Streetfilms: Jersey City Bike Lane Expansion is a Lesson for All

Jersey City residents looked over a map of the city to figure out the best places for bike lanes — not to reject them, though, but to make them better. Photo: Clarence Eckerson Jr.
Jersey City residents looked over a map of the city to figure out the best places for bike lanes — not to reject them, though, but to make them better. Photo: Clarence Eckerson Jr.

Nike executives would be proud.

Jersey City is poised to become a great biking — and livable — city, thanks to an effort by local officials and outside consultants who have cracked the code on how to create protected bike lanes.

The innovation: Just do it.

As documented by Streetfilms below, the “Let’s Ride JC” project that began in June 2018 with a pop-up cycling event has already succeeded in creating new protected routes as part of the city’s first “bike master plan” — whose goal is “the development of a low-stress, protected bikeway network serving neighborhoods citywide.”

But how do you get that in a city dominated by the automobile? One telling portion of Clarence Eckerson’s documentary shows Mike Lydon of the urban planning consulting firm Street Plans leading groups of residents on bike rides through various neighborhoods — and a cyclist, Patrick Conlon, complains that some roads are designed so badly that they encourage car drivers to speed.

Now, at a community board meeting in Queens, someone like Conlon might have been shouted down by drivers who see the roads as their exclusive domain. But in Jersey City, the goal of the bike master plan isn’t to beg drivers to begrudgingly permit some safety improvements, but to assert that the safety improvements are coming. Having established that, yes, some local input would be nice.

It’s a strategy that many wish was more widely employed by Mayor de Blasio’s Department of Transportation, which has certainly overruled some recalcitrant community boards, but also admits that it courts community consensus and does not seek to inconvenience drivers.

Meanwhile, in Jersey City, progress is measured by a simple yardstick: “the goal [is] to become one of the best cities for cycling in America,” Lydon said.

There will likely be fights to come, but having a master plan likely will make them fights to improve projects rather than kill them.

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On a Manhattan avenue where transit and high-occupancy vehicles take precedence and the curb is reserved for deliveries, large amounts of street space can be claimed for walking and biking. Image: Street Plans Collaborative

Envisioning NYC’s Next Streets Revolution

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New York can be a city where everyone from young kids to elderly seniors can get around without fear, where neighborhood streets can be places of congregation and activity instead of motorways. To become that city, we'll have to shift a lot more street space from cars to transit, biking, and walking.