Rutherford Backpedals on Complete Streets and Transparent Government

On November 13, the Rutherford Borough Council in New Jersey unanimously approved a new road striping plan for the first phase of the Rutherford Bike Ring. In an ironic twist for the bike plan, this first phase of the striping did not include bike lanes or any other Complete Streets design components. Despite three years of meetings, letters of support from residents, local, state and federal elected officials, the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission, Hackensack Riverkeeper, Rutherford Downtown Partnership and the heads of the police, schools and health departments — and in addition to almost $115,000 in taxpayer supported planning and design work for the original Bike Ring — the latest version of the plan was approved within minutes of first being presented, without public viewing and without public comment.

Not only does the recent action contradict the Borough Council’s previous work to advance the projectthe Council passed five different resolutions supporting the Bike Ring between July 2010 and December 2011 but it directly flouts Rutherford’s nearly three-year-old Complete Streets policy. These Council actions helped contribute to a grant award of $89,600 in March 2012 to undertake a feasibility study to identify the best route for the project. At the time the grant was awarded, the Borough Council had already approved the first phase of the Bike Ring, which included bike lanes on Orient Way, the spine of the Town’s bike plan.

Over the next year and a half, progress was being made towards implementation until this fall when 78 residents from Orient Way submitted a petition protesting the bike lane to be installed on their street, describing it as “intrusive, unnecessary, and irresponsible” and citing concerns about “driveway obstruction, bus traffic, delivery truck passage and fire safety equipment.” At the Borough Council meeting on September 18, a handful of residents expressed concerns about whether bike lanes could be safely accommodated on Orient Way, despite a road width of 60 feet and only one lane of traffic in each direction.

In response to the small outcry of opposition at the September meeting, a petition was submitted during the October 22 council meeting in support of bike lanes on Orient Way and the Bike Ring project as a whole. The petition was signed by over 250 people in just one month’s time, and as a result of the overwhelming show of support for safer streets, Councilwoman Kim Birdsall called on the Borough Engineer to provide two renderings: one featuring striping for traffic calming only, and the other showing bike lanes.

At the November 13 council meeting the two renderings were presented for the first time, but neither included any of the requested design elements. Gone were the NJDOT-recommended 12-foot travel lanes, center turn lane, buffered bike lanes and curb extensions (or bump-outs) at intersections. Instead, the new renderings called for two 13-foot travel lanes (wider than the maximum recommended by AASHTO for freeways), no buffers and no bump-outs.

At the same time, the first section of Orient Way had just been milled and repaved, and a member of the council indicated that the construction crew was waiting for direction on what striping should be implemented. The Council voted on the new plans and they were passed — with no public viewing and no public comment period — even though the meeting agenda only indicated that the new plans were up for discussion.

As a result, instead of a roadway designed to be safer for all users, Rutherford residents will see more of the same high-speed traffic in their town, but especially on Orient Way. Bicycle crashes on Orient Way made up over 10 percent of the total bicycle crashes in the entire Borough of Rutherford from 2001 to 2011 and three pedestrian crashes occurred along the same stretch of road from 2009-2011 alone. But beyond Rutherford’s backpedaling on Complete Streets and its commitment to street safety, perhaps more disturbingly, the Borough Council has shown that the idea of participatory planning, and the clear clamoring of residents for safer streets, will go unheeded if not politically expedient. 

Cyndi Steiner is Executive Director of the New Jersey Bike & Walk Coalition

5 Comments on "Rutherford Backpedals on Complete Streets and Transparent Government"

  1. This makes me wonder: is there any precedent for suing a municipality for ignoring their own Complete Streets policy? I realize it would be a hard case to win, because Complete Streets only requires ‘all users to be provided for’ and the nature of that provision can be very variable.

    Very sad news all the same, but not surprising. The car is strong in New Jersey.

  2. Oh, I think you could sue them over this. Sounds like there was at least a few Sunshine Law violations. Any contemperary transportation planner / engineer with half an eye for designing modern bicycle and pedestrian ammenities could comfortably testify that this is not “accomodating for bicyclists and pedestrians” according to the lastest best practices. This is 1960’s business as usual. Sounds like a call to the Newark Environmental Law Center is in order.

    BTW, Janna and Cyndi, did you here the latest comming out of New Jersey’s newest “Bicycle Friendly Community” and only “Bicycle Friendly Univeristy?” They banned bikes from a road otherwise open to all other “vehicle” traffic while they work on the new “Arts and Transit” project at Princeton. WOW!

    New Jersey never seems to stop amazing me. Idaho looks like a pillar of progessive change by comparison. No joke!

  3. Rutherford needs to join forces with all south Bergen towns to design a bike route that actually goes somewhere for commuters or shoppers. Town-peer group pressure would convince residents that Rutberford needs to be part of the program.

  4. As a Complete Streets “educator”, I think this is a great impetus for ORGANIZING, bringing together senior citizens, young people, business owners, and even “fiscal conservatives” to tout the distinct advantages of Complete Streets measures in improving property values, health, safety, and quality of life. A punitive lawsuit is unlikely to inspire residents and may create more ill will than it would provide benefits. There’s enough data about the traffic calming effects of bike lanes and the subsequent reductions in numbers and severity of crashes that a simple cost/benefit analysis on this factor alone would provide a compelling argument.

    -Jerry Fried (as a NJ resident and not as an employee of the Rutgers Voorhees Transportation Center)

  5. Aaron Kleinbaum | November 25, 2013 at 10:15 am |

    I plan to attend the Rutherford Council meeting on Tuesday night to provide comments as a long time Rutherford resident, bicycle rider and pedestrian in support of the Complete Streets program. I look forward to working with others in town and the area.

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