construction costs, the ITEP report notes that New Jersey’s gas and diesel taxes have lost 40% of their purchasing power since they were last adjusted, a loss totaling $505million annually.

The report recommends solutions: “The best structural reform possible is to link, or ‘index,’ the gas tax rate to some official measure of transportation construction cost growth.” An increase of 11.8 cents per gallon of diesel and 9.8 cents per gallon of gasoline would restore purchasing parity.

How about it? We’ve seen NJTransit fares increase 25% – it now costs almost $30 for a round trip train ticket between Princeton Junction and New York. We’ve seen toll increases on the turnpike, tunnels and bridges, and more are coming. When the Scudder Falls bridge on I-95 gets expanded to 6 lanes, a toll will be charged for the first time. Our transportation network is very expensive, but so far we’ve been unwilling to pay to maintain it, preferring to borrow instead – it’s not a sustainable solution. What do you think?

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We’re Seeking Student Advisors

Tuesday, December 27 by silvia

A student advisor at a "Learn to Bike" class

It’s once again time to apply to become a student advisor to the West Windsor Bicycle and Pedestrian Alliance. Student advisors will work with its trustees over the next 12 months to help make our community even friendlier for bicyclists and pedestrians. Applicants must attend West Windsor-Plainsboro schools or live in West Windsor and attend other schools in the area or be home-schooled. The deadline for applications is February 20.

Serving as a student advisor is an excellent way for students to make a difference in their community while developing organizational skills, helping to plan and publicize events, and learning to advocate before local government for improvements. This year’s student advisors organized our community bike ride and helped promote our bike drive and “learn to bike” classes. As for coming year? Students have considerable freedom to come up with a project that interests them.

It’s a great way for any student considering a college major in environmental sciences, engineering or political science, among other areas, to gain some hands-on experience in their general area of interest.

You can learn more about what’s involved and see the application form here.

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Transit Village Not Enough to Achieve Smart Growth

Sunday, December 25 by JerryFoster

This post was published as a Letter to the Editor in the West Windsor Plainsboro News December 16, 2011.  In response to Lucy Vandenberg’s letter in the West Windsor Plainsboro News December 2, 2011, WW Transit Village a Model for State. As I expect Ms. Vandenberg would agree, the Transit Village is a good start, but more needs to be done to achieve the benefits of Smart Growth.

It’s not enough that the Transit Village will “make it possible for people to get out of their cars and walk, bike, and take the train to their destinations.” We must be able to safely walk and bike to and from the Transit Village.

It’s not enough to have compact development – we need a grocery store within walking distance, like the Acme that used to be in downtown West Windsor. Land use law and/or policies must require diverse uses – we need more than banks and real estate offices downtown, so that people have a variety of walkable destinations.

It’s not enough that compact development could be environmentally beneficial – we need specific open space preservation tied to specific dense developments like the Transit Village. It’s irrelevant that other space in New Jersey is already preserved.

It’s not enough to have Smart Growth policies for land use – transportation policy must support land use policy, by implementing the flexible standards in the New Jersey Department of Transportation’s (NJDOT) Smart Transportation Guidebook.

It’s not enough that NJDOT and West Windsor Township adopted Complete Streets policies – Mercer County must also adopt the policy, which requires roadway improvements to support walking and biking. Otherwise major roads like CR 571 in downtown West Windsor are subject to expensive but counter-productive “improvements” that don’t meet the the township’s goal for “pedestrian-friendly, village scale development.” There’s nothing pedestrian-friendly about a wider road with 30% more cars going 45mph, with no place to safely wait in the middle when crossing.

The Rt 1 Regional Growth Strategy is not enough, since it doesn’t sufficiently support redevelopment in Trenton and New Brunswick, the two already-compact but underutilized “developments” anchoring the region. With the right policies, much of the region’s growth could fit into Trenton and New Brunswick with far less environmental and traffic impact. Without supporting our cities, the strategy’s Bus Rapid Transit system will effectively encourage sprawl in outlying areas, contrary to its stated goal.

Respectfully, it’s wrong to promise reduced congestion by implementing Smart Growth, even with Smart Transportation and the Bus Rapid Transit system. Like water, the transportation network balances itself as people choose to walk, bike, drive, or take the bus or train, depending on the cost and convenience of each. If there is less congestion, people will switch to driving until there is enough congestion to make it better to take another way.

The Transit Village is a good start, but doesn’t exist in a vacuum. We need complementary supporting policies to achieve the benefits of Smart Growth. If Smart Growth just means new and denser development, then it has already failed to achieve its goals.

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Jolly Santa’s New Ride Sports Handlebars

Tuesday, December 20 by JerryFoster

Friend of WWBPA and Princeton Free Wheeler Howie Luxenberg generously consented to have his letter to the editor of the Times of Trenton, published December 11, 2011, reprinted here. Enjoy – the picture shows Santa in the middle surrounded by his helpers – you know it’s him because of the beard and his indifference to cold. Thanks Howie!

A white-bearded fellow masquerading as Santa Claus has been spotted pedaling a bicycle in the area around Hightstown. Sometimes he waves, sometimes he smiles, but often he does nothing but look straight ahead while pedaling furiously.

His outfit, if I can call it that, consists of some kind of helmet, black tights and a yellow jacket, which makes him look like a bee in hot pursuit of honey.

Can it be that the real Santa actually lives in the Central Jersey area and spreads his merry cheer on a two-wheeled vehicle rather than a sleigh? If so, parents and grandparents must quickly advise the little ones that Rudolph has caught cold and Santa this year will be arriving on a less traditional mode of transportation.

He was seated astride a red bicycle, seemingly riding without a care in the world and probably heading nowhere in particular but just enjoying the festive environment that always fills the holiday season. He was rather tall, but not stocky. If anything, he would probably rank as one of the skinniest Santas from the North Pole. But his size really doesn’t matter to children, who would only see him as perhaps a different and unusual kind of fun-loving Santa.

You just had to see his full, white beard, which practically covered his entire face. His nose and cheeks were red, probably from the biting crosswinds he encountered while cycling. If this wasn’t Santa, he was wearing quite a nice disguise. Yes, this was Mr. Claus and, upon seeing him, any child would certainly have yelled, “Mommy, Mommy, there is Santa on a bicycle!”

This kind of Christmas hero is likely to attract hundreds of smiling children as he treks through the area.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

— Howie Luxenberg,
Hamilton

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Penn Lyle Road Improvements Completed

Thursday, December 15 by JerryFoster

It’s a challenge to keep up with all the improvements that have been completed this year, including the long-planned Penn Lyle Road project, which includes repaving, bike lanes and sidewalk connections. Thanks to the township for getting this done, even including porous pavement for the sidewalks!

Penn Lyle Road is a key connector between WW-P High School South and the bike lanes on Woodmere Way and Village Road, as well as to the Trolley Line Trail, a multi-use path that connects to Community Park and on to the bike lanes on Rabbit Hill Road, Bennington Drive and Southfield Road.

Including the new multi-use path along South Post Road, you can now bike from Mercer County Park, at either the Mercer Oaks Golf Course or at the Caspersen Rowing Center, to Village Elementary School or Grover Middle School, and on to McCaffrey’s grocery store, all via bike lanes or multi-use paths.  There are few gaps left in the biking or sidewalk network in the eastern part of the township.

Naturally, experienced bicyclists don’t regard these improvements as necessary, since they (we, actually) are comfortable driving our bikes in traffic, following the laws like anyone else on the road. For casual bicyclists, however, the bike lanes and paths provide the extra perception of safety that enables them to bike places they would not feel comfortable reaching without those facilities.

Please keep in mind that there are some things to watch out for when biking in a bike lane or on a path. Whenever there’s an intersection or driveway, many drivers  pay attention to the middle of the road to look for a car approaching, but may not look to the edge where the bike lane is, and so may not notice a bicyclist entering the intersection or driveway. Also, if cars are backed up, someone turning through a gap in the cars may not see an approaching bicyclist (or a pedestrian on the sidewalk at a driveway), since the driver is paying attention to the gap in cars but not yet to the space beyond. Just keep an eye out for these common causes of crashes, and you’ll be able to avoid them.

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WZBN TV-25 Highlights Route 571 Plans

Tuesday, December 13 by sandy

WZBN reporter Rose Eiklor interviewed Mayor Shing-Fu Hsueh and WWBPA President Jerry Foster and 2nd Vice President Alison Miller. The broadcast was on December 6, 2011.


Jerry made the case for a revised plan: “While the new plans will allow pedestrians to walk along Route 571 much more easily due to the new sidewalks, they won’t be able to cross as easily. And it’s not enough, in our view, to be able to just walk along a road; we’ve got to be able to cross it safely as well. Any median or refuge island that goes in the middle would be a huge improvement to being able to cross the road safely. The other main thing that we’re looking for is less speed through this section of our ‘Main Street.'”

Alison continued:
There also are many, many commuters who will cross right here [the intersection of Route 571 with Wallace/Cranbury], because this is the way to the train station, and it’s expensive to buy a parking space, especially when you can walk. And commuters are always in a hurry, and we’re very concerned about commuter safety.”

Mayor Hsueh worries that any changes in the design at this point will require the Township and County “to go back to square one again…I have reservations about [their design], because they didn’t know that we’d already discussed with County about those concerns. But County…also has certain kinds of ground rules regarding a county roadway, and we have to compromise with them.”

The mayor continued: “The speed limit is decided by the state DOT, so my feeling is, once we have this design done and once we have people riding bicycles around, [there will be] opportunities we can request for reevaluation of the speed limits, and there are technical standards–it’s not even political negotiations, it’s all based on statistical analysis.”

Commenting on the YouTube site, WWBPA trustee Chris Scherer notes, “It is not financially or socially responsible to implement a ‘ solution’ that requires rework to be considered safe and effective.”

WZBN TV-25 is New Jersey’s Capital News Station.

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How I Learned to Bike and Hike

Saturday, December 10 by JerryFoster

Let’s take a break from all this focus on infrastructure and let me share the story of how I came to enjoy biking and walking.

I learned to bike as a small child in a small town in the midwest in the 1960s, which was surrounded by open space. As kids, we biked and walked to school, raced our bikes around the basketball hoops on the playground, and rode the trails through the woods, all on a banana-seat bike with knobby tires.

Later, we rode motorcycles and snowmobiles on those same trails, as well as walked and cross-country skied them. I bought a 10-speed from Sears with my paper route money while in junior high school. With friends from scouts and school, we’d backpack overnight or all week, sometimes in winter with cross-country skis, and once we loaded the camping gear onto the bikes and did a weekend out and back via bike.

After learning to drive, we moved on to longer backpacking trips, including a 6-week trip to Wyoming with a school friend, and learned to rock and later ice climb. Any excuse to travel was good enough – my college roommate and I took a 6-month European rock and ice climbing trip, with an interlude traveling via rail pass.

I moved to the east coast after college and bought a touring bike with high hopes, not realizing how little time there is for fun once you start working full time. My wife and I canoed and camped together, and cruised our sailboat after the children arrived. I did my best to introduce all the outdoor activities I love to my son’s scout troop and later to my daughter’s Venture Crew (a co-ed scout group).

My long term backpacking project is to hike the entire Appalachian trail in sections – so far, I’ve done almost 1300 miles out of about 2200.

Biking for me is mainly recreational – I bought a road bike after failing to keep up with my neighbor on a ride in the early 1990s, and still ride it today. Besides errands and recreational riding with the Princeton Free Wheelers, I’ve done several week-long charity rides for Anchor House, plus a self-supported camping tour from Oakland to Los Angeles.

Hope you enjoyed my story – do you have a story you’d like to share? Please send us an email at wwbikeped@gmail.com, and we’ll be happy to post it here.

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Alexander Road S-Curve Completed

Wednesday, December 7 by JerryFoster

Among the amazing number of recent achievements, the Alexander S-Curve ranks high.  Starting at the Delaware and Raritan Canal, the new roadway includes bike lanes on both sides and a sidewalk on the south side of the road. The road was the site of a fatality several years ago, and the construction was delayed to avoid concurrence with the Meadow Road project. Thanks to the township for their very busy year and all the great results!

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St Paul’s Nighttime Visibility Event

Saturday, December 3 by JerryFoster

The WWBPA partnered with the Princeton Joint Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee to promote nighttime visibility recently, at St. Paul’s  church in Princeton. We were able to take advantage of their excellent audio/visual facilities in the basement meeting room, with about 15 people attending.

Thanks to our Princeton partners and to our volunteers, especially Lenora,
one of our members, who gave the safety presentation in Spanish, and was very good at engaging the audience. Thanks also to the Hunterdon Area Resources for Transportation (HART) Transportation Management Association, who developed the base of our bilingual presentation.

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Safer Trolley Line Trail Crossing at South Mill Rd

Thursday, December 1 by JerryFoster

A new trail crossing was installed recently where the Trolley Line Trail crosses South Mill Road, including a crosswalk with high visibility markings and a pedestrian-activated rapid flashing beacon, which flashes yellow strobes when the button is pushed. Thanks to the township and county for making crossing South Mill Road safer!

A few details remain, however, and a WWBPA trustee met with township and county engineers to explain the issues, such as placing the buttons for easy accessibility and connecting the crossing to the trail on the east side of the road, which is about 65 feet further north.  We’re confident these will be addressed in the not-too-distant future.

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Upcoming Events

March 9   ******* Annual Membership Meeting ******* 7 pm – WW Municpal Bldg (Main Mtg Rm A). Guest Speaker TBA.

March      Membership Drive. Become a member/Renew your membership today and support our local community.

March 12  WWBPA participating at the St Anthony’s Health Fair 1:30-2:30pm in the gym at St. Anthony’s Catholic Church in Hightstown.

April 13     Monthly Meeting 7 pm – WW Municpal Bldg (Rm D – Lower Level)

April 15     Scholarship applications due for Graduating High School Seniors

May          Look for opening Season of WWBPA at the WW Farmers Market

May 11     Monthly Meeting 7 pm – WW Municpal Bldg (Rm D – Lower Level)

Jun 8       Monthly Meeting 7 pm – WW Municpal Bldg (Rm D – Lower Level)

July 13     Monthly Meeting 7 pm – WW Municpal Bldg (Rm D – Lower Level)

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