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New Brunswick Continues to Become More Bicycle-Friendly

New Bike Lanes on Suydam and Remsen, Three Ciclovia Events Scheduled For 2015
Blackwell and Cahill
Recreation Director Mike Blackwell and Mayor Jim Cahill riding their bikes during May 2014's Ciclovia. Charlie Kratovil

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—Bicyclists in New Brunswick have something to cheer about, as the city government continues its push to make roads safer for them.

While a multi-million dollar county government project to construct a downtown bike lane has been in the works for well over a decade, with no end in sight, the city government has taken up several initiatives to help make other neighorhoods more bike-friendly.

Among them are free special events where several miles of city streets are closed to cars for a few hours, known as "Ciclovias."   The next Ciclovia is scheduled for April 19, the first of three this year.

The idea was inspired by a regular event that has been occurring in Colombia's capital city of Bogotá since the 1970's. Wayne County, Michigan was the first community in the United States to host a similar event in 1983, and they have spread to many American cities over the past decade.

New Brunswick became one of the first cities in New Jersey to host such an event in October 2013, and since then there have been three more.

From 11am to 4pm on Sunday, April 19, portions of College Avenue, Bartlett Street, Hamilton Street, George Street, Paterson Street, Bayard Street and Joyce Kilmer Avenue will be opened to pedestrians, cyclists, skateboarders, and others.

More than fifteen activity stations will be set up along the way, including a pop-up skate park, a rock climbing wall, a Fun Bus, group fitness classes including Yoga and Crossfit, a bike rodeo, music and art activities.

The free event is sponsored by Johnson & Johnson and New Brunswick Tomorrow.  Two more Ciclovias are scheduled for June 14 and October 4.

Last year, the city took the re-paving of Suydam Street as a chance to add a much-needed crosstown bike lane, connecting Red Oak Lane on Rutgers Cook Campus with Livingston Avenue—one of the more densely-populated routes in New Brunswick.

The city also unveiled a dedicated bike lane on Remsen Avenue and Tabernacle Way in 2014.

Since 2006, Suydam Street, Livingston Avenue, and a variety of other New Brunswick roads with high automobile and foot traffic have been eyed for new bikeways.

After many proposals and failed plans regarding bike lanes, the city saw its first official bike lanes in 2012.

The lanes are known as "sharrows," which are shared with cars, were installed on Plum Street, Bartlett Street, Hartwell Street and other streets.

But many residents were disappointed because the lanes were not dedicated to bikes alone, and most were only a few blocks long.  They were also largely concentrated in student-dominated areas and did not connect to other neighborhoods.

Bicycling infrastructure gives residents and visitors an alternative to packed buses, congested roadways, and allows an environmentally sound way to get around. The increased accessibility and safety of bike lanes also encourage healthier lifestyles.

Even with the newly-installed bicycle lanes, cyclists should continue to use safety practices to avoid collisions with pedestrians or vehicles.

Riding in the street is safer than the sidewalk, and collision risk is doubled when on the sidewalk, according to studies.  With a few exceptions, it is also not allowed by city ordinances.

Cycling in the street also tends to be faster than using the sidewalk, which can be congested with people or other obstacles.

If riders feel uncomfortable biking near heavy amounts of vehicular traffic, they can often use parallel streets to avoid the automobile congestion.