New Jersey

Rutgers Report Praises Somerville as Complete Streets Success Story

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Veterans Memorial Drive West in Someville, with the ShopRite on the right prior to the addition of raised pedestrian islands, a project now under way. Credits: NJ BPRC
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NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ - The borough of Somerville is singled out by the The New Jersey Bicycle and Pedestrian Resource Center at Rutgers University for its efforts to implement a comprehensive Complete Streets project to enhance the safety and mobility of pedestrians, cyclists and motorists.

It is one of three Complete Streets Case Studies released Monday; the other projects include Cherry Hill Township, and Passaic County. The purpose of these case studies, funded by the New Jersey Department of Transportation, is to understand the process that has led to successful implementation, and understand the challenges faced along the way.

In 2009, the New Jersey Department of Transportation adopted a Complete Streets policy which defined a Complete Street as one designed to provide safe access for all users by implementing a comprehensive integrated multi-modal network of transportation options.

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The benefits include increased safety for all users, connections between origins and destinations, and the promotion of healthier and more livable communities. Since the policy’s adoption, Complete Streets has built momentum throughout the state. As of April, 2016, 8 counties and 135 municipalities have followed the lead and adopted their own local Complete Streets policy.

The Borough of Somerville, the county seat of Somerset County, is quickly becoming a destination for new residents and businesses, and Complete Streets are an integral part of their economic development formula, according to the case study.

Complete Streets are being used to encourage new growth by appealing to millennials and boomers looking for a safe, walkable community. Complete Streets help to strengthen the small town character of the municipality, and enhance what existing residents love about their borough. Success stories include Division Street, a new pedestrian mall; new sidewalks and a reduction of lanes on Veterans Memorial Drive; redevelopment projects providing new walking destinations; and a trail network creating regional connections.

The report is based on findings provided in interviews with Colin Driver, Somerville Director of Economic Development; former Councilman Kenneth Utter; Mike Kerwin, president of the Somerset County Business Partnership; Linda Rapacki, marketing manager for the Ridewise TMA; and Andras Holzmann, senior planner at Somerset County.

For the Borough of Somerville, action came before policy. Although the borough did not pass a Complete Streets policy until September of 2015 – being the 119th municipality in New Jersey to do so – they already had a decade of accomplishments to point to.

These accomplishments have included a highly successful pedestrianized street, a road diet, and a revitalized downtown that has encouraged living, working, shopping and recreating in a compact walkable environment. Somerville understands that safe walking and bicycling are key to economic development, and Complete Streets are one way for the municipality to grow and prosper in the future.

The report begins with a summary of key findings followed by background information on historical, demographic and land use data collected from Census documents. This information is essential in understanding the context of Complete Streets in Somerville.

The report then explores the history of the municipal Complete Streets policy, including how the policy was developed. Successes and challenges are then highlighted for the benefit of other communities looking to implement Complete Streets and a number of next steps provide readers with insight into the policy’s future. This report will serve as a valuable tool for engineers, planners, elected officials, and advocates who want to move forward with Complete Streets in their communities.

Passaic County has land uses ranging from densely populated urban centers to rural protected lands, and county planners and engineers have worked together to provide context-appropriate, yet flexible, planning and engineering guidelines which have created new links for bicyclists and pedestrians. Success stories include “road-diets,” bicycle lanes, and shared lane markings on rural county roadways; the Passaic County Courthouse Plaza, which transformed a street into a beautiful pedestrian plaza; and the Morris Canal Greenway, which connects a variety of municipalities with multi-use trails.

Cherry Hill Township, which is an iconic suburban town with oversized roadways designed for auto-dependent lifestyles, has shown ways to retrofit these road networks to accommodate all users. Success stories include the Springdale road diet, which incorporates traffic calming, new sidewalks, and bicycle lanes, and linking an established network of county multi-use trails with on-road shared-use bicycle markings.

A copy of the full reports can be downloaded through these links:

Somerville: http://njbikeped.org/portfolio/complete-streets-case-study-somerville-new-jersey-2016/

Passaic County: http://njbikeped.org/portfolio/complete-streets-case-study-passaic-county-new-jersey-2016/

Cherry Hill: http://njbikeped.org/portfolio/complete-street-case-study-cherry-hill-nj-2016/

The New Jersey Bicycle and Pedestrian Resource Center (BPRC) assists public officials, transportation and health professionals, and the public in creating a safer and more accessible walking and bicycling environment through primary research, education, and dissemination of information about best practices in policy and design. The Center is supported by the New Jersey Department of Transportation through funds provided by the Federal Highway Administration.

 

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