July 21, 2018 | ° F

Professor: U. needs to prioritize safe biking

Photo by Enrico Cabredo |

A student bikes across George Street in downtown New Brunswick, a busy road that does not feature designated bike lanes.

A University professor thinks biking is the answer to the University’s overcrowded bus system — a solution he said would help dilute traffic, provide health benefits for students and make roads safer.

John Pucher, professor at the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy, said local governments should consider expanding their efforts in bike safety in his new book, “City Cycling.”

Pucher said the University has built a number of bike lanes, but they are not well connected and are often considered dangerous. If only 1 percent of the money used for construction on Livingston campus were allocated for bicycle facilities, he said this problem would be solved.

“One of their No. 1 priorities should be improving the cycling conditions, and that means truly connecting the different campuses with safe bike ways,” Pucher said. “The University spends hundreds of millions of dollars on car parking facilities and that costs a lot of money.”

Jack Molenaar, director in the Department of Transportation Services, said he wishes more students would adopt biking as their primary mode of transportation between campuses.

“It will cause less pollution, and overall Rutgers will be a safer place,” he said in an Oct. 22 School of Environmental and Biological Sciences Governing Council meeting. “My goal is, by the time I’m done at Rutgers, that everyone that comes here will go, ‘well of course you bike at Rutgers.’”

Pucher said the Netherlands, Denmark and Germany should serve as models for the United States, because their governments have made biking a norm for people of all ages through establishing separate bike paths on highways and lowering speed limits in residential areas.

“They succeed in making cycling positive and safe for everybody,” he said. “I think that should be a goal for our policies here in the U.S.”

While about 13 percent of the European population bikes regularly, only 1 percent of Americans feel comfortable enough to do so, he said.

As some roads are unsafe for biking, women are less likely to bike as a mode of transportation, Pucher said.

“Women aren’t as big risk takers as men are,” he said. “Unfortunately, in the U.S., cycling is mainly young men. I think we need to change that and get more women cycling. They really want physical, separate bike ways, so they can be separated from motor vehicle traffic.”

Pucher said biking safely is even harder in New Jersey, where many motorists drive recklessly.

“A lot of them are homicidal,” he said. “They drive as if they’re aiming to kill. They’re in a bad mood, they’re cursing, they’re impatient, and they’re honking their horns. A lot of them are nasty jerks. The motorist behavior in New Jersey is just outrageous.”

Jordan Foreman, a School Of Environmental And Biological Sciences junior, said as someone who bikes three times a week, he considers his regular route to be dangerous.

“When I go from Cook to College Avenue, there isn’t really a good route to take to get there. I just go down George Street. There’s no shoulder path or anything,” Foreman said.

He said if more students use bike lanes, gas expenses and parking fees could be avoided. Pucher said the University should adopt these policies to provide an economical, convenient and quick alternative to get from one campus to another.

“I think it’s a disgrace that the University hasn’t done more,” he said. “They take forever to do anything. There are still really no safe, convenient and comfortable connections by bike between campuses. The University ends up spending tens and tens of millions of dollars on the campus bus system.”

But biking is not only preferable because of its economic efficiency, he said. It contributes to a healthier lifestyle and improves the mind by pushing the body.

“All sorts of cardiovascular health were documented in this book. Public health is collective — there are benefits for social, mental and physical health,” he said. “You can get less depressed and it helps you meet people and get friends.”

Pucher wants to see children riding their bikes as well, but he said this would not be possible until local governments change their approach.

“We need to get more children cycling because they’re the future generation,” Pucher said. “But most parents aren’t going to let their kids cycle on a street with traffic. It’s just not safe.”

Jon Bellizio, a School of Environmental and Biological Sciences senior, said he wants the administration to push for safer bike routes.

“Making safe bike lanes would actually encourage use,” he said. “People would use their bikes instead of riding a bus, which would also decrease bus crowding.”

By Lisa Berkman

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