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2013 NJ Complete Streets Summit

2013 NJ Complete Streets Summit

On Monday October 21st, 300 elected officials, planners, and engineers from throughout New Jersey assembled in New Brunswick for the 2013 Complete Streets Summit. The Summit – hosted by the Alan M. Voorhees Transportation Center with support from the New Jersey Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration, and the New Jersey Chapter of the American Planning Association – took place at the Rutgers Student Center and featured presentations on Complete Streets topics from a variety of speakers.

Click any speaker’s name in the play by play that follows to view their presentation on SlideShare.

You can also download the full Summit program here.

Participants were welcomed by Charles Brown, MPA , Senior Research Specialist at the Voorhees Transportation Center and organizer of the Summit. Mr. Brown rallied the crowd by noting that New Jersey municipalities and counties had past more than 50 new Complete Streets Policies since the previous Summit in 2010, and attendance at this years’ Summit had nearly doubled. Clearly, Complete Streets in New Jersey has a lot of momentum.

Mr. Brown then invited Sheree Davis, NJDOT’s Manager of the Bureau of Commuter and Mobility Strategies, to deliver the opening remarks. Ms. Davis exclaimed her enthusiasm at rapid proliferation of local Complete Streets policies in New Jersey. She also emphasized the tremendous impact that NJDOT’s internal Complete Streets policy has on how the Department approaches projects. NJDOT’s policy was recognized in 2010 by the National Complete Streets Coalition as the strongest policy in the nation, due to its requirement that projects not including considerations for pedestrians and cyclists must apply for an exemption, explicitly stating why accommodations for non-automotive modes are not feasible or appropriate. Ms. Davis then introduced Andy Swords, the Department’s Director of Statewide Planning, who welcomed participants on behalf of NJDOT Commissioner, James Simpson. Mr. Swords remarked how important the Complete Streets movement has been for increasing pedestrian and bicycle safety in New Jersey, a core mission of his organization.

Heather Martin of the Alan M. Voorhees Transportation Center then introduced the Summit’s Keynote Speaker, Charles “Chuck” Marohn. Mr. Marohn, a professional engineer and planner from Minnesota, is the president and founder of Strong Towns, a non-profit whose mission is “to support a model for growth that allows America’s towns to become financially strong and resilient.” Mr. Marohn’s address began by making a distinction between “roads” and “streets.” Roads, he believes, serve the important purpose of moving vehicles between places at higher speeds and are replacements for the railroad. Streets are the public ways within our towns and cities where human activity takes place, and “platforms for capturing value.” Mr. Marhon’s thesis is that, in an effort to relieve congestion and accommodate automotive traffic almost exclusively, communities are making financially counterproductive investments in over-engineered “Stroads” – his term for a street-road hybrid that is ineffective at both moving traffic and allowing productive places to grow and thrive. By reducing safety, creating a need for large amounts of parking, and eliminating human-scaled design, these Stroads prevent towns from developing dense, walkable places that residents enjoy and provide fiscal sustainability for the community, due to higher per-acre tax revenues and a diverse eco-system of businesses.

After the keynote, Ranjit Walia of Civic Eye Collaborative moderated a session on Contextualizing Complete Streets. Mr. Walia showed NJDOT-sponsored  short documentary that highlighted how Complete Streets had transformed two very different New Jersey municipalities: Ocean City and Hoboken. Susan Blickstein, the Town Planner for the Borough of Chatham, then gave a talk on her town’s unique Complete Streets policy, which goes beyond traditional language to require performance measures. Planning Director Eric Snyder of Sussex County presented on his county’s new Complete Streets Study, currently in progress.  The session wrapped up with Passaic County’s Senior Planner, Michael Lysicatos, whose talk covered integrating Complete Streets into the county’s master plan and how Passaic gets more “bang for the buck” by implementing complete streets projects during scheduled maintenance and rehabilitation projects.

The following session, moderated by Jerry Fried, former mayor of Montclair, introduced the concept of Rightsizing – sometimes referred to as a “Road Diet.” Gary Toth, Director of Transportation Services at Project for Public Spaces, gave an introduction to rightsizing that included illustrative designs and discussion of the safety and traffic flow implications of reducing the number of travel lanes. Even though cars may not move as quickly through particular street segments, average trip times often decrease.  To make the rightsizing concept more concrete – no pun intended – participants were then shown a New Jersey case study in right sizing. Kimberli Craft, Township Engineer for Montclair, provided a presentation on the history, design and funding of the South Park Street project. The project, which was completed in 2012, transformed a 72-foot-wide street with angled parking to a pedestrian haven with wide sidewalks, planting areas, many more street trees, a center median and curb extensions at each end of two parallel parking lanes.

The highlight of the Summit came around noon, during an awards ceremony. Mr. Brown presided over the ceremony and was joined on stage by representatives from many of the 70 towns and 5 counties that have adopted Complete Streets policies so they could be recognized for their local policy. Each town and county with a policy received a plaque commemorating the occasion.

Mr. Brown then issued two awards to local “Complete Streets Champions” for spearheading the effort to adopt policies in their communities. The first went to Rebecca Hoeffler of Cranford. After she began feeling that town was not safe enough to walk with her younger brothers, Ms. Hoeffler, 23, began a petition for Cranford to adopt a Complete Streets policy, which was approved in September. The second Champion award went to the Trenton Green Team, for leading the charge to adopt a Complete Streets Policy in Trenton. In 2012, Trenton’s policy was ranked #8 by the National Complete Streets Coalition of the nearly 130 policies past nationwide that year.

Finally, five municipalities – North Wildwood, Lambertville, Montclair, Newark and Hoboken – received “Complete Streets Excellence” awards for their extraordinary progress in Complete Streets implementation. A short film accompanied each award, documenting the hard work each of these towns and cities have put into moving from policy to practice.

See how these five communities are implementing Complete Streets in the videos below.

Following the luncheon and awards ceremony, Debbie Kingsland, Section Chief for NJDOT’s Office of Bicycle and Pedestrian Programs, moderated a session focusing on how to begin implementing Complete Streets projects once a policy is adopted. Sheree Davis of NJDOT gave participants an update on funding for Complete Streets in New Jersey. Her talk covered continuing state grants and changes to Complete Streets funding under the MAP-21 transportation act. Janine Bauer – long-time director of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign – then addressed one of the most important Complete Streets issues for local governments: liability. She stressed that while municipalities enjoy broad immunities, having a documented plan for the construction and maintenance of new bicycle and pedestrian facilities helps to ensure that municipality’s actions will be seen as prudent and reasonable if legal troubles present themselves.

The last session focused on arguments for the importance of Complete Streets. Janet Heroux, a public health and prevention specialist, served as moderator and made a compelling case for using Complete Streets as a measure to increase physical activity levels, helping to prevent obesity, diabetes, and even depression. Karen Alexander, Managing Director of NJTIP at Rutgers, described how the goal of providing safe, accessible non-motorized transportation options overlaps with her organization’s mission of providing independent mobility to seniors and the disabled, who may not be able to drive. NJDOT Safe Routes to School Coordinator Elise Bremer-Nei then discussed the relationship between Complete Streets and Safe Routes, and programs that help to ensure that streets are safe not just for the elderly, but the young as well.  Charles Brown closed out the summit with a presentation on the economic impacts of active transportation in New Jersey. His research suggests that building infrastructure and supporting walking and cycling is a powerful job creation tool and spurs nearly half a billion dollars in economic activity each year.

Mr. Brown then concluded the summit and participants continued the discussion over refreshments at a networking reception. The 2013 Summit was the largest, most comprehensive Complete Streets event in New Jersey to date.

Scan through the pictures below to see some of the highlights of the speakers, discussions, and networking sessions.  Be sure to check back with the New Jersey Bicycle and Pedestrian Resource Center for the latest Complete Streets news in New Jersey, and we’ll see you at the next Complete Streets Summit in 2015.

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