Come To Public Forum on Bike/Walk Safety

August 31, 2015
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crossroadslogo.inddBY JOHN BURTON

The Two River Times is inviting the public to be even more a part of a dialogue about pedestrian, bicyclist and motorist safety in September.

As part of the newspaper’s Crossroads initiative, it will hold a public forum from 7 to 9:30 p.m., Monday, Sept. 21 at Red Bank Catholic High School, 112 Broad St.

On hand will be stakeholders from a wide cross section of the community, including elected officials on the state, county and local levels, who will be joined by members of the business and education communities and representatives from law enforcement. Members of the public will have an opportunity to not only hear from the stakeholders but also offer their insights and solutions on ways to make the streets of the Two River Area safer.

“We’re hoping the community comes out to learn, listen to the progress that has been made and bring to light concerns but most importantly to bring solutions,” said Jody Calendar, executive editor/co-publisher of The Two River Times. “We want to keep this forum totally positive. We’re a community and we want to come together to solve some problems, not criticize.”

Since the Two River Times started with this initiative last winter, publishing a wide array of stories looking at traffic safety issues here and how they’re being addressed locally and elsewhere in the country, there have been emails, letters and phone calls from readers offering their input.

One such letter was sent by Rumson resident Robert Slavin. Slavin, who has lived in the borough for more than two decades and is a non-cyclist, said in a letter to The Two River Times, police should more aggressively enforce laws for those on bikes violating the law. That, he contends, would be a more effective way of addressing road safety. His remarks have drawn a cross section of views.

“How often do you see cyclists riding, two, three or four abreast,” he questioned, leaving little or no room for a motorist to pass?”

Slavin pointed to the stepped-up enforcement of bicycle helmet requirements, which has led to near-universal compliance. Slavin maintained similar actions with road violations would soon put an end to unsafe habits.

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Slavin’s comments were a reaction to reports of an agreement struck between local officials in Rumson, Fair Haven and Little Silver and county freeholders that would establish designated bike lanes on Rumson and Ridge roads and other roadways as they are repaved and striped. According to the agreement, the county and towns would share engineering and installation costs, which include striping with stenciled figures and accompanying signage, required under state guidelines. Officials have said the cost could be as much as $15,000 per mile.

State transportation officials are planning to have the lanes installed along Route 36/ Ocean Avenue from Gateway National Recreation Area at Sandy Hook in the north to the southern end of Sea Bright, when the state repaves the highway this fall.

The area’s population has grown dramatically in the 50 years Slavin has lived in the area, he said, “and the infrastructure in many cases has not kept up with the housing construction, making roads far busier and less safe than they were decades ago,” and to encourage more cycling on the roads “without taking the necessary steps to ensure everyone … motorist and cyclist … obeys the present regulations, is adding more fuel to an already dangerous fire,” Slavin said.

Fair Haven Police Chief Darryl Breckenridge, on the other hand, said he feels most cyclists – in a community where there is a considerable cycling ridership, especially for its student population-largely obey the rules of the road. But really, the chief offered, “It really is everyone learning to share the road.”

Rumson Police Chief Scott Paterson’s observation is the opposite, however, with too many cyclists failing to follow the law. “We enforce it when we see it,” Paterson said. “But we can’t be everywhere.”

Paterson acknowledged he doesn’t have enough knowledge to offer an opinion on whether bike lanes offer additional safety for cyclists on the roadways. “What I can tell you is if they create an atmosphere that makes bicyclists pay more attention to the laws they’re suppose to follow, I’m in favor of it,” he said. “But I certainly have my doubts.”

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Fair Haven Mayor Benjamin Lucarelli, who has been a strong advocate for the bike lanes, and is a cycling enthusiast in his own right, believes that adding the lanes create a safer environment for all and encourages people to get out of their cars and take to the two wheels for health and recreation reasons and transportation – a good thing.

“This is the way much of the world utilizes its road facilities,” Lucarelli said. “And to have suburban society maintain its relevance we need to provide for alternative means of transportation.”

Lucarelli prefers the word “education” to enforcement, believing police should rely on written warnings for the first two offenses before issuing violations. He has also been in discussions with the state Motor Vehicle Commission which is planning to include information on cycling laws in its next driving manual, expected to be published later this year.

Cyndi Steiner, executive director of the New Jersey Bike and Walk Coalition, an educational and advocacy group encouraging more pedestrian and cycling uses for state roadways, also supports the idea of education over enforcement. “Ticketing is a barrier to bicycling,” she said, which research supports, discouraging cycling instead of forcing compliance.

Another benefit for establishing designated bike lanes she said, is it encourages more people to take to bikes. About 60 percent of the general population is what Portland, Oregon, researchers labeled “interested but concerned,” meaning they would likely cycle more if the roadway was safer, especially with designated lanes.

Speaking directly to Slavin’s point of large groups on bikes creating an unsafe condition, Steiner disputed that assertion. “The more bicycle riders you have the more likely they are to follow the rules of the road,” she argued. “Because it creates critical mass of traffic and it has no choice but follow the rules.”

 

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