Celebrate Earth Day on Two Wheels … or Two Feet
- The estimated number of bicycle commuters in New Jersey is approximately 12,000, or 0.3 percent, according to the 2005-2007 American Community Survey. An estimated 3.4 percent of New Jerseyans walk to work.
- New Jersey ranks third to last in per-capita spending of federal transportation dollars on bicycle and pedestrian projects, according to the T4America campaign.
- Transportation represents the largest, and fastest-growing, segment of New Jersey’s carbon footprint at 35 percent, compared to a national average of 26 percent.
- Air pollution and carbon emissions from riding a bicycle or walking = zero.
Federal, State Policies Should Encourage Biking, Walking
As we celebrate the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, one easy way to reduce our ecological footprint is to change our travel behavior. Riding a bicycle or walking represents an affordable and convenient way to get around, particularly for short distances, and travel by bike or foot is eco-friendly.
The 2001 National Household Travel Survey reported that 48 percent of trips taken in metropolitan areas are for distances of less than three miles, and 28 percent for less than one mile. Yet despite these ideal biking/walking distances, the survey found that 65 percent of trips less than one mile are taken by car.
As New Jersey strives to reduce emissions from the transportation sector in order to meet its greenhouse gas reduction goals, turning these short auto trips into a walk or a bike ride would be a good place to start. During the 2009 gubernatorial campaign, then-candidate and now-Governor Chris Christie, in response to New Jersey Future’s Smart Growth Questionnaire, suggested, “New Jersey will decrease its dependence on automobiles only if we provide a meaningful alternative.”
New Jersey ranks third among states in the percentage of households not owning a vehicle (11.4 percent) and fourth for households owning either one or zero vehicles (45.1 percent). Yet, since 1970, vehicle miles traveled in New Jersey has increased at a rate four times faster than the state’s population—thanks in large part to the sprawling, auto-dependent development that has prevailed in recent decades. This increase has helped make transportation the largest, and fastest-growing, contributor to the state’s overall carbon footprint.
With these numbers in mind, it makes sense to encourage pedestrian and bicycle behavior by constructing safe roads and routes that accommodate all users. As an advocate for “Complete Streets”, New Jersey Future was encouraged when former Department of Transportation Commissioner Stephen Dilts signed a statewide policy last fall.
From 2005-2008, just 0.5 percent of New Jersey’s total federal transportation funding was spent on pedestrian and bicycle projects. A recent Transportation for America national survey, revealed overwhelming support (82 percent) for improving public transportation, including trains and buses, to make it easier to walk, bike and reduce traffic congestion. These numbers support U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood’s recent promise to end preferential treatment of motorized transportation and the resulting federal policy change.
National Bike Month is coming up in May and many regions, companies and communities will participate in Bike to Work Week events. But why wait another month? Start biking today; reduce your carbon footprint, improve your health and save money by continuing to do so in the future.
And for those trips that must be taken by car, please watch for cyclists. Contrary to conventional wisdom, bicyclists have the right to share the road and in New Jersey, you are legally obligated to give them 3 feet of space. Ride safely!