Red Bank where the car is the star…

But for how much longer?

The draft of the 2023 Master Plan is now available, and anyone with a .pdf reader can pore through its 166 or so pages before its official presentation to the community at the Red Bank Planning Board meeting on Monday, January 23, 2023, at 7:00 PM.

Much of it dwells on previous development plans such as the 2010 Complete Streets Policy (linked here to NJDoT’s 2020 revision) and the Bicycle and Pedestrian Planning Project of the same year, which kind of caught my eye since those topics are of particular interest to me.

Depressingly, at least from my point of view, those generally laudable aims have largely just languished for more than ten years and barring some non-specification, and inherently dangerous bicycle sharrows on a couple of cross-town (east-west) streets and the virtually unused, paint-only bike lanes to nowhere on Bridge Avenue.

In fact, as things are, life is not so good for the person who wants to go to a park or run their errands either on foot or by bicycle as the Master Plan’s map of bicycle and pedestrian facilities indicates.

Yes, there are sidewalks on most of the streets in the borough although there are some dangerous omissions on Prospect and Harding E. However much of the sidewalk real estate is in poor condition and most unlikely to fulfil ADA requirements.

For example, most sidewalks are incapable of letting two wheelchairs pass or possess surfaces too worn or made uneven by tree roots to safely push a child’s buggy, let alone walk on in the dark. Since sidewalks in front of residences are the responsibility of the owners some thought needs to be given to making them uniformly safe and compliant before they can approach the somewhat rosy view of the network reported by the master plan.

Despite the town being an almost ideal location for a developed cycling network, the reality consists of a less than a half-mile stretch of paint-protected cycle lane commencing at the station and ending up halfway to what one might think is a practical destination at Count Basie Park. Long-term studies show that paint-based schemes do nothing to increase safety or the adoption of ped/bike travel.

Remember, this is a two square mile town, where even now, Google maps show cycling is the quickest means of getting around if you’re willing to face the appalling peril on the road. The situation has certainly deteriorated in the past few years, and it takes a person with steely nerve to ride a bicycle around town. Yes, I’m confident enough, and I know so-called traffic engineers think it’s a doddle, but what we’re talking about here is encouraging everyone to use what are health-enhancing and environmentally friendly means of moving around the town. There is a yardstick commonly used in European town planning, and that is, “Would you let your child cycle to school”. Well, would you?

On a word search of the document, there are around 50 references to bicycles and sidewalks. There are about 250 references to car parking demonstrating what a stranglehold the mighty car has on this town. No matter what anyone tells you, properly conceived and designed bike/ped infrastructure actually improves footfall and turnover for local businesses, and has massive effects on the environment and quality of life in the community. By some surveys, there are six parking spots for each car in the US, and parking lots are massive occupiers of expensive real estate that are empty for half the day and serve merely as storage for privately owned vehicles which, on average are only used for 53 minutes/day. The master plan’s parking map shows a couple of parking lots in the downtown area but fails to mark all spots available for parking.

I quickly made this graphic of actual parking areas (rendered red) and open public spaces in Red Bank which I put up on Facebook. The only comments were that I’d missed a lot of parking…

The Master Plan map doesn’t look nearly as busy.

All in all, the master plan is full of promise for a better Red Bank. In bike/ped terms these promises have been in existence for more than a decade. When will the borough start acting on them?

Author: Alan E Hill
Stranger in a strange land

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