The City of Asbury Park adopted a complete streets resolution on October 9, 2015. Less than three weeks later, the City formally rejected a proposal that would have made one of its key commercial corridors safer and more accommodating for pedestrians and bicyclists.
Between the curbs, Asbury Park’s Main Street, also known as Route 71, has four travel lanes and curbside parking on both sides. In 2013, the New Jersey Department of Transportation proposed putting Route 71 on a road diet, which would have eliminated a lane in each direction, making room for bike lanes and a center turning lane.
So why put Main Street on a road diet? Cyndi Steiner of the New Jersey Bike & Walk Coalition explains:
Not only is Route 71 a landing strip, but just about every intersecting street is also an expansive swath of pavement with virtually no markings or signage, allowing drivers to zoom away from every intersection at warp speeds, only to slam on the brakes at the next traffic light. And zoom they do. Asbury Park is a sea of pavement built for speed.
Mixed in with this are people on foot attempting to cross at intersections that have no pedestrian signaling of any kind, and people on bikes pedaling along parked cars, many riding against speeding traffic, some trying to reach the beach, others headed to jobs along Main Street, and still others running errands, all hoping not to get squashed on roads not designed for them or for anyone else who is not moving at multiples above the speed limit. It’s the urban equivalent of the wild west, and the last thing anyone appears to be concerned about is pedestrian and bike rider safety. Main Street has outdated traffic lights, no pedestrian crossing signals of any kind, faded crosswalks, and virtually no other street infrastructure that would calm speeding traffic.
The road diet is “seen as one of the transportation safety field’s greatest success stories.” According to the Federal Highway Administration, the benefits of road diets “include a crash reduction of 19 to 47 percent, reduced vehicle speed differential, improved mobility and access by all road users, and integration of the roadway into surrounding uses that results in an enhanced quality of life.”
None of that seems to matter to Asbury Park Mayor John Moor. In 2013, Moor called the road diet proposal “totally ridiculous.” And in 2015, after the City’s resolution to reject the road diet was accepted by NJDOT, he went further:
“To me this is my finest victory just because I go up and down Main Street and there is no way that could be one lane in each direction.”
Actually, Main Street could absolutely be one lane in each direction. According to the Asbury Park Main Street Redvelopment Plan,
“Traffic volumes on Main Street vary from 11,000 and 14,000 vehicles per day—well within the range of volumes that can be accommodated with a road diet, and also within the typical volumes of many two-lane New Jersey state highways.”
Tri-State Transportation Campaign and New Jersey Bike & Walk Coalition staff joined members of the Asbury Park Complete Streets Coalition last month to get a closer look at Main Street on two wheels.
One needn’t look further than the bike racks outside Asbury Park Station to see that the bicycle is a popular mode of transport here.
But Main Street, where the station is located, has four lanes for moving cars, two lanes for storing cars, and zero lanes for people on bikes.
So not surprisingly, many of the bicyclists we saw were riding on the sidewalks.
Clearly there is demand for a safe place to ride, but biking on the sidewalk puts pedestrians at risk and may even be illegal. And because we know a road diet wouldn’t actually be “like cutting off one artery to the heart” resulting in “a heart attack, and death to downtown,” we came up with a sketch for what Main Street could look like if the city is ever convinced to rescind the resolution blocking the road diet.
Here’s a cross-section of Main Street today:
And here’s what Main Street could look like after a road diet is implemented:
Asbury Park has seen a lot of new economic development in recent years, and a traffic pattern that prioritizes walking and bicycling on Main Street would help extend the vitality of Cookman Avenue and the boardwalk right through the heart of the city. Imagine any other city turning down the opportunity to make its Main Street a place where crashes happen less frequently, and where businesses thrive thanks to increased foot and bicycle traffic. Sure, if the cost of such a project were prohibitively expensive, of course they would have to decline. But that’s not the case in Asbury Park: Main Street is a state road, so NJDOT would be picking up the tab. The only thing in the way is a misguided, narrow-minded focus on vehicular throughput.