54.7 New Bikeway Miles for Jersey City

Posted on 01/06/2013

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As of right now, Jersey City's only bike lanes - on Grove Street.

As of right now, Jersey City’s only bike lanes – on Grove Street.

On December 6th 2012, Jersey City Mayor Jerremiah Healy announced that, during 2013, Jersey City will receive 54.7 new miles of bikeway. I received the news via the NJ.com article Move over, drivers: Jersey City plans to add 54 miles of bike lanes.

The article describes the future bike facilities as part of a “comprehensive bike program including bike lanes, updated biking ordinances, additional bike parking, and an expanded safe cycling campaign.” It further breaks down the 54.7 miles as: 35.2 miles of bike lanes and 19.5 miles of bike routes, featuring sharrows. The article also states that the “experimental bike lanes on Grove Street will be made permanent this spring.” As far as I know, those are the only bike lanes in Jersey City. 

Overall, I think that this is great news for Jersey City cyclists, businesses, pedestrians, people who breathe here, etc. Kudos to Mayor Healy for putting forth this important initiative. For future blog posts, I am looking forward to finding down more specifics on what streets will be receiving what bike facilities, and tracking to make sure they are done as soon and as well as possible. Keep your readers tuned to Bikas for more specifics in the weeks and months ahead. (And anyone who’s interested in riding these and tracking what’s been done and what remains, let me know via comments below.)

Today, though I will critique the announcement a bit. First of all the NJ.com article, then the mayor’s remarks.

The title of the NJ.com article begins “Move over, drivers.” While this may be the case (hopefully some of these bike lanes will cause drivers to more safely position their cars where they can share the road with cyclists), it has an assumed reader: drivers. As a cyclist living in Jersey City, I tend to take issue with titles, signs, etc. that assume I am driving. Jersey City has high levels of walking, bicycling, transit… so… not all of us are drivers. When announcing great stuff for bicyclists, it would be great if the title of the article assumes that we exist.

In beginning by telling drivers to “move over,” the article also sort of picks a fight. It assumes that bike facilities are a zero-sum game where cyclists’ gains must come as drivers’ losses. This is not necessarily accurate. Studies show that many bike facilities make roads safer for everyone, including drivers, passengers, pedestrians, and, of course, cyclists.

The rest of the title “Jersey City plans to add 54 miles of bike lanes” is just plain inaccurate. It’s not uncommon for journalists, and even cyclists, to mistakenly use bike lanes/paths/routes interchangably… but they’re different. The text of the article makes clear that it’s only 35 miles of bike lanes. Better to use the inclusive term “bikeways.” Bikeways include bike routes, bike lanes, and bike paths.

My suggested title for the article: something like “Good news for all: Jersey City plans to add 54.7 miles of bikeways.”

Lastly, let’s look at Mayor Healy’s remarks as quoted in the article:

“We’re obviously not going to put them [bikeways] in high-density traffic areas,” Healy said. “But a lot of our side streets can accommodate bike lanes and we intend to do that.”

I found this a bit disheartening. It sounds like the mayor wants to get cyclists off of main streets and onto side streets. While it’s probably a good strategy to start with some of the lowest-hanging fruit, likely to be “side streets,” cyclists also need to access those “high-density traffic areas.”

Traffic is a sign that an area (or, also, a website) is popular. Traffic occurs where people want to shop, work and live. If we only make “side streets” safer, then we’re missing the point. It reminds me of the joke about a drunk who’s lost his wallet in a dark alley. A passerby asks the drunk what he’s looking for underneath the streetlight. They drunk responds that he’s lost his wallet in the dark alley. The passerby asks, if the wallet was lost in the dark alley, why is the drunk searching in the street? The drunk responds “the light is better here.” Let’s not put bike lanes on out-of-the-way side streets where they may not be most needed.

If Jersey City’s new bikeway network doesn’t go to popular destinations, then it really doesn’t make our streets safer. If bikeways are relegated only to side streets that cyclists rarely use, then the initiative may not result in its intended environmental and health benefits. Let’s hope that Mayor Healy and Jersey City’s planners have balanced utility, safety, popularity, feasibility, etc. as they chose the streets where the new bikeways will be implemented.

The devil (and the angels) are in the details, though – more analysis and critique coming soon. And I am looking forward to bicycling on the new lanes this year!