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Life in Transit: Take the Bus to Princeton

3 Feb

This week’s post comes from a guest blogger, Tineke Thio, who also serves on Princeton’s Bicycle Advisory Committee, and it also appears on their blog – thanks!

Some are un-apologetical fair-weather riders. Some don’t leave home without their bikes unless a brutal polar vortex has parked itself over New Jersey.

Wherever your limit lies, for those days that you have places to go, but don’t want to or can’t get there on your bike, try the bus. Sure, NJ Transit buses go through Princeton – but here I want to tell you about Princeton’s local buses.
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FreeB
The FreeB is Princeton’s jitney; its cute logo, the blue “B” surrounded by a constellation of orange dots, is displayed on the bus stops and on the bus itself (named “Marvin”, after former Princeton Borough Mayor Marvin Reed).

It comes in two versions, commuter and daytime; the latter runs between 9.40am and 4.30pm. The two versions have different routes: for instance, only the commuter FreeB goes to Princeton Station, and only the daytime FreeB passes by the Municipal Building on Witherspoon Street. If you click on the links in this sentence, that downloads the PDF files of the map and schedule for the Commuter FreeB, and the Daytime FreeB. (In case you’re wondering: Yes, Princeton is working on getting the FreeB schedules on Google Maps).

Note: even though the schedules say you can flag down and board the FreeB between stops “where it’s safe to do so”, in practice you’re best off boarding at a designated stop. Bus drivers are highly risk averse – and that’s how we like them!

The FreeB is equiped for wheelchair access.

Best of all, it’s free!

Tiger Transit
As you can see from the maps, the FreeB services mostly the town side of Nassau Street. For travel on the University side, there’s Tiger Transit, Princeton University’s bus service which is also free and open to the public. Their buses are fully accessible, and have bike racks.

Tiger Transit coverage is of course densest around Princeton University, but its routes cover an area extending to the new Merwick Stanworth apartments, the Forrestal Center / Plasma Physics Lab, and Canal Pointe Boulevard.

Moreover, Tiger Transit buses have trackers, so you can see where they are at any time on this TigerTracker map.

Try the bus, it’s fun!

And tell your friends about it.

 

We would like to thank her for sharing her thoughts!

If you have a transit story that you would like to share, please let us know.

Active Transportation and the Health of Our Communities

20 Jan

Project for Public Spaces (PPS) released a new report, The Case for Healthy Places, in December 2016 in which they highlight key areas that support healthy placemaking.  According to PPS one’s zip code is a better predictor of health than genetic code. Where we live and where we work matters and we can see that from research highlighting health disparities among low-income communities and high-income communities.

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We already know that Americans have some of the highest rates of diabetes, heart disease, asthma and certain cancer types.  Americans also suffer from poor mental health and all of these conditions are linked to insufficient physical activity among other factors. Insufficient physical activity is directly related to the way our communities are designed.   PPS states issues such as sprawl, unwalkable communities, poor air quality, unsafe street design for walking and biking, all have a negative impact on our physical and mental health.

One of the key areas named in the PPS report is Walking and Biking. According to research cited by PPS, placemaking supports more walkable and bikeable communities which leads to improved safety  and accessibility of streets,  a sense of community, increased physical activity, support of local economies, and reduced air pollution. And we now have enough evidence that physical activity helps reduce the risk of chronic disease.

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So what would encourage more physical activity? According to the American Planning Association cited by PPS report, there are nine features that encourage active transportation:

  • Sidewalks
  • Bike lanes and racks
  • Traffic calming measures
  • Crosswalks and signals
  • Aesthetics and placemaking efforts, such as public art and fountains
  • Public space including parks and plazas
  • Street trees
  • Green infrastructures, including greenways and rain gardens
  • Street furniture, including benches, bus shelters, and signage

The report shows that active transportation is not only good for our health but also for the health of our local economies. And studies show that physically active kids have better concentration, mood, self-image, self-confidence, and fewer chronic health problems.

What do you think about the walking and biking conditions in your community?  What do you like? What would you like to change?

Let us know; you can comment on our social media or write a guest blog.

You can find the full report here and the report release article here.

Welcome 2017

6 Jan

Goodbye 2016!  What a wild ride we’ve had this past year—in self-driving cars and buses, on bikes and trains, walking and driving.  Let’s take a look back on the good and not so good.

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Technology and its potential took a front seat in transportation news this year.  Uber launched its first fleet of autonomous vehicles for use with its ride-hailing service in Pittsburgh this year and it seems clear that this is just the beginning. US Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx predicted that “By 2021, we will see autonomous vehicles in operation across the country in ways that we [only] imagine today… Families will be able to walk out of their homes and call a vehicle, and that vehicle will take them to work or to school.”

There was increased interest on how the autonomous vehicle industry should be regulated, especially after Tesla cars using the autopilot feature were involved in three crashes, one of them fatal. The feature was in the testing phase, and the drivers were supposed to have their hands on the wheel.  At the end of 2016, Michigan became the first state to pass self-driving regulations.

In 2016 we also saw the first self-driving buses. Helsinki started testing two of the world’s first self-driving buses, and they are looking into using them as a “last mile” solution to ta take commuters to larger transit hubs.

Looking to use new technology to improve transportation, the US Department of Transportation launched the Smart City Challenge, challenging cities to develop ideas for an integrated, first-of-its-kind smart transportation system that would use data, applications, and technology to help people and goods move more quickly, cheaply, and efficiently.  Columbus, Ohio walked away the winner.

Smart bikes ruled with more cities and towns, both large and small adding bike share as an option in their community.  Locally, Princeton University expanded their Bike Share program in 2016, and anyone can use the bikes by signing up for an account with Zagster.  The Bike Share system also exists beyond campus with stations at Princeton Forrestal Center, Princeton Shopping Center and the Institute for Advanced Studies.

Ridesharing became easier than ever this year with apps and other options for the occasional ride-share, and there are also the more traditional commuter options like your TMA’s ride matching programs. They are free, and you can be matched with someone who lives/works near you and has same the schedule.

Safety unfortunately took a backseat this year.  New Jersey saw an increase in the number of traffic fatalities, 607 people lost their lives in a crash last year, 8% higher than in 2015.

New Jersey’s depleted Transportation Trust Fund resulted in a work stoppage on state transportation projects this summer, but the passage of a $.23 increase in the gas tax has given the State a dedicated source of funding for infrastructure projects and improvements.

Infrastructure was a winner in the 2016 election; many cities passed transit-oriented and biking measures—a hopeful sign  for 2017 that people are willing to reduce their driving  and looking for other options!

What do you think? What have we missed?  Let us know; we want to hear from you.

Is It the Low Gas Prices?

9 Sep

The latest National Highway Traffic Safety Administration figures show a large increase in the number of traffic fatalities in the last year. A total of 35,092 people lost their life in traffic crashes, an increase of 7.2% since 2014. The total number includes drivers, bicyclists, and pedestrians.  The previous trend of declining traffic deaths has been reversed in 2015 and the main reason cited was increased driving due to the low fuel prices. And according to a CDC study, U.S. now has the highest traffic deaths when compared to other high-income countries.

So is it really just the low gas prices? Not really. Low gas prices led to an increase in the number of people driving, but it didn’t cause the crashes. The CDC study shows that too many people are behaving recklessly, speeding, driving while intoxicated and not always using their seatbelt.

In addition, poor transit options and street design that prioritizes cars over humans also play a big role. And that’s why supporters of Complete Streets policy and Vision Zero are gaining ground in more and more places across United States. Designing our streets to be safer can reduce the instances of traffic deaths by lowering the speed limit, giving pedestrians and bicyclists safe access, and allowing public transit to run on time.

Until we have safer streets and better transit options, we can help change the trend by driving carefully and looking out for each other whether you are a driver, a cyclist, or a pedestrian.

Sources:

http://nacto.org/2016/08/31/traffic-deaths/

https://www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/motor-vehicle-safety/index.html

http://www.curbed.com/2016/9/1/12737230/streets-traffic-deaths-pedestrians

http://www.nhtsa.gov/About+NHTSA/Press+Releases/traffic-fatalities-2015

September is Healthy Aging Month

2 Sep

September is healthy aging month and good mobility is a critical aspect of healthy living!

Family Walking In The Park

Most of us recognize that poor health can affect a person’s ability to get around easily.  Less attention though has been given to the fact that mobility affects health and well-being. Access to transportation for seniors is closely tied to their quality of life.

Did you know:

  • 21% of seniors no longer drive
  • Non-drivers make 15% fewer trips to the doctor
  • 59% fewer shopping trips
  • 65% fewer trips for social, family and religious activities

We all need to have the ability to stay connected to our communities, healthcare, shopping and social opportunities.  Healthy aging depends on it!

How to help yourself or the seniors in your life:

  1. Encourage everyone to keep walking. Maintaining mobility is a lot easier than regaining mobility.
  2. Promote Complete Streets in your town so that safe walking is possible.
  3. Keep driving skills sharp by signing up for a driver refresher course through AARP.
  4. Learn how to use public transportation. It will be much easier to “put down the keys” if it should become necessary.  Contact GMTMA to learn about our travel training classes.
  5. Learn about senior ride services like TRADEand RideProvide in Mercer County and Ocean Ride in Ocean County.
  6. Advocate for improved transportation options for seniors.
  7. Have a positive attitude!

What Do Transit Riders Want?

22 Jul

Transit Center recently released the results to the “Who’s on Board 2016. What Today’s Riders Teach Us About Transit That Works” study and there are some interesting findings and recommendations to note.  The foundation conducted the study with the purpose of better understanding the needs and the behavior of transit riders across the United States.

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Some of the Findings:

The terms “choice riders” and “captive riders” currently used to describe transit riders are not accurate. Many people use transit occasionally, 53% of the respondents indicated that they use transit between one day a week and one day per month. Fourteen percent of the interviewees indicated that they were commuters, and 32% said they were using transit for multiple purposes.

People who live and work in areas with better transit ride more frequently, whether they own a car or not. When transit service increases, people turn to transit more often and for multiple purposes.

In addition to good service, having stations within walking distance is seen as more likely to promote the use of transit for various purposes.

People who use transit for multiple purposes are also multimodal, meaning they ride a bike, walk, take a taxi, car share, and are more likely to use a non-car alternative.

The availability of “shared–use mobility” options increases the likelihood that more people will use transit.

The so-called “captive riders” (people who don’t have cars and are thought of as using transit regardless of quality) use transit less frequently when the service is poor.

People value service frequency and travel time the most; they value the condition of the stations and the stops, having real-time information, reliability, and care less about flashy design, and Wi-Fi on board.

Large numbers of Americans of all ages indicated that they would prefer to live in a mixed-use neighborhood with access to transit, but they don’t currently have that option.

Recommendations:

Enable more people to walk to reliable transit by making the walk safe and pleasant and concentrating developments around transit.

Have transit in walkable places with many residents and with destinations for people to visit.

Increasing frequency of service and reducing travel time.

How do we score?

We looked at how Mercer and Ocean counties score on AllTransit Performance by using the All Transit ranking tool which is available at http://alltransit.cnt.org/. The Ranking uses station, stop, and frequency of service for bus, rail for all major transit agencies.  It also looks at connectivity and access to jobs.

In Mercer County, we have 11.7 acres of walkable neighborhoods within half a mile of transit, 4.75% commute by walking and live within half a mile of transit. There are 254,247 people who live within a half of mile of transit and no one lives within half of mile of high-frequency transit.  The overall AllTransit Performance score for Mercer County (on a scale from 0 to 10) is 4.5., and 8.25% commuters use transit.

Mercer County total population in 2015 – 366,513

In Ocean County, there are 13 acres of walkable neighborhoods within half a mile if transit, .61% commute by bicycle, and 2.02% commute by walking and live within half a mile of transit. Overall there are 301,356 people who live within half a mile of transit and 2.18% commuters use transit. The AllTransit Performance score is 1.7.

Ocean County total population in 2015 – 576,567

More transit information is available at http://alltransit.cnt.org/ , including numbers of jobs near transit, the number of farmers markets, transit trips per week, etc.

As you can see, Mercer County scored much higher on its Transit Score than Ocean County. To put the scores in perspective to some other counties in New Jersey, both were far below the higher scoring counties like Hudson (9.08), Essex (7.67) and Bergen (6.57). Clearly, there is more work to be done to meet the needs of transit riders.

If you live in Mercer or Ocean County, and you need more transportation information check out Good Moves, a GMTMA program that offers personalized transportation plans.

Sources:

ma.org/pg-good-moves.php

http://alltransit.cnt.org/metrics/?addr=mercer+county%2C+nj

http://transitcenter.org/2016/07/12/what-makes-transit-successful-whos-on-board/

 

NJ Sustainability Summit Takeaways

24 Jun

Last week on Wednesday, June 15, some of us at Greater Mercer TMA attended the Sustainability Summit organized by Sustainable Jersey.

Several interesting things were announced during the summit, including the new NJDEP “It pays to plug in” campaign, meant to increase workplace charging infrastructure.  There was also some sobering news from the keynote speaker.  Dr. Benjamin Strauss of Climate Central provided the keynote address – a sobering and sometimes frightening view of the current climate change, sea level rise and flooding impacts on New Jersey.  Dr. Strauss explained that while natural causes do contribute to the sea level rise, 67% of the global sea level rise is human caused, and CO2 emissions are the main culprit.

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In the worst case scenario, if CO2 emissions continue to grow at the same rate, the likelihood of experiencing 5 feet coastal flooding by 2030 is 46%, and by 2040 the likelihood increases to 69%. As soon as 2060 the likelihood soars to 97%!  To get an idea of how some parts of the NJ coast might appear you can check out the climate central risk finder tool.

You can see the rest of Dr. Strauss’s presentation here.  On page 57 there’s an amazing picture of what Newark airport might look like given the predicted rising sea level.

The good news is that if we start curbing emissions now, we can avert the worst case scenario. According to Dr. Strauss, taking serious measures now could make a big difference in the long run. Low emissions could decrease the risk of 5 FT flooding to approximately 30% by the year 2100 as opposed to 100% as soon as the year 2070 (on parts of the NJ coast).

In NJ steps being taken to curb emissions. An example is the As Mentioned earlier; the NJDEP is offering grants to increase the number of workplace EV charging stations. Grant and eligibility information available at http://www.nj.gov/dep/aqes/

The first item on Sustainable Jersey’s Energy Goals is “decreasing greenhouse gas emissions in to avert catastrophic climate impacts.” The Energy and Waste Standards were the first ones of the 14 standards in the new Gold Certification announced at the summit.  Municipalities have to lower Greenhouse emission by 3.6% per year.  The new Gold certification is the highest level of certification and will also measure performance, not only implementation of actions. Reductions in GHC will be measured every three years to see whether municipalities demonstrate continued reductions.   More info available here.

And if that got you thinking about climate change and wonder what can you do to reduce or offset your carbon footprint, check out these easy steps.

Sources:
www.sustainablejersey.com
http://sealevel.climatecentral.org/uploads/ssrf/NJ-Report.pdf
http://sealevel.climatecentral.org/ssrf/new-jersey