River Greenway Ribbon Cut in South Orange

August 5, 2010 at 10:48 AM Leave a comment

Remarks of Janine G. Bauer at Ribbon-Cutting Ceremony for River Greenway, August 2, 2010, Meadowlands Park, South Orange, NJ

Ribbon Cut on Greenway

I cannot thank Congressman Bill Pascrell, and his staff, enough, for without their help this project simply would not exist. I thank Congressman Donald Payne, whose support of this project and others has been fervent as well.  I want to thank County Executive Joe DiVincenzo, Jr., and Essex County, whose Open Space Trust Fund contributed greatly to it.  County Executive, you know what a role model you are for me, in terms of how to accomplish parks and recreation investment and revitalization of our business areas.  I also appreciate the work of our state legislators, Assemblyman John McKeon and Assemblywoman Mila Jasey, who have spoken eloquently here today, and the financial contributions fro the State, especially from our state DOT.  I want to thank and recognize our Village staff and professionals, especially, John Gross, Laura Harris, Sal Renda and Ellen Foye Malgieri, for their care and attention over the years with this project. I thank the DPW staff who did a fabulous job today in preparation for this ribbon cut ceremony.  I want to recognize my trustee colleagues, Howard Levison and Nancy Gould who are in attendance, thank you for all the support you have shown for this project.

I especially want to thank and recognize our talented citizens, who gave of so much of their time over the years.  Please come up here and stand with me.

From R, Brad Garner, Rhodeside Harwell, Inc., Neil Jasey, Kirk Barrett and Rob Fisch, with Janine Bauer

These citizens deserve all the credit: Rob Fisch, who is our design talent, a planner himself, and Kirk Barrett, who is our environmental expert and an engineer and who conducted the original educational activities.  He was responsible for the early story boards which he brought around the Village, ginning up support for the vision.  He had engaged the Rutgers Bloustein Planning School grad students to create visuals of the future greenway and bicycle path. I also want to thank Frank Rodino for his continued enthusiasm, and work, both on history and recreational fronts. And I thank Neil Jasey.  Neil may not recall this but he played an important role by casting the tie-breaker vote as to which side of the river the path would be on, that resulted in this beautiful bridge being built— a long debate!

I wish to thank all the other members of the committee, over the years, including Jon McGriff, Sharon Roerty, who is our Maplewood representative, and Mary Theroux, originally our Orange representative, and Mark Voorhees, and others.

I want to recognize and thank others in the audience, whom I see, including members of South Orange and Maplewood’s new bicycle coalition, representatives of the Environmental Commission, the Rahway River Association, other Village professionals, including Police Chief Chelel and our traffic safety officer, and John Festa, health officer.  I recognize Miriam Sumner, and of course, though he is not here, Jonathan Felsmann, who actually always declined to be a member of this river greenway committee, as well as the other members of the Recreation Master Plan Committee. Their work preceded this planning work, and they brought many of the ideas incorporated herein to the table originally.  Their contribution was extremely valuable. Enough cannot be said about their contributions.

Coming last, I get to focus on the future of this project, future progress, and yes, it will extend northward as well as south, to Maplewood and beyond.  Doug Newman, our Village President, has explained the phases and where will the path go in the future. [This path will extend across South Orange Avenue and connect with the NJTransit parking lot, and then advance to Third Street, to the new community garden and apartment buildings adjacent to Waterlands Park.  It will extend to the recycling yard and to a new playing field, and nature area,, which will be created. There will eventually be a new bridge at the southern end of the project, which is ADA compliant and bike friendly. Then the path will link to Maplewood, at Chyzowych Field, and beyond to that downtown, that middle school, that theatre. You will be able to jog, walk or bicycle to Maplewood and back, primarily off-road. ]

I also get to do a little lobbying, as important and influential people are here assembled.  That’s my role.  I had to do the same thing in 2003, at a Main Street South Orange organized press-conference, applauding the first grant of money from Congress, to get the master plan funded and moving here in the Village of South Orange.

First, let me assure you that we, as a Village, intend to continue to meet the transportation challenges of the 21st century with a sustainable approach. Livable communities, by definition, offer people choices in how they travel from home to work, from home to school, and from home to play. Transportation policy should help unite and strengthen communities by offering people choices among roads, rail, bus, and bike paths – and reducing congestion, pollution, and need for surface parking. This path is integrated with our revitalization of our business district, expanded recreational opportunities, access to our rail stations, and other destinations—Baird, SOPAC, parks, the middle school and the pools.  It knits together history and culture, through signage, and further supports our walk-able, bike-able or jitney-friendly commuting patterns.

I’m pleased to say this construction project was delivered on time and on-budget.  One year and one day from groundbreaking to ribbon cut.  As it should be.

Yet the entire project took too long to get from concept to construction, ten years. T he primary fault of that delay, and I say this because now I am part of it, so maybe it won’t seem too critical—was government.  From concept to permit application took about five years.  At DEP, this project took 593 days to get from the first pre-meeting to having permits issued. That’s too long. We have to streamline simple project review at state DEP.  And we must streamline our own Village planning and decision-making processes, too.

Second, this is an exciting and critical time to be involved with transportation. SAFETEA-LU, the major federal surface transportation funding authorization bill, expired in 2009.  It has been extended for 18 months, to March 2011. We need to get that law re-authorized, and continue to reform highway funding formulas to encourage efficient, environmentally-friendly, sustainable projects like this one.  While we most often think of big highway or rail infrastructure projects, when we think of transport funding, constructing bicycle paths is one of the ways that municipalities have spoken loudest, as grant funding lines for bicycle projects at the NJDOT Local Aid is continually its most over-subscribed program.  I would therefore urge our Congressmen, and other elected officials with clout, to lobby for a larger set aside in the reauthorization of SAFETEA-LU, I call it “TEA-4,” of surface transportation program funds (STP), specifically for bike and pedestrian projects.

Third, transportation projects, even big, costly, infrastructure projects, should and usually do contribute to our quality of life.  Maybe it’s saving a few minutes on the driving commute. Or eliminating a train transfer.  This path and river greenway project has improved quality of life here in the Village of South Orange.  The many compliments I get, usually relate to quality of life, natural environment and scenic beauty.  People have actually said to me, families with only one child left in HS, like my own family, who were planning to downsize or even move out, that this project is so beautiful and accessible, and meaningful, as they take daily walks, they will stay in the neighborhood, stay here in South Orange. Given the taxes, that’s saying something!

Next, aesthetics.  Rob Fisch encouraged me to think about good design at every stage of this project.  Beautiful, well-designed spaces, like structures, are very important to our quality of life.  They make us feel special, they improve out outlook, and even productivity.  They are edifying to inhabit and use.  This has already been remarked upon by Assemblywoman Jasey, whose 85 year old mother comes here to sit and watch the people, instead of going to a mall.  So I have a goal for this Village as we move forward, for all capital projects, and that is this:  That we commit ourselves to achieving excellence in the design and construction of all of our capital projects, and build on our long tradition of respecting nature, our history, our heritage, even as we modernize, innovate and rehabilitate.  That mixture has contributed to our prestige, in the present and in the past, and it will sustain us into the future as well, whether for parks or buildings.

Finally, a word about traffic-calming.  I was going to leave this out, for brevity, until that driver just ran over the traffic calming “bump-out” on Meadowbrook Lane, right behind us, during Congressman Payne’s speech.  New Jersey continues to have a big pedestrian safety problem. About ¼ of our traffic related fatalities each year involve pedestrians; the national average is about 12%.  While motor vehicle injuries continue to fall, and are actually at their lowest level since 1961 nationally, the same is not true for injuries and fatalities of pedestrians in NJ.  The level of pedestrian fatalities is not dropping.  Children and adults will be crossing busy South Orange Avenue on this bicycle and pedestrian path, when it is extended. Actually they do so now, and there are not clear markings as to where to cross, or for drivers, where to slow down, and stop.

Assemblywoman Linda Stender and her progressive colleagues in the state Legislature, including our own 27th legislative district leaders, McKeon and Jasey, were able to pass a forward looking bill that became effective on April 1, 2010, requiring drivers to stop for pedestrians, not just “yield,” which confused everyone.  The law also imposes a presumption of liability on drivers who run down pedestrians.  I’m pleased to say that that presumption of liability was my idea.  We can’t let our children and bicyclists from becoming sad statistics on this path as it crosses busy streets.

I therefore ask our state legislative representatives to enact a bill to ease up the restrictions on towns installing traffic-calming measures on our streets.  Currently, to install traffic calming measures, streets have to have greater than average daily traffic of 3,500 vehicles, and be totally self-contained. With 566 municipalities, very few streets don’t cross a border somewhere, and could be called “self-contained.”  The 3,500 vehicles number is way too low.  A street that is totally self-contained with so few vehicles likely does not need traffic-calming measures.

I’m calling on our state legislators to modify that law, and allow places like South Orange to install traffic-calming measures.  If our trustees are willing to look at the situation and take responsibility, and our Village engineer in his best professional judgment says it’s alright, then the state or county engineers who were responsible for putting these restrictions in place should, quite frankly, get out of our way.  Otherwise, we love the state DOT and its Local Aid/Bikeways, grant program, and we are sorry they are not here with us today to celebrate this joyous occasion!

So that’s my bit of lobbying for the day, traffic calming self-determination and the greater set-aside in the upcoming federal TEA-4 bill for bike and pedestrian projects in the Surface Transportation Program.

Thank you all very, very much for all of your help and support in bringing this terrific greenway project to fruition.

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