University, mayor promise transportation changes
The mayor of Piscataway and a Rutgers University Department of Transportation Services official promised further collaboration and innovation yesterday at an event hosted by the New Jersey Public Interest Research Group’s Rutgers chapter.
NJPIRG, a lobbying and advocacy organization, also released the results of their transportation survey titled, “A New Course: How Innovative University Programs Are Reducing Driving on Campus and Creating New Models for Transportation” at the event, held at the Rutgers Business School building on Livingston campus.
Dorothy Le, senior transportation planner for the University, said Rutgers had the largest university-based transit system in the nation.
“RUDOTS is committed to giving the University the best possible solutions for transportation, which includes transit, walking, bicycling and other alternatives,” she said.
She said the RUDOTS has begun a new initiative to encourage bicycling for students, called BikeRU. They are hosting a week of activities in April to spread awareness of biking as a safe and efficient method of transportation.
Brain Wahler, mayor of Piscataway, said his town has made plans to accommodate transportation innovations in the future.
Wahler has traveled the Rutgers buses since he was eight-years-old, and said the issue of transportation was near and dear to him.
“At that time, they used to have to send out smoke signals to let you know the bus was coming,” he said.
He works closely with Jack Molenaar, the director of RUDOTS, to encourage students to use mass transit systems. Wahler said the U.S. Conference of Mayors had recently formed a task force for mayors of university towns, and the organization hoped to foster a better relationship with university communities and university transit systems.
He said public officials are often accused of not thinking to the future in their transportation planning. Piscataway has made several moves to ensure that was not the case for that town.
“One of the things that we did with the town department of transportation is we had all the utilities out in the center put to the sides, so if we ever put a rapid transit system on Route 18, it wouldn’t stand in the way,” he said.
He said they also built pedestrian bridges high enough for buses to accommodate a future rapid transit system, even though they have no immediate plans to put in such a system.
The advent of mass transit systems is even more relevant in light of recent inclement weather, he said. Piscataway would like to get more cars off the road when snow hits.
Piscataway’s immediate objective for transportation includes the “complete streets” idea, which focuses on adding sidewalks and bicycle lanes to streets.
He said the town recently awarded a contract to a developer to add sidewalks and bicycle lanes to Hoes Lane West and plans to incorporate this infrastructure to River Road.
“By this spring, there’ll be official bike lanes going to and from the halls on campus,” he said. “They can just have a leisurely walk … from Livingston and Busch campus on sidewalks to local restaurants and businesses.”
The program would also contribute to the town’s health and wellness campaign, he said.
Jake Schuhardt, a student organizer for NJPIRG, said the new program would help first-year students with the daunting task of navigating the transportation system at Rutgers.
Today’s young people want different things in their transportation systems than the previous generations, said Schuhardt, a School of Arts and Sciences first-year student.
Data show young people cut their driving a dramatic 23 percent between 2001 and 2013, he said. Universities are especially progressive in their transportation reform.
“Efforts at reducing driving yielded positive results for students, staff and their communities,” he said.
NJPIRG’s report recommended programs like free transit services, programs to promote bicycle use, ride sharing and car sharing initiatives.
It mentions specific programs at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the University of Wisconsin-Madison, among others, for its innovations in transportation.
Le said RUDOTS has currently focused on its bicycle program but would consider other innovations from the report in the future.
“We want to optimize usage of the bus system,” she said.