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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Mercer County Freeholders Support Complete Streets

Friday, April 27 by JerryFoster

Mercer County’s Board of Chosen Freeholders, the legislative branch of Mercer County, adopted a resolution supporting a Complete Streets policy on Thursday, April 26, 2012. Mercer now joins Monmouth County as the only two counties in the state to adopt Complete Streets, which requires roadway projects to support all users, including bicyclists and pedestrians, by default rather than by exception. We thank the Freeholders for their support, and look forward to our county roads becoming more bicycle and pedestrian friendly!

Realistically, infrastructure projects are very long term in their planning and implementation, so with consistent and persistent application, we should see results after several years, while a complete transformation may take decades. We look forward to working with the county planners and engineers to make our county the best place in the state to live and work.

Essex County also ad0ppted a Complete Streets policy, but we’re glad to say that Mercer was only 2 days behind!

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Complete Streets Adopted in Mercer Municipalities

Thursday, March 15 by JerryFoster

Complete Streets policies are being adopted in municipalities throughout Mercer County. Since March 1, Trenton, Hopewell Borough, Princeton Borough and Princeton Township have all adopted Complete Streets, joining West Windsor and Lawrence townships. Will Mercer County be next?

As of this posting, only Monmouth County has adopted a Complete Streets policy, although Essex County was asked to consider the policy last night.

Complete Streets policies make clear that bicyclists, pedestrians and other roadway users are to be accommodated by default, rather than by exception, and will greatly increase safety for all users.

NJ DOT Commissioner James Simpson calls it the Way to Zero Fatalities. NJ DOT’s Complete Streets policy was ranked as the best of its type in the nation, though New Jersey Future’s report shows several ways to improve its implementation.

Please join us to encourage Mercer County to adopt Complete Streets – since nearly every major road in West Windsor is a county road, our state and municipal policies are not enough.

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Plainsboro and Hopewell Boro Discuss Biking and Walking

Tuesday, February 7 by JerryFoster

The WWBPA’s mission is “To promote bicycling and walking in West Windsor Township and neighboring communities,” and this past week we’ve worked with residents of Plainsboro and Hopewell Boro to encourage them to become more bicycle and pedestrian friendly.

On February 1, WWBPA trustees met with Plainsboro residents, a township official and interested WWBPA members at the Plainsboro Library to discuss the issues. Topics included biking on the road vs. paths, the upcoming closings of the Rt 1 circle at Washington and the jughandle at Harrison, bike commuters to the Forrestal campus, biking and walking connections to West Windsor on the PSE&G right of way and Cranbury Road, biking and walking to school and many others. Various ideas were presented on how best to encourage biking and walking, including a having a bike rodeo at the annual Founders Day event and organizing a community bike ride.

On February 6 at the Hopewell Borough Council meeting, a resident advocate invited bicyclists from the area to support bike lanes on CR 518. A dozen bicyclists, including a WWBPA trustee and 2 members, showed up to support  the bike lanes as well as a Complete Streets resolution for the borough and for Mercer County. Representatives from New Jersey Bike Walk Coalition,  Princeton Free Wheelers, Lawrence Hopewell Trail, New Jersey Bike Exchange and the Battle Against Hunger Ride also spoke in support. We hope to see Hopewell Borough adopt the next Complete Streets resolution in Mercer County!

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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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South Post Road Multi-Use Trail Arrives

Wednesday, November 23 by JerryFoster

This past week saw the pavement laid on the new trail along South Post Road from Village Road to Conover Road. This trail will see heavy use by the rowers at Caspersen Rowing Center,  who do their warmup runs along this stretch of road, which borders the Mercer Oaks golf course. We also hope to see families use it as they head to the ballfields at the corner of Conover Road. Thanks to the township and county for working together on a grant for this trail!

Caspersen Rowing Center is run by the Princeton National Rowing Association (PNRA), which was recently named 2011 USRowing Club of the Year by USRowing, the United States’ governing organization for Olympic and World Cup rowing. Located on Mercer Lake in Mercer County Park,  Caspersen Rowing Center is an Olympic and U.S. Women’s National Team Training Center, home to the Mercer Junior Rowing Club for high school students and the Mercer Master’s  Rowing Program for adults, as well as to area private school rowing programs. Mercer’s programs have many members in common with the WWBPA, including this author’s spouse and daughter. More information can be found at rowpnra.org.

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Who Pays for Our Roads?

Monday, October 10 by JerryFoster

There’s an urban myth that only motorists pay for roads, therefore implying that bicyclists and pedestrians don’t belong on them. Is it true?

Not according to the 1995 study Crossroads: Highway-Finance Subsidies in New Jersey, which found that motorists only pay 77%. The rest ($733 million in 1995) is subsidized by the general taxpaying public.

“This subsidy is borne entirely at the local level, by New Jersey counties and municipalities. Localities spend $1.2 billion a year providing roads and motorist services, but collect only $200 million directly from drivers; the difference of $1 billion is paid largely through property taxes.” – Tri-State Transportation Campaign

Motorists pay even less now than in 1995. The New Jersey gas tax, fixed at $0.105 per gallon, has not changed since 1988, according to the 2010 study Spiral of Debt: The Unsustainable Structure of New Jersey’s Transportation Trust Fund. The federal gas tax has been fixed at $0.184 per gallon since 1993. You can be assured the cost of improvements haven’t stayed fixed since then. How did we make up the difference? According to the 2010 study:

“It didn’t happen overnight but gradually: Over the last 25 years, we have bought ourselves major transportation improvements – road widenings, interchange redesigns, new rail lines and countless other projects – without raising the money necessary to pay for them.

Instead, we’ve borrowed money. We have borrowed – and we continue to borrow – so much money that nearly every dollar we raise in taxes for transportation projects from the gas tax and other taxes, almost $900 million a year, is instead going to pay off interest and principal on bonds issued years ago.”

The state’s Quick Facts web page estimates that 1% of Transportation Trust Fund funding is Pay-As-You-Go, and the rest is borrowed.  According to the 2011 report Do Roads Pay for Themselves?, New Jersey exempts gas purchases from the sales tax, and the lower gas tax rate is in effect a subsidy that encourages gas purchases.  The major components of the Transportation Trust Fund revenues are the fuel tax ($483 million in FY2010), petroleum products tax ($200 million in FY2010) and a portion of the sales tax ($200 million in FY2010). The petroleum products tax is on activities such as oil refining and is paid by industry, while we all pay sales tax, of course.

So the state’s Fiscal Year 2012 Transportation Capital Plan total of $3,363,038,000 includes $149,703,000 for Multimodal programs (4.45%). Of course this funding is only for interstates and federal and state highways, except for specific improvements funded by the state’s local assistance program. So US 1 is covered in West Windsor.

Let’s look at county transportation funding – the 2011 Mercer County Capital budget Transportation Infrastructure total of $11,908,600   includes $250,000 for bicycle and pedestrian improvements (2.1%). Capital Surplus provided $592,930 with the remaining $11,315,670 from General Bonds and Notes, i.e. borrowed, so 5.2% is Pay-As-You-Go. This assumes Mercer County is funded by property taxes rather than motorist-specific fuel or other motor vehicle use taxes. These pay for county roads, except for specific projects that are paid with federal and/or state funds, as the proposed CR571 Main Street project is.

West Windsor’s county roads include:

  • Washington and Princeton-Hightstown Roads (CR571)
  • Clarksville Road (CR 638)
  • Quakerbridge Road (CR 533)
  • Cranbury Road (CR 615)
  • South Mill and Edinburg Roads (CR 526)
  • Old Trenton Road (CR 535)
  • Village Road West (CR 644)
  • Edinburg Windsor Road (CR 641)
  • South Post Road (CR 602)

Similarly, our municipal roadways are assumed to be funded by local property taxes, although some can be partially funded through the Off Tract Road Assessment fund, which is collected from real-estate developers. West Windsor’s 2011 Capital Improvement budget includes $757,050 for roadway improvements, $1,054,515 for traffic safety improvements, as well as $373,590 in bicycle and pedestrian improvements (17.1%). Some of these projects could be funded at least in part by state grants, if West Windsor is successful with its applications. (Money is scarce, so this is highly competitive.)

In any case, the vast majority of bicyclists and pedestrians are motorists as well (full disclosure – we have more cars than drivers in our family, though not for much longer).

So, everybody uses and pays for our roads – in general, the federal and state highways from borrowing, the rest from property taxes.

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Proposed Route 571 Main Street Design Unsafe

Tuesday, September 13 by JerryFoster

571/Wallace-Cranbury morning commute 2The WWBPA responded to the county’s proposed CR 571 Main Street design recently, maintaining that it is unsafe for everyone: motorists, bicyclists and pedestrians alike. In the past 10 years, two pedestrians were killed on this stretch of roadway (2004 and 2005), while no motorists were killed.  A 17-year-old motorist was killed in 2006, however, just west of downtown Princeton Junction, when she lost control of her car on the curve coming off the bridge over the train tracks.

The proposed wider-straighter-faster design does nothing to address these safety issues. Instead, it preserves the current 45mph design speed and 40mph posted speed limit. Drivers don’t respect crosswalks when they have to slow from high speed, and the proposed design does nothing to provide pedestrian refuges in the center of the roadway to promote safe crossing.

Rt 571 Concept Illustration

The design also features a new two-way center left turn lane (TWLTL) that studies have shown to be unsafe; AARP calls them “suicide lanes.” One study even showed that artificially lowering the posted speed limit, but not the design speed, caused an increase in crashes.

Picture 7

Here’s a picture of Hamilton’s SR 33 that most resembles what is planned. The 45mph design speed is simply not appropriate for the pedestrian friendly Main Street that our Redevelopment Plan envisions. A survey of other Mercer County towns shows that Princeton, Lawrenceville, Hightstown, Hopewell and Pennington all have 25 – 30mph speed limits on their Main Streets. Why not in West Windsor?

The WWBPA is not just opining, and we’re not just complaining – our response, and our recommendations based on the December 2009 Public Review, are founded on research and guidelines from the New Jersey Department of Transportation. We are recommending constructive, Complete Streets alternatives to remedy the safety issues and make a Main Street that we can all be proud of.

The current design shows why Mercer County should adopt a Complete Streets policy to complement the state and West Windsor township policies – our transportation network needs jurisdictions with consistent policies to benefit our taxpayers.

Thanks to everyone who has gotten involved to support our position! We appreciate all of you who have signed our petition at the Farmers’ Market, or who have contacted the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission, which recently conducted public outreach on this and other federally-funded projects.

More help is needed. Please contact our public officials to support our position. With a lower design speed and pedestrian refuges, our senior residents can cross Route 571 safely to the new Rite Aid, and our children can cross Route 571 safely to the new ex-Acme shopping center, as well as to the high school. And our teenage drivers should be able to keep control of their vehicles when going more slowly. Everyone benefits.

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Answers to the Mercer County Main Street Quiz

Monday, July 25 by JerryFoster

Picture 1

Here are the answers to the Mercer County Main Street quiz! This picture tour of other towns’ main streets is intended to better illustrate what West Windsor’s own Main Street will look like after the project is completed.

Picture 1 is West Windsor’s Main Street today:

  • View: South / East on CR 571 from the driveway of the Sovereign Bank
  • Speed limit / volume: 40mph / 18K (2009)
  • Lanes: 2, turn lanes at intersections
  • Shoulder: very wide, narrowing sharply
  • Sidewalks: many gaps
  • On-street Parking: no
  • Streetscape: strip mall and individual commercial properties with parking lots typically in front

Picture 2

Picture 2 is Princeton:

  • View: North on SR 27 (Nassau St) from the intersection of Washington Rd
  • Speed limit / volume: 25mph / 17K (2009)
  • Lanes: 2, turn lanes at intersections
  • Shoulder: none
  • Sidewalks: yes
  • On-street Parking: yes
  • Streetscape: stores built to the sidewalk, houses converted to stores with small front yards, trees create partial canopy

Picture 3

Picture 3 is Hopewell:

  • View: East on CR 518 (E. Broad St) from the Boro Bean coffee shop driveway near Blackwell Ave. crosswalk
  • Speed limit / volume: 30mph / 9K (2007)
  • Lanes: 2, turn lanes at intersections
  • Shoulder: none
  • Sidewalks: yes
  • On-street Parking: yes
  • Streetscape: stores built to the sidewalk, houses converted to stores with small front yards, trees create partial canopy, flags, banner over roadway, federally-funded decorative paving stones being installed with roadway repaving, high visibility crosswalks with in-street movable reminder signs

Picture 4

Pictures 4 and 5 are both Pennington – Picture 4 shows their classic Main Street and Picture 5 shows the arterial road (SR 31) that bypasses Main Street but more closely resembles West Windsor’s CR 571. Picture 4:

  • View: North on CR 640 (S. Main St.) from the church cemetery near Delaware Ave intersection.
  • Speed limit / volume: 25mph / 6K (2008)
  • Lanes: 2
  • Shoulder: none
  • Sidewalks: yes
  • On-street Parking: yes
  • Streetscape: stores built to the sidewalk, houses converted to stores with small front yards, trees create canopy, flags, federally-funded sidewalks, medians and bulb-out crossings being installed

Picture 5

Picture 5 is Pennington’s arterial bypass around Main Street:

  • View: South on SR 31 from the driveway of the strip mall containing Harts Cyclery near Broemel Place
  • Speed limit / volume: 35mph / 21K (2005)
  • Lanes: 2, turn lanes at intersections
  • Shoulder: wide
  • Sidewalks: complete on east side
  • On-street Parking: no
  • Streetscape: strip malls and individual commercial properties with parking lots typically in front

Picture 6

Picture 6 is Lawrenceville:

  • View: North on US 206 from the driveway of the Lawrenceville School near the intersection of Craven St.
  • Speed limit / volume: 30mph, 25mph in school zone, 17K (2007)
  • Lanes: 2, turn lanes at intersections
  • Shoulder: none
  • Sidewalks: yes
  • On-street Parking: no
  • Streetscape: school bordering east side, stores built to sidewalk and houses converted to stores with small yards, parking behind stores, trees create partial canopy, bus stop shelter, crosswalks with in-street movable reminder signs

Picture 7

Picture 7 is Hamilton:

  • View: West / North on SR 33 from east of STS Tire store near George Dye Rd.
  • Speed limit / volume: 45mph / 19K (2008)
  • Lanes: 2, two-way center left turn lane
  • Shoulder: wide
  • Sidewalks: many gaps
  • On-street Parking: no
  • Streetscape: strip malls and individual commercial properties with parking lots typically in front

Picture 8

Picture 8 is Robbinsville:

  • View: West on SR 33 from the turn lane into North Commerce Square
  • Speed limit / volume: 45mph / 19K (2008)
  • Lanes: 2, beginning of two way center left turn lane heading west, turn lanes at intersections
  • Shoulder: yes
  • Sidewalks: north side only, gaps
  • On-street Parking: not west, but east out of picture view north side of the street only
  • Streetscape: individual commercial properties with parking lots typically in front, new Downtown Robbinsville development north side of street, banners, decorative lighting, stores built to sidewalk

Rt 571 Concept Illustration

Last, and most important is the proposed CR 571 design for West Windsor’s Main Street:
  • View: cross section of street
  • Speed limit / volume: 40mph / existing count is 18K (2009)
  • Lanes: 2, two way center left turn lane, turn lanes at intersections
  • Shoulder: yes
  • Sidewalks: yes
  • On-street Parking: no
  • Streetscape: strip mall and individual commercial properties with parking lots typically in front, illustration shows banners, decorative lighting, new stores presumably built to the sidewalk as Chase Bank has done and Rite Aid is doing.

So which other Mercer County town’s Main Street will most resemble West Windsor’s proposed design?

Only Hamilton and Robbinsville have a two way center left turn lane in  their main streets, and Hamilton’s streetscape more closely resembles West Windsor, rather than the new Downtown Robbinsville development. So Hamilton’s Main Street (Picture 7) is what we in West Windsor have to look forward to.

Why would we want this design for our Main Street? Lawrenceville’s US 206 handles nearly the same volume at much lower speeds, and even Pennington’s arterial SR 31 handles more volume at lower speeds, and without a 3 lane design. Today’s roadway is more like the Main Streets of other Mercer County towns than is the proposed design.

Please see the WWBPA’s recommendations for CR 571, and contact our public officials to express your support for these design changes – this project is the best chance we’ll have in many years to create a Main Street that we can be proud of!

Picture 1 is West Windsor’s Main Street today:
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Take the Mercer County Main Street Quiz

Thursday, July 21 by JerryFoster

Picture 1

The pictures are of various town’s main streets in Mercer County. Just match the town with the picture! Then look at the illustration for West Windsor’s proposed Rt 571 Main Street design, and identify which town West Windsor’s main street will most resemble when it’s implemented. Note that 1 town has 2 pictures, since their main street is parallel to another road that carries more traffic.

The towns are:

  • Hamilton
  • Hopewell
  • Lawrenceville
  • Pennington
  • Princeton
  • Robbinsville
  • West  Windsor

Picture 2

Picture 3

Picture 4

Picture 5

Picture 6

Picture 7

Picture 8

Last, here’s the illustration from the Rt 571 design – which town will West Windsor’s Main Street most resemble? Sign in to comment, or send us an email at wwbikeped@gmail.com. Answers will be posted in a few days!

Rt 571 Concept Illustration

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