Archive | January, 2012

The Benefits of Bicycling and Walking

31 Jan

We often discuss the wide ranging benefits of bicycling and walking here, but it’s a message we think needs to be hammered home on a regular basis. Walking and biking are about much more than recreation, although a lot of people see them only through that lens. But we can’t forget about the environment, public health, community, the economy, and social equity.

  • Health:  An alarming number of Americans are becoming more sedentary and obese, according to the Center for Disease Control. Even small increases in light to moderate activity will produce measurable benefits among those who are least active. Engaging in light to moderate physical activity reduces the risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, and other chronic and life-threatening illnesses. Physical activity can also improve mental health and even lower health care costs.
  • Transportation: Many of the trips that Americans make every day are short enough to be accomplished on a bicycle. The 1995 National Personal Transportation Survey (NPTS) found that approximately 40 percent of all trips are less than two miles in length-which represents about a 10-minute bike ride. Bicycling can help to reduce roadway congestion. Many streets and highways carry more traffic than they were designed to handle, resulting in gridlock, wasted time and energy, pollution, and driver frustration. Bicycling requires significantly less space per traveler than driving. Roadway improvements to accommodate bicyclists can also enhance safety for motorists. For example, adding paved shoulders on two-lane roads has been shown to reduce the frequency of run-off-road, head-on, and sideswipe motor vehicle crashes.
  • Environment: Motor vehicles create a substantial amount of air pollution. According to the EPA, transportation is responsible for nearly 80 percent of carbon monoxide and 55 percent of nitrogen oxide emissions in the U.S. Not surprisingly, many metropolitan areas do not meet the air quality standards specified in the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments. Although individual cars are much cleaner today than they were in earlier years, if total traffic continues to grow, overall air quality will deteriorate. Moreover, every day cars and trucks burn millions of barrels of oil, a non-renewable energy source. Switching motor vehicle trips over to bicycle trips is an easy way to reduce energy needs and pollution emissions from the transportation sector. Motor vehicle emissions represent 31 percent of total carbon dioxide, 81 percent of carbon monoxide, and 49 percent of nitrogen oxides released in the U.S., according to the Clean Air Council. Additionally, 60 percent of the pollution created by automobile emissions happens in the first few minutes of operation, before pollution control devices can work effectively. Since “cold starts” create high levels of emissions, shorter car trips are more polluting on a per-mile basis than longer trips. A short, four-mile round trip by bicycle keeps about 15 pounds of pollutants out of the air we breathe, according to the WorldWatch Institute.
  • Economy: Bicycling is an affordable form of transportation. Car ownership is expensive, and consumes a major portion of many Americans’ income. When safe facilities are provided for bicyclists, people can ride more and spend less on transportation, meaning they have more money to save or spend on other things. According to AAA, the cost of operating a sedan for one year is approximately $7,800 and ownership of one motor vehicle accounts for more than 18 percent of a typical household’s income. On the other hand, the cost of operating a bicycle for a year is only $120!
  • Quality of Life:  Better conditions for walking and bicycling have intangible benefits to the quality of life in cities and towns. The number of people bicycling can be a good indicator of a community’s livability — a factor that has a profound impact on attracting businesses and workers as well as tourism. Comfortable and connected pedestrian and bicycle environments offer alternatives to personal vehicles and increase opportunities for social contact with others. By providing appropriate bicycle and pedestrian facilities and amenities, communities enable the interaction between neighbors and other citizens that can strengthen relationships and contribute to a healthy sense of identity and place.

A video created by the Ann Arbor Energy Office, “Why Walk or Bike?“, offers some more good explanations as to why a solid walking and biking infrastructure is so important on so many levels. For more information on biking and walking programs in the GMTMA region, visit our website.

New Report Ranks Cities and States on Bicycling and Walking

23 Jan

The Alliance for Biking & Walking, a non-profit coalition made up of 180 member organizations across the country, released its 2012 Benchmarking Report today. Full of statistics and charts, the 243 page report provides a window into our nation’s progress in promoting non-motorized transportation; and the numbers — on everything from the economic to health benefits of bicycling — make a compelling case for more investment. The report was funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (along with support from AARP and Planet Bike) and it focuses on all 50 states and the 51 largest U.S. cities. The report uses existing government data from the U.S. Census, the American Community Survey (ACS), the National Highway and Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA), and other sources.

As the group’s press release states, the report comes at a critical moment, as Congress is looking to pass the next federal transportation bill. “The Benchmarking Report reveals that, in nearly every city and state, pedestrians and bicyclists are disproportionately at risk of being killed, and currently receive less than a fair share of transportation dollars. While 12 percent of trips in the U.S. are by bike or foot, 14 percent of traffic fatalities are bicyclists and pedestrians. Pedestrian and bicycle projects receive less than 2 percent of federal transportation dollars.”

New Jersey’s own Rutgers professor and bicycling and walking advocate John Pucher is quoted in the release too, noting, “The wide range of environmental, social, and economic benefits of walking and bicycling, so clearly documented in this report, justify greatly increased investment in facilities and programs to encourage more walking and cycling, and to improve the safety of these most sustainable of all transportation modes.”

The overarching conclusion of the report is that increasing bicycling and walking are goals that are in the public interest. Where bicycling and walking levels are higher, obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes levels are lower. Higher levels of bicycling and walking also coincide with increased bicycle and pedestrian safety and higher levels of physical activity.

The report also finds that:

  • People on bikes make up 1.8% of all traffic fatalities
  • In 2009, 40% of trips in the United States were shorter than 2 miles, yet 87% of these trips are by car. Twenty-seven percent of trips were shorter than 1 mile. Still, Americans use their cars for 62% of these trips.
  • While bicycling and walking fell 66% between 1960 and 2009, obesity levels increased 156%.
  • Seniors are “the most vulnerable bicyclists and pedestrians”… This age group accounts for 6% of bicycling trips, yet 10% of bicyclist fatalities.
  • Bicycling and walking projects create 11-14 jobs per $1 million spent, compared to just 7 jobs created per $1 million spent on highway projects.
  • Cost benefit analysis show that up to $11.80 in benefits can be gained for every $1 invested in bicycling and walking.

The report makes the case for increased investment in walking and biking infrastructure and safety programs by showing that the United States has significant disparities between bicycling and walking mode share, safety, and funding. Twelve percent of trips are by bicycle or foot, yet bicyclists and pedestrians make up 14% of traffic fatalities and receive just 1.6% of federal transportation dollars. An international comparison of bicycle funding and mode share demonstrates that international cities that invest greater amounts per capita in bicycling have greater levels of bicycling. These cities provide strong evidence that in order to increase bicycling and walking, the United States must invest significantly more in these modes.

Furthermore, the report discusses in depth how biking and walking can improve public health and the economy: the countries and cities with the greatest levels of bicycling and walking are also the safest places to bicycle and walk and also have the lowest levels of obesity, and bicycling and walking projects create 11-14 jobs per $1 million spent, compared to just 7 jobs created per $1 million spent on highway projects.

In the state-by-state comparisons, New Jersey doesn’t fare as well as we’d like. It takes 23rd out of 50 in levels of biking and walking; it ranks 31 out of 50 in bike/ped fatality rates (on this list, the #1 state, Vermont, has the lowest rate).

This report shows in an easy-to-understand format that increasing bicycling and walking are goals that are clearly in the public interest; we have to agree. Read the full report here; it’s well worth your time.

Plainsboro Residents, Make Your Voice Heard on Biking and Walking

23 Jan

Calling all Plainsboro residents: how do you feel about the bikeability and walkability of your community? Do you have specific ideas for improvement? Do you want to help make Plainsboro an official Bike-Friendly Community like West Windsor? Our friends at the West Windsor Bicycle and Pedestrian Alliance are hosting a public meeting at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, February 1 at the Plainsboro Library to discuss the community’s ideas for better biking and walking. Come on out on February 1st and make your voice heard!

Next Week! NJ DOT Meetings on Route 1 Jughandle Closures

19 Jan

The New Jersey Department of Transportation has announced two upcoming public meetings to discuss their eight-week pilot project to restrict left turns and U-turns on Route 1 at Washington Road and Harrison Street.

The meetings to discuss the pilot project will be:

  • Tuesday, January 24, 5:00 pm – 8:00 pm, at the West Windsor Municipal Building (map here)
  • Wednesday, January 25, 5:00 pm – 8:00 pm, at the Princeton Borough Municipal Building (map here)

The pilot project is an attempt to reduce congestion along the stretch of Route 1 where the three right lanes of traffic become crowded with drivers lining up to make left turns, particularly during peak travel periods.

The plan includes elimination of the jughandle intersections at Harrison Street and Washington Road into Princeton, leaving the Alexander Road overpass as the main road for commuters traveling north on Route 1 to travel into Princeton. The hope is that some traffic will use the Alexander Road overpass and others will continue north on Route 1 to Scudder’s Mill Road, where they would take the jughandle and loop back to Harrison Street or Washington Road and into Princeton. Motorists who need to cross Route 1 at Washington Road and Harrison Street would still be able to travel through the intersection; only the jughandle access points from Route 1 will be blocked.

Closing access to two of the major arteries into Princeton from Route 1 north has been met with some concern from Princeton residents and officials who see an already congested rush-hour commute potentially becoming even worse as commuters are routed along an already busy Alexander Road. NJDOT intends to use this trial period to evaluate these potential impacts to local roads could be, and those evaluations will help determine if the restrictions become permanent or are modified. NJDOT will collect traffic volume and trip-time data at numerous locations in Princeton Township, Princeton Borough, West Windsor and Plainsboro before and during the trial period.

We’d all like to see less congestion reduced on Route 1, but is this the best way to do it? And if not, what other ideas do you have? On the Move readers, what do you think about this plan? We’d like to hear from you. And so would NJDOT — if you can, please attend one of these public meetings next week so your voice can be heard on this important proposal.

Below is NJDOT’s full press release:

For Immediate Release:                                                                     Contact:   Joe Dee or Tim Greeley

January 19, 2012                                                                                  609-530-4280


Public meetings scheduled to discuss plan
to ease Route 1 congestion in West Windsor
Left and U-turn restrictions planned for Washington Road and Harrison Street

(Trenton) – The New Jersey Department of Transportation today announced a pair of public meetings to discuss a pilot project to restrict left turns  and U-turns on Route 1 at Washington Road and Harrison Street in West Windsor.

NJDOT is seeking to reduce congestion along the Route 1 northbound corridor in the vicinity of Washington Road and Harrison Street where the rightmost of three lanes becomes crowded with motorists queueing to make left turns, particularly during peak travel periods.

The importance of improved traffic flow is heightened by the scheduled spring opening of the new University Medical Center of Princeton at Plainsboro on Route 1 just north of Harrison Street.

Meetings to discuss an eight-week pilot program are scheduled for:

  • 5-8 p.m. Tuesday, January 24 at the West Windsor municipal building
  • 5-8 p.m. Wednesday, January 25 at the Princeton Borough municipal building

As the trial period progresses, NJDOT will arrange to meet with stakeholders to evaluate whether the restrictions have proven to be effective in reducing Route 1 congestion and to evaluate the extent of any  secondary impacts on local streets and roads.  Those discussions will help determine whether the restrictions are made permanent, are modified or if the current turn options are restored.

NJDOT will collect traffic volume and trip-time data at numerous locations in Princeton Township, Princeton Borough, West Windsor and Plainsboro prior to and during the trial period to evaluate the impacts of the restrictions.

Temporary construction barrels and other measures will be used to implement the restrictions in an inexpensive manner.  Should the trial prove successful,  appropriate permanent changes will be designed and installed at the intersections.  If the trial is unsuccessful, the temporary restrictions will be removed to restore all existing traffic movements.

Pilot details

Route 1 northbound and southbound motorists will be prevented from making left turns and U-turns at the Washington Road signalized intersection.

  • Route 1 northbound motorists seeking to make a left onto Washington Road heading into Princeton can use the ramp to Alexander Road westbound.
  • Route 1 northbound motorists seeking to make a U-turn can use the ramp to Alexander westbound and then take the ramp to Route 1 southbound.
  • Route 1 southbound motorists seeking to turn left onto Washington Road or seeking to make a U-turn can use the ramp to Alexander Road eastbound and then proceed to Route 1 northbound.

Route 1 northbound motorists will be prevented from making left or U-turns at the Harrison Street signalized intersection.

  • Motorists can proceed north along Route 1 to the Scudders Mill road interchange and take the U-turn ramp to Route 1 southbound and make a right turn at Harrison Street or continue south on Route 1.

NJDOT will deploy Dynamic Message Signs and static signage notifying motorists of the restrictions and alternate routes well in advance of the start of the pilot project.

 

# # #

Calculate the True Costs of Driving

18 Jan

In yesterday’s post we discussed the recent Turnpike and Parkway toll increases and how that was hitting the wallets of New Jersey drivers, and wondered if anybody might change their driving behavior as a result. Beyond changing routes to avoid the toll roads, an option for some would simply be to use their cars less frequently, or not at all. While this isn’t always an option for many New Jerseyans, it probably is for some. And if you can do it, the cost savings can be significant.

And with a cool online tool, The True Cost of Driving’s calculator, you can find out exactly how much you’ll save. For example, if we could give up one of our two cars in my household, we could save about $7,000 per year (and that’s even counting the fact that we don’t usually use toll roads, and all of our residential and work parking is free). That’s a ton of money, and we drive less than most people to begin with.

The calculator factors in direct costs, such as registration, insurance, gas, maintenance and time in traffic as well as indirect costs, such as accidents, noise, pollution, and road repair. The calculator doesn’t even factor in heath care savings, since riding a bike is much healthier for a person than sitting in a car.

On the Move readers, is giving up one of your cars an option for you? Would you consider it if it was? We want to hear from you. And if you want to consider the many alternatives to driving alone and try carpooling, vanpooling, walking, bicycling, taking transit, or telecommuting, GMTMA can help you get started. Visit our website for assistance and information on all of these commuting alternatives, and much much more.

Route 1 is fun.

For Whom the Road Tolls…Does it Toll for Thee?

17 Jan

If your commute takes you along the New Jersey Turnpike or Garden State Parkway, you no doubt already know what happened on January 1, 2012: your wallet got a little thinner. Tolls on both of those roads went up about 50 percent on New Year’s Day, and for some drivers, that could mean a difference of hundreds of dollars per year.

The toll hikes, which were approved in 2008 and are the second toll increases in four years (tolls went up about 40 percent in 2008), are designed to help pay for a 10-year, $7 billion capital program that includes turnpike widening and bridge restoration. The spending plan also originally included the state’s $1.25 billion contribution for construction of the ARC rail tunnel under the Hudson River; that project was scrapped in 2010. The State Senate passed a bill last year to reduce the tolls, arguing they weren’t needed to support borrowing money for the nonexistent tunnel project, but the Assembly never voted on it and the Governor insisted he would veto the measure.

The increases come at a time when the Turnpike Authority is already struggling with its finances. Toll revenue was $47 million lower than projected as of October 2011, a drop that the agency attributed to steep gas prices, unemployment and severe weather, according to authority financial statements. And last November, Moody’s Investors Service gave the authority a negative outlook rating, citing New Jersey’s slow economic recovery and unemployment as factors in driving down revenue on state toll roads.

And last week, news started coming out that New Jersey drivers have started to avoid the state’s toll roads as a result of the price hikes. The Turnpike Authority told media outlets last week that traffic on the state’s two major highways decreased in the first week of 2012 compared to a year ago. According to news reports, Spokesman Tom Feeney says 70,000 fewer vehicles drove on the turnpike in the first five weekdays of the month, which is nearly a 3 percent drop. Furthermore, more than 100,000 fewer vehicles traveled on the Garden State Parkway during the same time period, a similar decrease.

While many agree that the toll hikes are a necessary evil to finance the state’s transportation capital plan and its emphasis on fixing New Jersey’s aging infrastructure, drivers are certainly feeling the pinch in struggling economy. On the Move readers, are you feeling the pain at the toll booth? If so, are you making any changes in your driving habits to compensate? And don’t forget, if you’re looking for ideas for alternative ways to get around, GMTMA is here to help.  CarpoolingVanpoolingRiding transitWalking and biking.TelecommutingWorking flex hours. Retrofitting our streets to make them “Complete Streets” that accommodate all users, not just cars. Are you interested in driving less? We can help.

Adventures in Transit, New Jersey-Style

13 Jan

Guest blogger and GMTMA’s own Mobility Manager, Nick Cecconi, recently embarked upon a transit adventure to get from his home in the GMTMA-metro area to Newark International Airport, and he lived to tell the tale. Wondering if you should drive or take transit to the airport? Nick will tell you everything you need to know, and why transit is a great option.

*****

I recently went on a trip to Florida and faced a common dilemma among travelers: should I drive to the airport and deal with parking or figure out a different way?  The initial few times I’d flown out of Newark had proven relatively easy. Even my very first journey to EWR, the thirteenth busiest airport in the country, offered few obstacles, apart from the distance between the economy lot and the terminals (let’s just call it measurable) and my resulting assuredness that I’d missed a sign somewhere; despite a storyteller’s penchant for dramatization, I would nonetheless feel comfortable categorizing this as more of a minor inconvenience than a torment worthy of Dante’s Inferno.  All told, the time from front door to parking lot six was about 55 minutes, with another 12 minutes to get to the terminal. Reasonable.  My pre and eventual post-trip shuttles were punctual and convenient.  I only took issue with one aspect of the whole endeavor – the cost.

Mind you, when only leaving your car in the airport lot for three days, $18 a day doesn’t seem all that bad, but on my most recent trip I was to be gone for ten days.  I don’t have $180 lying around for parking lot fees.  A quick scan of the nearby off-airport private lots offered little consolation.  The private shuttles that run to the airport were equally disappointing, out of reach financially and posing other difficulties of their own creation (like how best to hide my car from the prying eyes of some puritanical night auditor at the South Brunswick Holiday Inn.) I was forced to get a little creative.

I ended up plotting a multi-modal transportation bonanza that would get me to the airport fairly quickly and at a fraction of the cost of the traditional drive and park method.  Although I work in transportation and support transit 100%, I have to admit to having some reservations.  What was the chance that every transfer would be on time?  What if the train was delayed and I missed my flight? What if the AirTrain machine won’t take my NJ Transit ticket and I look like a loser in front of the big kids?  The possibilities were numerous.  I would just have to take a chance and see what happened.

I work in a multi-suite one-floor office building surrounded by parking lots, in a complex of other such buildings, on a road with more of the same.  So I was at least confident that no one would bother my car when I left it there on Thursday night.  From there, I walked about a minute to the nearest bus stop, arriving at 5:35 PM for the 5:41 bus, nervous that it would be late from the rush hour traffic.  The train station was close but I had only until 6:02 to get there and I had yet to buy my ticket.  Luckily, the bus was right on time.  I boarded, remembering to produce the correct $1.50 ahead of time, thus better enabling me to throw off the stink of transit newbie.  When the bus arrived at the train station a few minutes early, I deftly disembarked at the front door with luggage in tow, while the others only followed after having been hollered at by the bus driver that the back doors didn’t work.  My cocksure strut would morph into insecure gallop only seconds later as I struggled to locate a ticketing machine.  I settled on one that, upon consideration, was almost definitely the furthest away from the platform I needed to get to.  However, I soon had a ticket and made my way to the platform at 5:56. Piece of cake.  I sat aboard the train trying to remember the order of stops, listening to Elton John, and hoping no one would sit next to me.  Even though my stop was Newark Liberty International Airport, I still had one more transfer to make.  (Also, have you listened to the lyrics of Elton John’s Burn Down the Mission?  It’s kind of crazy.)

Since 2001, EWR has featured an elevated train (AirTrain) to help ferry people about the airport’s vast expanses of parking lots, rental car lots, terminals, and miscellaneous mechanical buildings, most of which I assume were added just in case they decide to shoot a Die Hard sequel here.  To keep up with the number of passengers, a train arrives at each AirTrain stop every three minutes during peak hours, which is – basically – all day.  Upon arrival, I hustled off the train and after obtaining directions from a disinterested security officer (good luck being an extra in John McLane’s latest adventure with that attitude, pal) made my way upstairs toward the AirTrain. I approached the ticket turnstile with trepidation, rehearsing my defense for when the machine inevitably rejected the ticket, something like, “Don’t blame me, the internet said I could! It was right on Wikipedia!” So, heart in my throat, I put the ticket in.  It worked – I knew it would all along – allowing me to breeze through to the platform.  A clock counted down the time until the next train would arrive: 52 seconds.  Although the train itself is actually quite slow, I was at the terminal (luckily, mine was the second stop) in about seven minutes.  From there, it was but a quick walk down the stairs to the corridor that deposits you squarely amidst the hubbub of EWR.  I was in the security line by 7:05 PM, an hour and a half after my initial arrival at the bus stop.

What did I learn?  I saved $136 plus the cost of gas by taking transit.  So I had to make a couple transfers. So I had to leave about an hour ahead of the time I would have left had I driven, but if you don’t mind waiting in airports, which I generally don’t, that’s nothing.  I’d say that’s worth it.  Plus, I’m one trip closer to being an actual, grizzled, transit veteran.  Win-win.