How do you ensure your town’s streets are not just for cars, but for people, bikes, wheelchairs—and even water? And when bike lanes are seen as “white lanes” and a sign of gentrification, how can you build social equity into a city’s pedestrian safety plans?
These are just some of the questions addressed at the Green Streets, Complete Neighborhoods panel during New Jersey Future’s 2020 Redevelopment Forum.
Panel-goers heard from New Jersey Future Planning and Policy Manager Kandyce Perry, Tri-State Transportation Campaign Deputy Director Janna Chernetz, Smart Growth America Deputy Director of Thriving Communities Emily Schweninger and Jersey City Director of Transportation Planning Barkha Patel.
Perry showed how complete Streets—designed to enable safe access for all users, including pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists and transit riders of all ages and abilities—are an opportunity to weave in green infrastructure.
Green streets are “designed for cars, people and water” by incorporating green infrastructure practices like rain gardens and stormwater tree trenches in excess street space. When stormwater runs off of impervious surfaces like roadways and sidewalks many negative effects are felt like more frequent flash flooding, street closings, property damage and sewer overflows. Green infrastructure does not promise to stop the next Hurricane Sandy, but it can very effectively mitigate damage from 90% of New Jersey’s rain events, which are increasingly common in a changing climate.
Implementing green infrastructure can also create green jobs in your municipality. Green streets can be a traffic calming measure, reduce sewer overflows and earn your town Sustainable Jersey points.
And green infrastructure costs don’t have to be off the charts. According to Perry, the measures can present a cost savings or can be cost-neutral. Department of Transportation local aid grants may be available, and coordinating green upgrades with other street retrofit projects can save both funds and time.
The perception of high costs is not the only roadblock to adapting New Jersey’s streets. A lack of clarity and accountability on the policy side has held back complete streets and green infrastructure projects, but a Model Complete Street Policy and Guide from the New Jersey Department of Transportation that Janna Chernetz presented is full of actionable language that can be tailored to each community.
While there are 166 municipal resolutions and 8 county resolutions for complete streets, Chernetz said “without a policy, there’s no implementation.” NJDOT’s policy and guide, developed in partnership with many collaborators like New Jersey Future and Tri-State, provides guidance for communities to create complete and green streets according to current best practices and includes sample language for communities to amend existing complete street policies or adopt new ones with strengthened implementation measures and checklists. The policy and guide makes the connection between complete streets and health, economic development, equity, and green streets.
Scotch Plains, Roselle Park, Lower Alloways Creek and Upper Township are early adopters of the model policy, and Eatontown has passed the state’s first complete streets ordinance.
When moving forward with complete and green streets , it’s important to take an equity-centered approach. Emily Schweninger of Smart Growth America shared her story of growing up with a family who relied on “one of those hope and prayer cars” and braced for repairs that would drastically impact the household finances and her family’s ability to reach their day-to-day destinations. If viable transportation alternatives and complete street features in her community were available, financial pressures could have been eased on her family. Schweninger presented the six equity strategies Smart Growth America keeps top of mind when addressing complete streets.
Prioritizing historically under-represented communities in transportation decision-making is one of these strategies, and Jersey City baked it into their Vision Zero action plan. An executive order by the mayor directs agencies to work together at completely eliminating pedestrian fatalities and severe automobile crashes by 2026.
The city mapped crashes and identified “communities of concern” with identifying characteristics like high minority populations, low-income populations, and where populations carless households and female heads of households with children are equal to or exceed the regional threshold. “When we mapped these areas it covered more than 80 percent of the city,” Patel explained.
The city is exploring iterative solutions in the high-priority areas so that residents in those communities have a high degree of ownership over the changes. “We weren’t asking communities who relied on their cars for their lives to give them up,” Patel said. Instead, the plan is to try demonstration projects, such as building a bike lane for a weekend, and have the community involved in building them.
A new micro-transit service used in the city, Via, was also implemented with equity in mind. The shared ride service (where rides start at $2) is not meant to replace Uber and Lyft, taxi, and public transportation services, but instead, provides a reliable, low-cost alternative for the city’s hardest hit communities. To that end, the service is divided into an inner zone and an outer zone to prevent the waterfront area from absorbing all the service.
“We want to make sure Jersey City remains a place for families–where people can put down roots,” Patel said, summing up the vision of the city’s plans and a core goal of both and Complete and Green Streets.
This summary was written by Andrea Crowley-Hughes.