Jersey City Establishes ‘Complete Streets’ Policy

Jersey City paved the way for a more egalitarian use of the city’s transportation infrastructure by establishing a Complete Streets policy at the last City Council meeting, by a unanimous 9 to 0 vote. The policy, which calls for “roadways that enable safe and convenient access for all users,” represents the planning community’s rethinking of what — and whom — a road should be designed for.

According to Jay Corbalis, a policy analyst at New Jersey Future, a nonprofit organization that promotes smart growth, a Complete Streets policy is the “philosophy that when you build a road, you build it for all users.” He says Jersey City is a huge addition to the handful of municipalities that have embraced the policy.

“Jersey City is the biggest jurisdiction to adopt the Complete Streets policy, aside from the state,” Corbalis says.

Jersey City’s policy will guide future infrastructure construction and road repairs to “safely accommodate travel by pedestrians, bicyclists, public transit, and motorized vehicles … with special priority given to pedestrian safety.” The policy, however, is non-binding and is subject to being implemented only “whenever feasible.”

The move is being greeted as a positive first step by alternative-transportation advocates, even if some remain concerned about just how the policy will be implemented.

“It’s time to make Jersey City bike and pedestrian friendly,” says Carly Berwick, an organizer with the nonprofit bicycle-advocacy group Bike JC, adding that she’s glad “the City Council acknowledged” this as a priority.

“Bike JC was excited when the state of New Jersey adopted the Complete Streets policy, and we’re happy the City passed this resolution,” Berwick says. “Now that it’s passed, are they prepared to implement it?”

Chris Englese, who is also involved with Bike JC and is the founder of bike-rental company Easy Riders JC, has similar concerns.

“I would love to hear the interpretation of what ‘whenever feasible’ means,” he says. “Feasible according to?”

Still, Englese says that he’s happy that “local government is catching up with the [cycling] trend,” but adds that even more discussion is needed.

While Jersey City, unlike neighboring Hoboken or New York City, currently has no dedicated bike lanes, advocates say that the Complete Streets policy is a welcome step in that direction.

“We have come a long way,” says Dan Levin, a good-government activist who has long advocated for this type of policy.

“During the planning discussions that were part of the Bike Plan Study by the RBA Group, city engineering suggested banning bikes/bike use from roads during peak/rush hour,” he says, referring to the late-1990s study that led to the current bike map included in the city’s master plan. “Now, we are establishing high standards and aligning with progressive planning.”

Complete Street ideas were already being used in several projects before the policy was officially adopted last week, according to city spokesperson Jennifer Morrill. The favored concept in the Route 440 redesign project, for example, is to replace the four-lane highway with an urban boulevard featuring vegetation, barriers and bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly elements (see rendering at right). The massive Bayfront redevelopment plan, which will create a number of new streets on the Hackensack Riverfront, also calls for a Complete Streets approach.

However, Morrill is “not aware of any street retrofits that are planned in Jersey City as complete streets,” dashing the hopes of some who think that the newly repaved Columbus Drive could stand to use a bike lane.

Englese says he hopes that alternatives to traditional bike lanes, such as buffered bike lanes that are further removed from driving lanes, could be considered. Certain buffered bike lanes move street-side parking further away from the sidewalk to allow a bike lane between the parked cars and the curb, which makes cycling safer, according to Transportation Alternatives, a group that studied these lanes in New York City. It also wouldn’t negatively affect the amount of parking in the city.

According to Corbalis, New Jersey Future was one of the groups that successfully pushed for the New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT) to adopt a Complete Streets policy at the end of 2009. Unlike many other states, infrastructure in New Jersey largely falls under county and municipal responsibility, with the state only in direct control of 12 percent of its roads, so his group encourages municipalities to incorporate the policy as well.

“Complete Streets policy is more of a formal thing, and becomes the status quo or starting point for a new road,” he added. “We’re very supportive of local jurisdictions like Jersey City adopting their policies.”

To encourage more municipalities to do this, New Jersey Future pushed for Complete Streets adoption to be included as an action item towards Sustainable Jersey certification. Municipalities that receive this certification become eligible for grants, and the Healy administration says it has a goal of receiving Sustainable Jersey certification. (Morrill says the Complete Streets policy adds 20 points to the city’s total.)

“About one-third of the people in New Jersey don’t drive, [and yet governments are] still building roads where you have to drive, and it’s kind of absurd,” Corbalis says. He estimates that over half of the people in Jersey City don’t drive, and that as such, the Complete Streets approach “makes a ton of sense and serves the community.”

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Lead image: Charlotte Department of Transportation | Secondary image: City of Jersey City

Matt Hunger

is a former staff writer for the Jersey City Independent.