Support Conover Rd Bikeway Multi-Purpose Trail Project

Thursday, August 11 by joegorun

http://www.westwindsornj.org/conover-road.html.

Help make West Windsor more accessible and safe for walking, running and biking to Conover Fields, Mercer Lake, PNRA Rowing Center and Mercer Park by showing support for the Conover Rd multi-purpose paved trail project. It will connect the trail at S Post Rd, Conover Fields, and all of the neighborhoods until Galston Dr.

Submit your comments online by Friday, August 19 at:http://www.westwindsornj.org/conover-road.html and select ContactUs Form.

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Is Cycling on the Shoulder Illegal?

Friday, October 2 by JerryFoster

Pt Beach Cyclist w Dog wrong way shoulderLet’s re-visit the great war between the executive branch (NJDOT) and the legislative (NJ Title 39) and judiciary (NJ Supreme Court Polzo v Essex County ruling) branches with regard to bicycling on the shoulder. Everybody does it, but is it legal?

NJDOT’s excellent 2011 Bicycling Manual recommends “riding on the right side of the road or on the shoulder.” NJDOT’s circa-1996 Introduction to Bicycle Facilities notes, “Advanced bicyclists are best served by bicycle compatible streets and highways which have been designed to accommodate shared use by bicycles and motor vehicles.” Paved shoulders are considered one form of bicycle compatible roadway.

So NJDOT encourages it, but does that make it legal? NJ Title 39:4-14.1 states: “Every person riding a bicycle upon a roadway shall be granted all of the rights and shall be subject to all of the duties applicable to the driver of a vehicle.”

Wait a minute, isn’t a bicycle a vehicle? Not in NJ – human-powered devices are specifically excluded from the legal definition of vehicle in 39:1-1: “”Vehicle” means every device in, upon or by which a person or property is or may be transported upon a highway, excepting devices moved by human power or used exclusively upon stationary rails or tracks or motorized bicycles.”

So what, it’s the same thing while riding in the shoulder, right? Not really, as the shoulder is specifically excluded from the “roadway” legal definition in 39:1-1: “”Roadway” means that portion of a highway improved, designed, or ordinarily used for vehicular travel, exclusive of the berm or shoulder.” So a cyclist riding in the shoulder would not be granted all the rights and responsibilities as the driver of a vehicle.

Aren’t we nitpicking? Motorists can’t legally drive in the shoulder anyway – cyclists can’t very well have the same rights and responsibilities as the driver of a vehicle while riding in the shoulder, as it would also be illegal.

Exactly! If a cyclist has the same rights/responsibilities to follow the rules of the road, s/he should only ride in the travel lane, not in the shoulder.

NJDOT’s lawyers, presuming to encourage only legal cycling behavior, may well point to the sentence structure of 39:4-14.1. It implies that every person riding a bicycle *outside* the roadway (e.g. on the shoulder) would not have the same rights/responsibilities as the driver of a vehicle, but that doesn’t make it illegal, since it’s not explicitly prohibited, like it is for drivers of a vehicle in 39:4-82.

Under this interpretation, it’s a cyclist’s choice whether to ride in the roadway, and be legally bound to follow all the rules of the road, or live free on the shoulder. Just think, no rules, no responsibilities – bike against traffic, blow the wrong way through stop signs, it’s all legal if you’re a cyclist on the shoulder. Under this interpretation, cyclists have an implicitly legal option to ride on the shoulder that isn’t offered to drivers of vehicles.

So which is it? Illegal or legally available w no rights/responsibilities? According to the NJ Supreme Court in Polzo v Essex County, “Bicyclists do not have special privileges on a roadway’s shoulder. Indeed, a bicycle rider is directed to ride on the furthest right hand side of the roadway, not on the roadway’s shoulder. The Motor Vehicle Code does not designate the roadway’s shoulder as a bicycle lane.”

So, as far as the law with regard to cyclists is concerned, the NJ Supremes ruled that a cyclist “is directed” to the roadway, “not on the roadway’s shoulder.”

The Polzo ruling was in 2012 – why is NJDOT still encouraging cyclists to ride on the shoulder? Shouldn’t shoulders with sufficient space be designated as bike lanes? What ever happened to the Complete Streets policy?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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2015 Downtown WW Cyclist/Walker Counts

Friday, September 18 by JerryFoster

 

WW Cranbury Wallace 571 CountingIn our 5th annual survey, WWBPA volunteers counted 360 bicyclists and pedestrians at 5 locations around the train station on Wednesday September 16, 2015 between 5-8pm. Last year the count was 343, but the numbers are not directly comparable, since we counted at only 3 locations last year. Comparing the same locations at the same time slots, biking and walking decreased 5% over last year. At least we had beautiful fall weather again this year.

Once again we participated in the National Bicycle and Pedestrian Documentation Project, an effort to accurately and consistently measure usage and demand for bicycling and pedestrian infrastructure.

Our 2015 findings:

  1. Cranbury/Wallace/571 (Rite Aid) – 25 bike, 112 walk
  2. Scott/Alexander (Arts Center) – 26 bike, 90 walk
  3. Vaughn/Alexander (bus stop) –  19 bike, 39 walk
  4. Station/571 (Rep. Holt Headquarters) – 5 bike, 6 walk
  5. Wallace/Alexander (WW lot) – 11 bike, 27 walk

Total: 360 people, 86 who bike, 274 who walk

Thanks to our volunteers!

Traffic along 571 in downtown West Windsor flowed freely throughout the observation time, except for 3 minutes at 5:30pm – this is consistent with last year, which congested for 4 minutes at 6:00pm. Honks were also consistent at 11 this and last year, while the number of semi trucks rose by 2 to 7 this year. One of the honks was to encourage a right turn on red from Wallace to 571, which both the honker and honkee proceeded to do, illegally – an additional sign at the corner would aid in getting the message out. I was honked at from behind a few weeks ago while waiting on my bike at Wallace, but just pointed up at the No Turn On Red sign overhead.

Other observations:

  • midblock crossings of 571 at Rite Aid driveway – 10
  • male – 261, female – 99
  • walkers – 274, cyclists – 86
  • walkers – 187 male, 87 female
  • cyclists – 74 male, 10 female

 

 

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Bicyclists’ Arrogance Explored

Friday, February 27 by JerryFoster

Cranksgiving 2014 4Let’s face it – many people perceive bicyclists as arrogant. Let’s look at one too-typical letter to the editor, where  someone leads off with the arrogance charge, and see if we can determine the causes and underlying assumptions of this perception.

This letter to the editor of The Press of Atlantic City appeared in June 2012, and reads in full:

“Arrogant bicyclists endanger us all on roads.

It’s that time of the year again. Yup, the bicyclists are out in mass, riding two abreast and showing no respect for anyone’s vehicle except their own. They choose to ride on narrow two-lane roads with very narrow shoulders, which forces them into the auto lanes and is extremely dangerous for all.

Our county, township and state have spent thousands of dollars to construct bike paths for the many cyclists out there, so why do they have to infringe on our roadways?

I know we are supposed to share the road. But it’s not sharing the road when I and other drivers have to slow down and cross the median strip so that these clowns can talk to each other while out for their morning cruise.

If the above was not the norm, I could live with these arrogant bike riders. But most of them ride like they own the road. They actually taunt us to hit them. They run red lights, do not stop for walkers in the crossing lane, and get obnoxious when questioned about their actions.

I know that the police have more important things to do other than policing these bike riders, but something has to be done before someone is seriously injured by these cyclists’ callous actions.”

So, let’s look at the NJ laws that apply to bicycling on the road. Riding two abreast is permissible under NJ law (39:40-14.2) – “Persons riding bicycles upon a roadway may travel no more than two abreast when traffic is not impeded…”

Also, bicyclists are required to ride in what the writer calls the “auto lane” – (39:40-14.2) “Every person operating a bicycle upon a roadway shall ride as near to the right side of the roadway as practicable” where 39:1-1 defines “‘Roadway’ means that portion of a highway improved, designed, or ordinarily used for vehicular travel, exclusive of the berm or shoulder.” The NJ Supreme Court ruled “a bicycle rider is directed to ride on the furthest right hand side of the roadway, not on the roadway’s shoulder.”

Perhaps in ignorance of the law, the writer believes that cars belong on the road and bicyclists don’t, e.g. “auto lane,” “infringe on our roadways.”

The writer complains that cyclists use the road even though “Our county, township and state have spent thousands of dollars to construct bike paths.” Implicit is the idea that cyclists don’t belong on the road because of the mistaken notion that only motorists pay taxes for bike paths and roads, e.g. “like they own the road.”

Also implicit is the idea that a motorist’s reason for being on the road is more important than the cyclists’ “morning cruise.”

There’s selective perception that cyclists disobey the law, e.g. “They run red lights, do not stop for walkers in the crossing lane,” implying that no motorist would ever do those same things.

The effect on the writer is “when I and other drivers have to slow down and cross the median strip.”

The writer imputes negative intentions to cyclists’ actions, e.g. “showing no respect for anyone’s vehicle except their own,” “They actually taunt us to hit them,” and “get obnoxious when questioned about their actions.”

The writer notes “something has to be done before someone is seriously injured by these cyclists’ callous actions,” perhaps not realizing that it is almost certainly the cyclists themselves who will be hurt in the event of a crash, not a motorist.

Unfortunately, the sentiments expressed by the writer are all too common, and build from ignorance to at least implicitly justify violence, all for the inconvenience of having to slow down and move over to pass. In the event of “serious injury” the writer will blame the victims, since the cause is “these cyclists’ callous actions.”

Perhaps you’re thinking to yourself – “this blogger is one of those arrogant cyclists.” Since we’re looking at calling other people arrogant, for a working definition let’s use “behaving in a way that makes me think you believe you are superior.”  I’ll respectfully suggest that others’ “arrogant behavior” is highly dependent on your own social and cultural values and expectations, and that sometimes just acting equal is enough to be called arrogant – like riding a bike in the roadway. Thoughts?

 

 

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Mercer First to Complete Streets (Policies)

Saturday, January 10 by JerryFoster

Complete Streets logoFive years after Montclair and NJDOT adopted New Jersey’s leading Complete Streets policies, this week Mercer County became the first to have all roads covered – state, county and every municipality. Congratulations to Mercer County for reaching this very important milestone toward making our communities more bicycle and pedestrian friendly!

Complete Streets policies require road improvements to support biking, walking and transit for users of all ages and abilities as the rule rather than the exception, and provide for incremental improvements without mandating retrofits.

Complete Streets benefit everyone, e.g. better safety (not just for cyclists and pedestrians, but mainly for motorists), higher property values (see walkscore.com) and improved security (more eyes on the street). Those who walk or bike feel better, are healthier and live longer – students who bike or walk to school score better on standardized tests.

Realizing these benefits will take time, as responsibility for our roads is divided between the state (for federal and state roads), counties and municipalities. Even a short trip can include roads and/or bridges under the care of many jurisdictions – for example, biking around Princeton’s Carnegie Lake involves traversing 3 counties and 5 municipalities, plus a state and maybe even a federal road.

What does a Complete Street look like? It depends – Complete Streets are not cookie-cutter. All of these pictures might be considered examples in some sense, while each may have additional possibilities to make them even more complete.

See if you can pick out which picture shows which Mercer County municipality – Trenton, Hamilton, Ewing, Hopewell Township, Pennington, Hopewell Boro, Princeton, Lawrence, West Windsor, East Windsor, Hightstown and Robbinsville.

biking on the sidewalk w adult Hightstown Stockton Dutch Neck nb Robbinsville Pond Rd MS 56 cycles ped xwalk Hamilton Estates G Dye Roundabout Cyclist East Windsor Dutch Neck Dorchester 4 xwalks Nassau Sharrows
Lawrence Johnson Trolley Trail Xing Hopewell Denow Roundabout 1 Pennington Cyclist Texting Hopewell Boro Broad St Xing
Ewing Presbyterian Church Xing
Trenton Bike Lane Paver and Asphault

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Safer Pedestrian Crossing of Clarksville at Hawk

Monday, November 24 by JerryFoster

Hawk Clarksville 2 dark shotsWhat would you do? You’re walking at night, from the station to home north of Clarksville – up Scott Ave, through school grounds and the parking lot to the intersection of Clarksville and Hawk Drive.

There’s no marked crosswalk, but there is a streetlight. Or, you could go to the painted crosswalk at the opposite edge of school grounds, but there is no street light and no way to manually activate the blinking crosswalk lights that are set on a timer for the students.

Also, you’d then have to walk back to Hawk Drive to continue home.

What would you do? Cross under the street light without a painted crosswalk or at the painted crosswalk without light? See the picture for an approximation of the differences.

Please join us at the Twp Council meeting tonight, Monday November 24, 2014, to ask for an improved painted crossing with a streetlight, pedestrian-activated warning lights and turning on the existing speed display signs at all times, not just during school times.

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Our area residents bike in support of the East Coast Greenway

Wednesday, October 29 by joegorun

Four Princeton-area residents participated in a weeklong bicycle ride in October from Philadelphia to Fredericksburg, Va. to promote the East Coast Greenway (www.greenway.org), a 2,900-mile urban version of the Appalachian Trail that links cities from the Canadian border in Maine down to Key West in Florida.

NJ East Coast Greenway riders and the gov

The four, Robert Russo of Belle Mead, Dan Rappoport of Princeton and neighbors Melinda Posipanko and Silvia Ascarelli of West Windsor, bicycled on everything from trails to quiet streets to roads with plenty of traffic, and across the National Mall in Washington. Together, they raised more than $11,000 for the East Coast Greenway Alliance, the nonprofit organization that is working with state and local partners to put more of the route on trails and quiet roads.

The 325-mile ride is an annual event, but the location changes. The goal to ride one section of the East Coast Greenway a year (hence the name, the Week-a-Year Ride) and finish in Key West in 2019. The 2013 ride came through Princeton and West Windsor because the East Coast Greenway includes the D&R Canal Towpath from New Brunswick to Trenton.

“This annual ride provides an exploratory trip to experience the economic impact that off-road trails can and do provide to the different communities that we ride through,” said Robert Russo, who is the treasurer for the East Coast Greenway Alliance. “We get to meet with government leaders in the different states to emphasize the economic and health benefits of a growing off-road trail network.”

All 40-plus riders met with Delaware Gov. Jack Markell, who is considered the most bike-friendly governor in the U.S. By the end of 2017, 60% of the East Coast Greenway route in that state should be off roads. Overall, about 30% of the route is now off roads, and the vision is to get all of it away from traffic.

Dan Rappoport has participated in three of the four rides so far, only missing the first, from Calais, Maine to Portland, Maine. In 2013, the ride from Hartford, Conn. to Philadelphia took him past his childhood home in Cranford. Riding down the East Coast, he says, is his substitute for the dream of a cross-country bike ride.

The ride was Melinda Posipanko’s first multi-day tour. She loved how the Greenway crafts safe routes by connecting existing trails with quiet roads wherever possible.  She was particularly impressed that the route did not go out of its way to avoid less fortunate neighborhoods in the cities and towns it passed through thereby enhancing the possibility that bike tourism will bring economic benefits to these areas.

Like the others, Silvia Ascarelli, a first-time east Coast Greenway rider, is taken with the vision of a route from Canada to Key West. While Delaware is making impressive strides with its off-road trails, she was equally wowed with the well-used network of trails in Maryland from Baltimore to Washington that made riding there a pleasure. For more about this year’s ride, read her blog, www.exploringbybike.wordpress.com

The 2015 version of the ride will pick up where this one ended, in Fredericksburg, and will end in Raleigh, North Carolina. This will be a more difficult ride than in previous years due to longer mileage and fewer greenway sections, so it will be geared toward advanced cyclists. Anyone interested in participating can email info@greenway.org for more information.

In the attached photo, from left:

Silvia Ascarelli of West Windsor, Melinda Posipanko of West Windsor, former New Jersey resident Ed Majtenyi, Delaware Gov. Jack Markell, Robert Russo of Belle Mead, Dan Rappoport of Princeton

 

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Travel Lanes, Shoulders or Bike Lanes – Which is Best?

Friday, September 19 by JerryFoster

Cars moving up shoulder on 571Consider the following scenario – you’re stopped in traffic by a long line of cars waiting for the light – this being New Jersey, you move up the shoulder, where there’s plenty of room. Unfortunately, a car turning left through a gap in the waiting cars hits you – who gets the ticket?

Would it be any different if you were riding a bike up the shoulder? Who would get the ticket then?

What if you were riding your bike in a bike lane instead of a shoulder – now who gets the ticket?

The motorist or cyclist on the shoulder would get the ticket, since shoulders are not for traveling – the cyclist in a bike lane would “only” be injured, not ticketed, since s/he has legal right of way.

This scenario is based on a real life incident in Chatham, where a cyclist on the shoulder was hospitalized and ticketed for unsafely passing cars on the right when he crashed into a car turning left into a drugstore driveway. As the Polzo v Essex County ruling confirmed, “a bicycle rider is directed to ride on the furthest right hand side of the roadway, not on the roadway’s shoulder.”

So cycling in the travel lane or a bike lane provides legal right of way, but what about safe operating conditions?

The NJ Supreme Court ruled that travel lanes and shoulders do not need to be maintained for safe cycling – “Public entities do not have the ability or resources to remove all dangers peculiar to bicycles.” “Roadways generally are intended for and used by operators of vehicles.” “A ‘vehicle’ is defined as ‘every device in, upon or by which a person or property is or may be transported upon a highway, excepting devices moved by human power or used exclusively upon stationary rails or tracks or motorized bicycles.’”

Bike lanes offer safe operating conditions – “A public entity’s designation of a portion of the roadway as a bicycle lane would alter the generally intended use of that part of the road and would require the public entity to maintain it in a reasonably safe manner for those purposes.”

So here’s the score:

  1. Bike Lanes – right of way and safe operating conditions
  2. Travel Lane – right of way but operating conditions sufficient for vehicles only, not bikes
  3. Shoulder – neither right of way nor safe operating conditions

The court provided NJ cyclists with another option to gain safe operating conditions for specific roadway or shoulder segments – notify the maintaining entity (state, county or municipality) that you routinely cycle on a specific road or shoulder. “Plaintiff offered no evidence that the shoulder of Parsonage Hill Road was designated as a bicycle lane or routinely used as one.” “We need not address here the standard of care that might apply under the Torts Claims Act if a roadway’s shoulder were routinely used as a bicycle lane and the public entity responsible for the maintenance of that roadway was on notice of that use.”

Will adoption of a Complete Streets policy provide a future court sufficient evidence of intended use by cyclists? If so, cyclists would enjoy a better standard of care for travel lanes, though perhaps not as good as for bike lanes.

 

 

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2014 WW Biking and Walking Up 24%

Friday, September 12 by JerryFoster

Rite Aid Counting Location 2014Now our 4th annual survey, WWBPA volunteers counted 343 bicyclists and pedestrians at 3 locations around the train station on Wednesday September 10, 2014 between 5-8pm. Last year the count was 334, but the numbers are not directly comparable, since we counted at 5 locations last year. Comparing the same locations at the same times, biking and walking increased 24% over last year (which had decreased 18% from the year earlier). The weather cooperated this year, only 80 degrees and mostly sunny, in contrast to last year’s hot (90 degrees) and humid day.

Once again we participated in the National Bicycle and Pedestrian Documentation Project, an effort to accurately and consistently measure usage and demand for bicycling and pedestrian infrastructure.

Our 2014 findings:

  1. Cranbury/Wallace/571 (Rite Aid) – 28 bike, 113 walk
  2. Scott/Alexander (Arts Center) – 34 bike, 106 walk, 2 others
  3. Vaughn/Alexander (bus stop) –  18 bike, 42 walk

Total: 343 people, 80 who bike, 261 who walk, 2 on motorized wheelchairs or skateboards

Thanks to our volunteers!

Traffic along 571 in downtown West Windsor flowed freely except from 6:00-6:04pm, likely due to 2 different trains from NYC arriving within 5 minutes of each other.

Other observations:

  • midblock crossings of 571 at Rite Aid driveway – 8
  • male – 243, female – 98 (“Other” gender data not collected)
  • walkers – 261, cyclists – 80
  • male cyclists – 70, female cyclists – 10
  • male walkers – 173, female walkers – 88
  • At 571, 4 semi trucks, two traveling together at 7:35pm
  • At 571, 11 car honks, none directed at cyclists or pedestrians (most re left turning, a few at the 571 merge point where 2 lanes decrease to 1 southbound)
  • At 571, the vast majority of cyclists wore helmets
  • At 571, one couple relaxed in the pocket park for about 10 minutes
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Are Cyclists Riding on Shoulders At Their Own Risk?

Friday, August 29 by JerryFoster

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe NJ Supreme Court ruled in 2012 re the county’s potential liability for surface defects on the shoulder that a cyclist was riding on when she crashed and subsequently died (Polzo v Essex County). The ruling generated concern that cyclists riding on the shoulder may be treated differently by the legal system than those in a bike lane, but after reading the ruling carefully, I believe that concern is unfounded.

The court found:

1. The depression caused the tragic fatality.

2. “The Motor Vehicle Code provides that a “roadway” is the portion of highway generally used for vehicular travel; the “shoulder” borders the roadway and is for emergency use; and “vehicles” are not bicycles. Bicyclists are directed to ride as near to the right side of the roadway as practicable. While they may be inclined to ride on the shoulder, they have no special privileges if they do.”

3. “Public entities do not have the ability or resources to remove all dangers specific to bicycles.”

The ruling is clear to this point – cyclists riding on the road or shoulder may not expect a standard of care specific to bicycles. Cyclists may be dismayed by the NJ Motor Vehicle Code, but there is equality between the roadway and shoulder  re the standard of care. “No special privileges” does not mean “at your own risk.”

They then examined if the actual depression was a dangerous condition under the Tort Claim Act, noting “Under the TCA, a dangerous condition means a condition that creates a substantial risk of injury when such property is used with due care in a manner in which it is reasonably foreseeable that it will be used.”

They might have stayed with the logic that cyclists riding on the shoulder have no special privileges, because the law says shoulders are not part of the roadway, and only roadways are generally intended to be used by bicycles under the law (to the extent bicycles are an intended use even though they’re not vehicles).

But no, they said:

4. “Plaintiff offered no evidence that the shoulder was routinely used as a bicycle lane, which might implicate a different standard of care.”

So a shoulder that is “routinely used as a bicycle lane” might be expected to be held to a “different standard of care,” though presumably not to the extent as to “remove all dangers specific to bicycles.”

Since evidence of routine use may determine generally intended purpose and trigger a different standard of care, concern re a distinction between shoulders and bike lanes is unnecessary, in my not-a-lawyer view.

Perhaps the plaintiff’s lawyer should have introduced NJDOT standards for bicycle compatible shoulders as evidence of intended purpose, but in any case Essex County now has a Complete Streets policy that clarifies that bicycling is an intended purpose for county roads.

While cyclists are rightly concerned about the NJ Motor Vehicle Code, the suit was primarily about tort claims, which used the MVC only to determine intended purpose, and even finding none with regard to shoulders, ignored it in favor of a standard of evidence of routine use.

 

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Learning to Love Your Traffic Engineer – Standards

Wednesday, December 11 by JerryFoster

Using Desired Operating SpeedTo learn to love our traffic engineers, we have to understand why they don’t feel they have the authority to design roads to meet citizens’ needs – the standards won’t let them.

Marohn notes that standards are “the engineering profession’s version of defensive medicine.”

Gary Toth invites us to “marvel at how thoroughly the transportation establishment delivered on its perceived mandate”, including  “language/terminology; funding mechanisms; curriculum at universities; values; and policies. Common professional organizations… reinforce and standardize this… at a scale that has rarely been matched by any other profession.”

Citizens should note that engineers are required to follow the standards for traffic signals (Manual for Uniform Traffic Control Devices) – the others are guidelines.

Toth advises “Design manuals often present standards in ranges from minimum to desirable. Has the designer selected the desirables instead of minimums?” Residents will want the minimums, as the “desirables” are from the point of view of creating a wider, straighter and faster roadway.

Conventional DesignIn this series, we’ve set up a “straw man” based on traditional engineering practices. The critique reported here comes from within the profession, however, and context sensitive standards such as NJDOT’s Smart Transportation Guidebook have been published that, if implemented, will significantly improve livability, which is the goal of the WWBPA.

We’ve seen how standards’ flexibility enable engineers to design bike and walk friendly roadways, so in our next installment, we’ll look at liability concerns.

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Learning to Love Your Traffic Engineer – Cost

Wednesday, December 4 by JerryFoster

NJ.COM Picture

NJ.COM Picture

To learn to love our traffic engineers, we must understand why they prioritize cost least when designing roadway improvements. Cost varies a lot – $1M / lane mile is a general rule of thumb, but the NJ Turnpike’s current expansion costs $14.7M / lane mile and Boston’s Big Dig cost $136.2M / lane mile.

Standard engineering practice is to build for more speed, which means more and wider lanes, plus expanded roadside sight distances, which may require purchasing right-of-way, etc., all adding to the cost. Also, engineers are required to forecast volume 20 years into the future and build for anticipated increases.

But other factors are at work – e.g. a 1961 bridge in Washington State cost $159M in today’s dollars, but the replacement is projected to cost $4.6B, including 2 additional lanes.

This dramatic $4B increase over inflation points to issues on the process, financial and political sides, including the revolving door between government and private industry, politicians’ dependence on corporate contributions to get re-elected, government dependence on borrowing to finance road projects, even “commonplace” corruption, according to a New York State report.

If nobody has an incentive and/or is held accountable for cost containment, neither politicians nor engineers, it’s easy to see why it’s not a priority.

We’ve finished examining how citizens prioritize safety, cost, volume and speed differently than traffic engineers, so our next installment will look at one reason engineers use to convince us that they know best – because of the standards.

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Learning to Love Your Traffic Engineer – Safety

Wednesday, November 27 by JerryFoster

Rt 571 Concept Illustration

Rt 571 Concept Illustration

Not only do traffic engineers prioritize safety lower than residents, the designs that supposedly increase safety cause more death and destruction. Why? Because motorists behave differently than engineers expect.

In 2012, there were 33,561 traffic fatalities, including 4743 pedestrians and 726 cyclists.

Traffic engineers’ safety improvements include paving wider lanes and shoulders, removing roadside trees, straightening tight curves, etc.  According to AASHTO standards, “every effort should be made to use as high a design speed as practical to attain a desired degree of safety.”

Traffic engineers believe that designing for high speed will provide safety.

The crash data, however, show “wider lanes and shoulders were associated with statistically significant increases in crash frequencies.”

Noland reports that traditional “road ‘safety improvements’ actually lead to … increases in total fatalities and injuries,” because “this type of approach tends to ignore behavioural reactions to safety improvements”.

Dumbaugh reports that “a behavior-based understanding of safety performance is supported by research and literature in the field of psychology, which has focused on the subject of traffic safety as a means for understanding how individuals adapt their behavior to perceived risks and hazards.”

Marohn calls the traditional approach to safety “professional malpractice”.

Despite WWBPA recommendations, the design for Rt 571 in downtown West Windsor follows the traditional approach – 45mph design speed, another lane and wide shoulders – all in the name of bicycle and pedestrian safety.

We’ve seen that traffic engineers might improve safety by becoming better social scientists. Before following that, however, our next installment of Learning to Love Your Traffic Engineer will look at cost.

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Learning to Love Your Traffic Engineer – Speed and Volume

Wednesday, November 20 by JerryFoster

us-vmt-projectionsUnlike residents, our traffic engineers prioritize speed and volume over safety and low cost – why? It’s how they were trained.

We’re long past the era where roads provide orders-of-magnitude improvement, e.g. from walking to motoring, but policy still encourages speeding, e.g., engineers design for 5-10mph over posted speed, so 74% of drivers on Rt 1 in Plainsboro exceeded the speed limit recently.

Going faster means getting there faster, right? Only if you’re on the mythical open road – in densely populated New Jersey, we have traffic.

Speed can work against getting there faster in traffic, since cars stay further apart – the best volume throughput is at 30-46mph. Improved signal coordination and speed harmonization allow people to get there faster even though they’re going slower, by delaying the onset of stop-and-go congestion.

Historically, traffic increased year after year, but in 2004 per capita volume (vehicle miles traveled) declined (!), followed in 2007 by a total volume decline as the recession took hold.  Though the Great Recession ended June 2009, total volume remains at recession levels, and per capita volume continues to slide.

Is it the end of “build it and they will come”? If so, engineers will have one more reason to change their priorities. In our next installment of Learning to Love Your Traffic Engineer we’ll look at safety.

 

 

 

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Learning to Love Your Traffic Engineer – What the Public Wants

Wednesday, November 13 by JerryFoster

It’s hard to learn to love our traffic engineers – they don’t see the same world we do, and don’t want to talk about it. Why not? Have you been to a public meeting?

The public has issues – many residents have not learned to disengage knee-jerk thinking, do their homework or propose constructive suggestions. Some are hostile to any government action, including road projects.

We choose to live in West Windsor because of the promise of safety, good schools, open space and convenient train commuting. We love our cars, but don’t want traffic in our neighborhoods.

Charles Marohn, an engineer and planner, identifies the different values of residents and engineers. In order, residents prioritize safety, low cost, traffic volume and speed, while engineers prioritize speed, volume, safety and cost.

Value divergence shows in the effort to improve walking and biking along Cranbury Road. Despite WWBPA recommendations, residents’ public comments and numerous yard signs asking motorists to Drive 25, traffic calming was rejected as a project goal.

We’re determined to learn to love our engineers, so in our next installment we’ll focus on the most divergent values – speed and volume.

 

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Learning to Love Your Traffic Engineer – Social Scientist

Wednesday, November 6 by JerryFoster

Cranbury CarletonNew Jersey traffic engineers don’t see suburbs, destroy downtowns with arterials and have refused to adopt road designs for neighborhoods. How will we learn to love them?

We have to understand that traffic engineers love solving problems, just not social problems. They’ll design how to move cars through an intersection, but not how to preserve or create a downtown, increase property values or reduce pollution – yet the intersection design can affect all these other goals, positively or negatively.

Although we’ve been building roads for millennia, we’re just realizing how motor vehicle traffic affects society. Using a computer analogy, traffic engineering is moving from the green screen to the graphical user interface – people want a richer experience, including multiple ways to get where we’re going.

Traffic engineers must learn to see themselves as social scientists, concerned with how people in addition to motorists interact with the roadways – residents, runners, dog-walkers, cyclists, etc.

People are puzzling – we love our cars, but hate traffic – how can engineers solve the dilemma? Find out in the next installment of Learning to Love Your Traffic Engineer – What the Public Wants.

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Learning to Love Your Traffic Engineer – Context Sensitive Solutions

Wednesday, October 30 by JerryFoster

Clarksville Pedestrians 2In our previous posts, we’ve seen that traffic engineers see urban where we see suburban or rural, and destroy downtowns by putting fast and wide arterials through them. As a result, conversations between residents and engineers are fraught with possible misunderstandings, making it very difficult to find the love.

Fortunately, this problem is well known, so the traffic engineering profession (Federal Highway Administration) developed Context Sensitive Solutions, to “develop a transportation facility that fits its physical setting and preserves scenic, aesthetic, historic and environmental resources, while maintaining safety and mobility.”  In other words, it encourages engineers to see farms and neighborhoods where we already see them, and to build appropriate roads for those places.

NJDOT and PennDOT even published the Smart Transportation Guidebook in 2008, which provides flexible roadway designs, e.g. for a community collector through a suburban neighborhood, 100% compatible with existing design standards (the flexibility was already there, who knew).

Problem solved? Not quite – NJDOT didn’t adopt the principles and practices in the Smart Transportation Guidebook. Why not, and how can we learn to love our traffic engineers if we can’t even agree on neighborhoods? Stay tuned for the next installment – Social Scientist.

 

 

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Learning to Love Your Traffic Engineer – Collect Local Arterials

Wednesday, October 23 by JerryFoster

NJ Turnpike Crash Stops Rt 1The last installment showed that traffic engineers see West Windsor’s roads as urban, even when bordered by farms. To learn to love them, we need to speak their language, so let’s look at the roadway functional hierarchy. Arterials are major roads, Local roads are self descriptive, and Collector roads connect them.

So what? Each type has its own design, e.g. nobody would live on an interstate, the design precludes driveways.

Princeton Sharrow Nassau Witherspoon 2Let’s look at our Principal Arterials – US 1, Princeton Hightstown Road (CR 571) in downtown West Windsor and Nassau Street (SR 27) in downtown Princeton. How can such different roads be considered the same? Traffic engineers don’t see places, but they do identify “traffic generators”. Downtowns aren’t relevant, except that they generate enough traffic to warrant an arterial to connect them.

As traffic engineers “improve” CR571 and SR27 to design standards like Route 1, they destroy the places they don’t recognize, favoring getting through over getting to a place. It’s up to residents to demand local arterials that preserve places for people.

571 East speed 40 1Traffic engineers are an enigma – they don’t see suburbs or downtowns, and destroy the places they don’t see. How will we learn to love them? Find out in the next installment – Context Sensitive Solutions.

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Cyclists and Walkers Count

Tuesday, September 17 by JerryFoster

Rite Aid on Counting DayWWBPA volunteers counted 334 bicyclists and pedestrians at 5 locations around the train station on Wednesday September 11, 2013 between 5-8pm. Last year the count was 355, but the numbers are not directly comparable, since we counted for an hour longer at 2 locations this year. Comparing the same locations at the same time slots, biking and walking decreased 15% over last year. In contrast to the past 2 years’ beautiful fall weather, this year the day was hot and humid, near 90 degrees, as well as falling on the anniversary of 9/11.

Once again we participated in the National Bicycle and Pedestrian Documentation Project, an effort to accurately and consistently measure usage and demand for bicycling and pedestrian infrastructure.

Our 2013 findings:

  1. Cranbury/Wallace/571 (Rite Aid) – 19 bike, 81 walk
  2. Scott/Alexander (Arts Center) – 30 bike, 72 walk, 2 others
  3. Vaughn/Alexander (bus stop) –  18 bike, 55 walk
  4. Station/571 (Rep. Holt Headquarters) – 10 bike, 9 walk
  5. Wallace/Alexander (WW lot) – 12 bike, 23 walk, 3 other

Total: 334 people, 89 who bike, 240 who walk, 5 on wheelchairs, skates or scooters

Thanks to our volunteers!

Traffic along 571 in downtown West Windsor flowed freely throughout the observation time. This is consistent with the comment made recently by the township’s consulting traffic engineer, that volume along CR571 has been flat for a decade. In addition, the retiming of the lights at US1 and CR571, together with the reopening of the jughandles, ensures that not many cars can make it through 571 at the circle, so motorists find other routes.

Other observations:

  • midblock crossings of 571 at Rite Aid driveway – 12
  • male – 222, female – 107 (“Other” gender data not collected)
  • walkers – 240, cyclists – 89

One scary anecdote – traffic turning from Wallace onto CR571 was polite to the pedestrian crossing in the crosswalk, waiting until she had walked far enough so they could turn behind her into the right lane. Traffic turning left onto CR571 from Cranbury Rd was not so polite, seeing an opening to turn into the left lane but not seeing the pedestrian. Fortunately, the 2nd car making the left did see the pedestrian and stopped, as she had stopped in the middle to barely avoid being hit by the first left-turning car. It is exactly this sort of danger that leads many to cross at the driveways of PNC Bank and RiteAid, where the road narrows.

This sort of conflict should not be possible, and several alternate solutions are available – a left turn only phase at the light, a pedestrian only phase, or closing the right lane at 571, making one through lane, effectively narrowing the pedestrian crossing distance in addition to reducing the left-turning conflict. What do you think?

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Update: Sidewalks on Cranbury Rd making progress due to community pressure

Wednesday, July 31 by ezeitler

Cranbury Rd Sidewalks 1

Residents of Cranbury Rd and others concerned about safe streets for children, pedestrians, bicyclists and drivers came to the West Windsor Township council meeting on July 22nd to show support for sidewalks on Cranbury Rd. Organizing the group has been Sarah Thomson and Samirah Akhlaq-Rezvi, two residents of Cranbury Rd. At the meeting, a number of residents shared stories of unsafe conditions on the road and their call for sidewalks to build a safer, healthier and more community oriented street. Members of the West Windsor Bicycle and Pedestrian Alliance were on hand to support the residents.

Cranbury Rd Sidewalks 3The concerns of the residents were heard by the Council. All five council members voiced support for sidewalks on Cranbury Rd and for funding an engineering study to see what options are available. The Township is also interested in applying for a competitive state grant to fund the sidewalks. Some council members agreed that due to the urgency of the issue, there is sufficient funding in the capital budget to build sidewalks even before a grant from the state is approved. Mark Shallcross was present to photograph all the folks speaking as well as the great signs they brought! The meeting and organizing have been covered by the West Windsor Plainsboro News in this past weekend’s paper.

Do you support sidewalks on Cranbury Rd? There are a number of ways you can help to make sidewalks happen.

Attend: There will be a public meeting with Mayor Hsueh to discuss Township and community plans for sidewalks at 10 AM on Saturday, Aug 10th at the Municipal Building at the corner of Clarksville and North Post Roads. All are encouraged to come to the meeting to show their support and maintain the momentum for action.

Write: Sarah and Samirah are seeking volunteers to write letters describing concerns about safety on Cranbury Rd and support for sidewalks to accompany the Township’s grant application to the state. These can be emailed to the WWBPA and we will pass them along to Sarah and Samirah for inclusion in the Township’s application. We can also pass along your info to Sarah and Samirah if you’d like to get more involved with the community group organizing for sidewalks on Cranbury Rd.

Photos by Mark Shallcross.

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