Like many states with older transportation infrastructure built on the highway system, New Jersey faces a number of serious challenges related to pedestrian and bicycle safety. Even as the state explores ways to make active transportation safer for citizens, related fatalities are on the rise: As of July 2019, more than 90 pedestrians and bicyclists have been lost in fatal crashes, and this number is on track to exceed that of the four previous years. According to the New Jersey State Police, 192 fatalities—or 34% of all crash fatalities last year—were bicyclists and pedestrians, making 2018 the second deadliest year in the last quarter-century for these modes, surpassed only by 2017 (which reached 199).
This trend illustrates a very real need for the state to rethink its infrastructure and invest in safe routes for people traveling on foot or by bike.
Transportation Alternatives in New Jersey
But there is hope, via the state’s federal Transportation Alternatives (TA) program—the largest federal funding source for trails in the United States—where $54 million is currently ready and waiting to help improve active transportation infrastructure statewide. Unfortunately, this program, overseen by the New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT), is structured in a way that limits its use to construction-oriented projects.
Funds could be taken back by the federal government—the longer the money sits on the table, the more likely it is to be lost.
Out of the 120 projects that applied to this competitive funding pool last year, only 25 received funding. The remainder of these projects are unfortunately stalled as municipalities and towns search for other sources of financing, even while the state is at risk of losing a portion of its TA funding due to unobligation. And with the September 30 deadline to allocate this money approaching, it becomes more likely that a portion of funds could be taken back by the federal government—i.e., the longer the money sits on the table, the more likely it is to be lost. Broadening the scope of the TA program in the state will make it easier to fund projects that will help New Jerseyans get around outside of their vehicles.
With assistance from NJDOT and a loosening on restrictions, more applications can be awarded funding, preventing the portion of unobligated funds from being sent back to the federal government. Using TA funding to finance critical designs and technical assistance will ensure that more trail projects are able to move forward.
Awarding funds to a municipality or county for a TAP project is only the first step to funding a project. The state must then obligate the funds in order for them to be useable for the particular project; many projects get awarded but not obligated due to the difficulty of administering these funds.
Leading the Charge for Active Transportation
New Jersey has many rail-trail projects moving toward completion that are leading the charge to create safe active transportation networks statewide. Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC), the Tri-State Transportation Campaign and other New Jersey advocates encourage NJDOT to act fast to fund these projects, which are delivering huge benefits in the state—for recreation, health, the environment and active transportation. Here’s a brief summary of just a few of these projects and their potential transformative impact in New Jersey, as well as how you can help.
Atlantic County Bikeway and Pleasantville Bikeway
Crash history has been up to double statewide average.
Combining the Atlantic County Bikeway and the Pleasantville Bikeway into a 17-mile, off-road trail involves completing just a 1-mile gap over Black Horse Pike, a busy four-lane highway, but would result in a seamless link between east and west Atlantic County and a much-needed safe crossing for bicyclists and pedestrians. The crossing is informally used by trail users, but in a dangerous fashion; a 2014 report by Parsons Brinckerhoff and NJDOT found that the crossing had contributed to 22 bike-ped crashes and one fatality between 2008 and 2010—a crash history more than double the statewide average for similar road types.
The gap closure would be a game-changer for both recreation and active transportation for many Atlantic County residents, 7% of which do not have access to a vehicle and more than 10% of which commute to work by walking, bicycling or transit. “Besides being a recreational amenity for the region … this project will take care of a real transportation safety issue right here,” said Mitch Rovins, owner of the nearby shop Beacon Bicycles—adding that many people in the area don’t own cars, and walk or bike to get to work on opposite sides of Black Horse Pike. “Right in the back of my building, a new 200-units-plus development is going in, and it will create even more of a need,” added Rovins.
Recently, consultants were able to capture seven people walking or biking along this busy highway in a period of just over one hour due to the lack of safe infrastructure. Trail advocates are urging the state to accelerate progress, which has been put on hold by NJDOT pending a traffic study of the area by an interested developer.
Cross Camden County Trail – US 130/North Park Drive Intersection
Fatality at unsafe intersection
The Cross Camden County Trail is a 32-mile off-road trail that will provide a safer route for pedestrians and bicyclists across North and South Camden County, and help spur waves of economic growth for the area. Work on this trail has already begun; Camden County completed a feasibility study and has awarded $4.5 million in design funding to consultant NV5, and NJDOT recently awarded $1.22 million to the project to begin construction.
As outlined by the study recommendations, more is needed to make this trail safer for users, including a separate feasibility study for improvements to this crossing. “[This intersection] is the largest pinch point over the 32-mile trail,” said Jack Sworaski, director of Environmental Affairs and Open Space and Farmland Preservation for Camden County, adding that people walking or bicycling currently “have no clear right-of-way to cross the highway.”
Trail advocates believe that a few minor improvements would do much to improve safe crossings over three legs of the intersection and greatly reduce the risk of getting struck by turning vehicles, which happened to a bicyclist in 2016.
Northern Valley Greenway
Alternate route to the dangerous, crash-prone highway
The Northern Valley Greenway is a safe, 8-mile alternative to busy US 9W that could potentially connect New Jersey to New York by rail-trail. US 9W in Bergen County is well traveled by cars and bicyclists going from New York City to the Tappan Zee Bridge, and use of the highway will likely increase with updates to the bridge. According to NV5’s 2011 Route 9W Bicycle Count study, Bicyclists accounted for 35% of total traffic on this busy road and represent as much as 84% of total counts at certain times of the day. Unfortunately, the road lacks bicycle lanes or other related facilities, leaving bicyclists to ride in the car lane or use the shoulder. This has led to many crashes and cyclist fatalities over the years, including 15 documented crashes along the highway alone.
One major issue: The sharing of limited space among bicyclists of different speeds, said Andrew Mikesh, team lead for the Northern Valley Greenway Initiative, who affirms that the mixing of recreational and through-riders [fast riders passing the slower riders need to go into the car lanes] is a huge source of accidents. Separate bike lanes are among the potential solutions that trail managers believe could greatly improve safety for nonmotorized users. Learn more about the project on the Northern Valley Greenway Initiative website.
Agenda to Protect New Jersey’s Active Transportation Future
The demand for safe walking and bicycling infrastructure continues to grow in New Jersey—where 6.4% of adults don’t have access to a vehicle (higher than the 4.4% national figure), and more than 16.3% of residents—almost double the national average—use a mode of transportation other than a car to get to work.
To prevent critical active transportation funds from being lost—RTC and the Tri-State Transportation Campaign are formally urging NJDOT to take immediate action in the following ways:
- Federal funds that sit around too long can be taken back by the federal government. New Jersey will need all the federal funds that it has received in order to address safety and meet demand. NJDOT should analyze which funds are at risk and quickly develop a comprehensive plan to get those resources spent expeditiously or, where that is not practical in the short run, use means available to you to preserve federal trail, walking and biking funds for future funding cycles.
- Fund trail development from beginning to end, including purchasing land, planning and designing the trail. Great examples of surrounding states who are already funding all stages of trail development include Connecticut, New York, Maryland and Pennsylvania.
- Provide staff to assist municipalities and counties in completing the walking and biking projects. Our state’s unique history means that we have 565 municipalities—many of them small—that need an extra helping hand in executing federal TA grants for various projects. New Jersey can look to other states, such as Pennsylvania and Michigan, that extend state staff to work with agencies to complete walking and biking projects, as examples.
To learn more about these efforts in New Jersey, contact Liz Sewell, trail development manager at RTC.
How You Can Help Protect New Jersey Trail Funding
This past May, NJDOT authorized more than $27 million through the state’s Transportation Alternatives Set-Aside (TA Set-Aside) and Safe Routes to School (SRTS) programs that will help move New Jersey walking and bicycling infrastructure forward—but a massive $54 million funding still remains.
Write NJDOT Today!Request that they fund projects using the full, remaining TA Set-Aside funding!
If you have a project that you think may be eligible for Transportation Enhancement or Transportation Alternatives programming funds, please email Liz Sewell, trail development manager at RTC.
3 Parsons Brinkerhoff and New Jersey Department of Transportation (2014). Atlantic County Bikeway Missing Link.
8 Transportation Alternatives Data Exchange (2019). Transportation Alternative Program list by state, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy.