NJ Bike and Walk Conference: A Day of Inspiration

18 Mar

GMTMA was fortunate enough to be able to attend the inspiring and informative 2011 Bike & Walk Summit, hosted by the NJ Bike & Walk Coalition. The second New Jersey summit of its kind, the day’s presentations offered case studies, statistics, and stories of how to make our built environment more bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly.

Keynote speaker John Pucher, a professor in urban planning and policy development at Rutgers University, spoke about the health, safety and obesity of the US cyclist/walker. he pointed out how far behind the US is from Germany, Denmark, and the Netherlands in providing safe cycling and pedestrian safety and access.

“Women are an indicator species,” he began, pointing out that “women are especially sensitive to safety – more than men,” which explains why cycling in the U.S., which is not as safe as it should be, is an activity dominated by young males. “If you don’t see a lot of women cycling, then you’re not doing the right thing,” he added. He noted that fatality and injury rates are very high in the U.S., comparatively speaking, which is why women don’t ride here as much as they could. In Denmark, on the other hand, 55 percent of all bike trips are made by women.

His presentation demonstrated how other countries like Germany, Denmark, and the Netherlands are far ahead of the U.S. in providing safe cycling and pedestrian access. His charts on health, safety and obesity showed that in comparison, the U.S. is lagging very far behind.

“It’s a matter of social justice: we need to make it safer and more convenient for any New Jerseyan,” to ride or walk, he said noting that in those European cities, neither “age, sex, skill level or dollars” prevent anyone from getting on a bicycle. What’s more, those countries give independence to the elderly, where over half of the trips by those 65 and over are by walking or cycling.

“Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands weren’t always so safe,” Pucher said. In the 1950’s and 1960’s there was a sizable decline in cycling because of the growth of the automobile. But since those countries adopted a purposeful policy to decrease their reliance on the almighty car and improve bike/ walk facilities, “there has been an 80 percent decrease in cycling fatalities,” he noted.

What’s more, the experience of those cities show that “as levels of cycling increases, injury and fatality rates per trip and per kilometer travel fall dramatically.” Conversely, injuries and fatalities in the U.S. are much higher per bike trip taken, he noted.

He pointed out the lack of a safe bicycling and walking infrastructure on his home turf, New Brunswick. Pucher, who gets around exclusively by bicycle and on foot, often does so at his own peril. He cited multiple intersections and areas where poor design and shoddy law enforcement means that cars almost never stop for walker and bikers, even in crosswalks.

Pucher also pointed out the “best pedestrian crossing in New Brunswick,” where flashing lights embedded in the sidewalk, cross hatching, and a raised area demarcating the crossing made it obvious that cars had to stop. “Twenty percent of cars went through anyway,” he said, “but WOW, if we could get more crosswalks like that, I would be very, very happy.”

If you didn’t make the Summit, take a look at some of the presentations here; John Pucher’s keynote presentation can be found here: http://www.njbike.org/images/pucher-presentation.pdf

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