Students come together for fifth bike, walk summit
New Jersey ranks as having the nation’s second-worst pedestrian and bicyclist fatality rate, said Cyndi Steiner, executive director of the New Jersey Bike & Walk Coalition.
Despite that ranking, Jeff Miller, president and CEO of the Alliance for Biking and Walking, said the state is spending considerably less money than states ranked lower to develop safer streets.
Advocates of biking and walking gathered at the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy on Saturday for NJBWC’s “Fifth Annual New Jersey Bike & Walk Summit.”
Steiner said the coalition was established in April of 2009 to enact the safe passing law for bicyclists in New Jersey.
The goal of the event was to educate local community advocates, partners and stakeholders on how to make streets safer for bicyclists and pedestrians, Steiner said.
“This year’s goals for the coalition include working to get bike lanes on Route 35 rebuilt and get bicycle access on the George Washington Bridge,” she said.
Speakers at the event included World Bicycle Relief President F.K. Day, President of the Alliance for Biking & Walking Jeff Miller and National Brotherhood of Cyclists President Bruce Woods. The Transportation Management Association presented the Street Smart Pedestrian Campaign, which focuses on reducing pedestrian fatalities in New Jersey.
Steiner introduced Day and described his involvement in cofounding World Bicycle Relief.
World Bicycle Relief is an international non-profit organization that makes use of bicycles to provide access to independence and livelihood. She said the organization has distributed more than 170,000 specially designed bicycles across 11 countries in Africa.
Day, executive vice president of SRAM and president and cofounder of World Bicycle Relief, said the power of bicycles to transform lives in developing countries is extraordinary.
In many developing countries, the only choice the citizens have is walking.
Day showed the audience a video of a young girl named Ethel who traveled two hours on foot to and from her school in an African village everyday. World Bicycle Relief provided her with a bicycle and now her trip takes 70 percent less time.
“Two women walked 160 kilometers to our factory in Zimbabwe with crumpled up dollar bills … to buy one of our bikes,” he said. “That reminds me of the incredible responsibility we have to deliver quality bikes all over the world, and … how important a single bike could be in an individual’s life.”
Miller shared the alliance’s new benchmarking report, which the alliance plans to release by April.
“The research … focuses on all 50 states and specifically the 50 largest cities in the country,” he said. “We also partner with the American Public Transportation Association to add … transit and how bicycling and walking play a critical role in that last mile or first mile in connecting with transit.”
The alliance started the benchmarking reports in 2003, did a pilot study in 2005, published the first report in 2007 and Miller said it is now a biannual report.
Formed in 1996, the alliance had about 10 full-time paid staff at the state and local level across the country. Now, Miller said they have more than 400 paid staff and continue to grow.
“We do a lot of data collection. We compile over 20 different sources of government data, and we do some research of our own,” he said. “Some of this research we collect in combination with the League of American Bicyclists and their bike-friendly state survey.”
The purpose of the alliance is to help create, strengthen and unite state and local advocacy organizations, Miller said. Leaders of local advocacy organizations formed and now represent more than 230 member organizations across North America, with some in Canada and Mexico.
“In our research, we highlight disparities,” he said. “Bicycling and walking are now 11.5 percent of all trips and nearly 15 percent of all fatalities, yet we are seeing just over 2 percent of federal transportation dollars going into bicycling and walking.”
Florida, with 23.8 percent of traffic fatalities, puts 4.3 percent of their state safety dollars into bicycling and walking, he said. New Jersey, which has a higher level of pedestrian and bicycle fatalities, is spending considerably less.
“When looking at how bicycling and walking fit into the whole scheme of things, there is a perception that biking and walking are only for the poor who can’t afford cars,” he said. “But research in the alliance proved that across income brackets, it’s not disproportionate and there’s no massive difference.”
New Brunswick is one of many cities around the country doing an Open Streets Initiative. Miller said this initiative shuts the streets down to cars to give people a chance to bike and walk safely.
“We know that over half of all trips in the country are three miles or less, so we have an opportunity to shift a significant number of trips in this country over to bicycling and walking,” he said. “Open Streets [Initiative] is a major tool for us to clone and replicate our way of thinking to make communities better to bike and walk.”
While making New Jersey streets and communities safer, Miller said children and senior citizens should be taken into account.
“We want to see our kids bicycling and walking to school and we want to see grandma and grandpa walking across the street or using their bikes,” he said. “It is our basic human right, we should be thinking about in that regard.”