It’s only a few blocks long. But cycling enthusiasts say the city’s inaugural bike lane on Grove Street is a start. They now hope this temporary lane will be the start of a much larger network of bike routes throughout Jersey City which will cut down on automobile traffic and make the city more environment-friendly.
On April 30, Jersey City opened a five-block bike lane on Grove Street, between Grand Street and Columbus, as part of its first annual Project 365 Green Week, held from April 30 through May 5. The lane is a temporary experiment that’s set to expire on June 1. Over the next five weeks planners and engineers will monitor usage of the lane to determine whether the city’s first and only bike lane should be expanded beyond these five blocks.
“This is a pilot program. It’s an experiment. If it appears to be feasible we may expand this to other parts of the city,” said Mayor Jerramiah Healy the day the bike lane was opened. “We want to find a reasonable accommodation around the city for cars, bikes, and for our pedestrians.”
“We’re about 20 years behind other cities.” – Dan Levin
Bikers have for years advocated the creation of bike routes throughout the city.
“We’re about 20 years behind other cities,” said Dan Levin, a board member of Bike JC, a local organization that formed in 2009 and has been advocating for local bike routes ever since. “Most major cities by now have some type of network of bike lanes. They have bike routes in New York City, Washington D.C., Newark. So, Jersey City is really behind in this regard.”
But interest in and usage of the Grove Street path was high last week with several city bikers seen using the new lane. Levin, who said he often bikes to his job near Exchange Place, and others Bike JC members believe the one month experiment will spur more interest in – and political pressure for – cycling routes elsewhere.
Spinning their wheels
When Jersey City initially drafted its master plan in 2005, bike routes were part of the plan. However, under the master plan that was officially adopted the vowed only to create bike lanes “where feasible,” language that has left this green transit option on the back burner ever since.
City planner Doug Greenfeld said the logistics of creating bike lanes is both labor intensive and challenging, given the configuration of Jersey City streets.
“Our streets have very limited space,” said Greenfeld. “Grove Street was chosen for this demonstration project because it had enough room to add a bike lane and still retain parking and travel lanes for motor vehicles, and still comply with all accepted engineering standards. So, that’s why a bike lane works on Grove Street. Not every street in Jersey City will be able to accommodate a striped bike lane.”
If this demonstration project is successful, Greenfeld added, the city will next need to determine where else it makes sense to have bike routes. This, he said, will depend on “traffic volume, the geometry of intersections, and where the street geometry accommodates either a striped bike lane or a different type of [bike route]. So, there are actually a lot of considerations that have to be looking into.”
The bike route on Grove Street is a striped lane that is designated for cyclists only. But the city could also choose to create sharrows, lanes marked with chevrons that are meant to be shared by cars and bikes alike.
Getting there from here
Exactly what an integrated network of bike routes might entail in Jersey City can be as broad as the city itself.
“I think, at a minimum, ideally, I’d like to see all of the city’s parks and transit hubs linked by bike routes and a reasonable number of bike racks to accommodate more bikes on the street,” said Levin.
Bike JC President Christopher Englese said that as a starting point he hopes the city is able to create routes connecting all the parks downtown to Liberty State Park. “We could hopefully then use that network of bike paths to spread out further into the city.”
Despite the planning involved, Levin said those ideas don’t require years to map out. Such plans, he said, could be achieved in a matter of a few months.
All those interviewed last week agreed that other infrastructural changes would need to happen for biking to be adequately sustained in the city. Specifically, Jersey City would require a lot more bike racks.
To that end, Bike JC is working with several people to make racks more prevalent in more places. Last week the organization held a fundraiser with the Iron Monkey to purchase a bike rack for a business, the first of several such fundraisers in town. And Englese is on a mission to overturn a law that currently requires businesses to apply for a variance from the city before they can install bike racks outside their property.
“This requires business owners to spend thousands of dollars for an attorney so they can get [a variance],” said Englese. This law, added Englese, requires city engineers to visit the business to determine whether the bike rack would interfere with the right of way on the sidewalk.
“It’s so expensive that most businesses just don’t do it,” he said, “and that has a negative affect on biking in the city.”
Englese and Bike JC also plan to push for more racks elsewhere. Working with the organization, Councilman Fulop has agreed to introduce an ordinance sometime in the coming weeks which would require large new residential developments of a certain size to install a certain number of bike racks. Details of this ordinance were not available last week since it is still being drafted.
“We don’t know when there will be a public hearing on that ordinance,” Englese said. “But we are asking anyone who bikes to come out and support that ordinance.”
The measure might also call on the city to create more bike paths.
E-mail E. Assata Wright at firstname.lastname@example.org.