Less than one percent of the American workforce bikes to work. On Route 1 in the heart of the Princeton business corridor, hard numbers are difficult to come by, but it’s obvious by looking at traffic that the car is king. With environmental friendliness in mind, however, businesses are at least thinking of two-wheeled as well as four-wheeled commuters when they build new facilities, and both business and community leaders are trying to make biking to work a more realistic option in central New Jersey.
In West Windsor Mayor Shing-Fu Hsueh is promoting a controversial “road diet” plan to slim down car traffic by repainting Canal Pointe Boulevard, currently two car lanes in each direction, to include bike lanes and just three lanes for cars — one being a turning lane. Other area mayors have also promoted bike-friendly policies such as the “sharrow” signs on the streets of Princeton that remind motorists to share the road with cyclists.
On the corporate side, the new Bristol-Myers Squibb campus being built on Princeton Pike next to I-95 will have bikes as a built-in feature. When the 650,000-square-foot office building opens next year, employees will have the option of using on-site bike sharing facilities, not to mention the 20-mile Lawrence-Hopewell Trail, in which BMS has invested $2.2 million to help complete. When the circular trail is complete, it will run from Pennington almost to Route 1, passing major corporate campuses along the way, including ETS and the BMS sites in Lawrence and Hopewell.
But even bike promoters question whether any amount of bike-friendly policies will do much to reduce the number of car commuters. In November, 2014, the nonprofit group Walkable Princeton criticized NRG Energy’s plans to build a new, ultra-green, energy-efficient headquarters at Carnegie Center. The office building, which is set to be completed this year, is meant to be run on green energy provided on site from wind and solar power sources. But Walkable Princeton pointed out that even if the building is “carbon-neutral” as intended, it will cause hundreds of car trips every day. “West Windsor is currently highly auto-centric. Low-density housing and strict separation of uses makes driving almost mandatory,” the group wrote.”
Because most of the businesses in the Route 1 corridor are suburban by nature, located far from transit hubs and population centers, cycling to work will only be viable to two groups of people: die-hards, and those lucky enough to live close to where they work.
Many die-hards are already biking to their Route 1 jobs.
For Jim Andrews, an electrical engineer, biking to his job at SRI on Washington Road for the past 35 years has been a great pleasure, except for getting hit by a car one time, and getting run off the road another time. “Yeah, I have been hit by a car and gotten a broken collar bone,” he said. “I’ve also been scared enough to bike off the road and injure myself, too. I’ve also hit a deer with my car. You travel enough miles and something is going to happen.”
Andrews lives in Hopewell, and most days his wife drops him and his bike off at Princeton, leaving him with a pleasant two-mile ride that takes him through the Princeton University campus. On the way back, he rides the full 12 miles home, mostly on roads. Andrews is luckier than many would-be bike commuters because his workplace has taken steps to encourage the practice. As part of a tax rebate program, any time Andrews bikes to work more than eight times in a month, he gets a $20 check to spend at a bicycle shop to cover his expenses. SRI also has bike racks, an outdoor shelter, and showers.
Jerry Foster, biking and walking specialist for the Roszel Road-based Greater Mercer Transportation Management Association, has the job of getting more people out of cars and onto bikes. “At the TMA, what we try to do is encourage people to take forms of transportation that are not one person, one car.” At certain times of day, cycling is much faster than sitting in the daily gridlock, he points out.
There are inherent disadvantages to the layout of the area from a bicycle commuter’s perspective. Foster has advocated the “complete streets” approach, which is the idea that roads should be built, and existing roads reconfigured, to accommodate non-motorized traffic (U.S. 1, February 17, 2016).
Route 1 itself is especially problematic for cyclists because it’s only safe to cross the highway at a few locations. “It’s not easy to get over but it’s not as bad as you might think,” Foster said. “There are lots of people who do cross Route 1 between the Princeton Junction station and Princeton.”
Because much of the area between Trenton and Princeton was developed in the postwar years, it’s less pedestrian and cyclist friendly than older communities, laid out before the automobile was invented, and newer developments designed in the “new urbanism” mode.
“When we developed this area, pretty much all the development was car-oriented,” Foster said. “What is happening now is that there is an interest and demand for biking and walking,” he said.
Foster, who has lived in central New Jersey since 1985, learned to bike growing up in the 1960s in the midwest, where he had “a critical mass of friends who were also interested in outdoors activities, including camping, canoeing, backpacking, and biking.”
He moved east after college and began his professional career in information technology, including positions as a programmer, in management, and in enterprise architecture. He and his wife learned to sail, but he continued to bike, as well, participating in many of the 500-mile Anchor House benefit rides. He also backpacks and has completed more than 1,300 miles of the Appalachian Trail.
Now in his “second career” as the Transportation Management Association’s biking and walking specialist and a coordinator of Safe Routes to School program, Foster practices what he preaches, and rides two miles every day from his Princeton Junction home to his office on Roszel Road. He has refined his route over the course of two years, to the point where he’s only riding along the busy Route 571 for a short distance.
It’s worth mentioning that Foster has also been hit by a car. He wasn’t hurt, and he got the entire accident on video. The driver was ticketed and paid a fine. “That gave me pause, and I readjusted my route to avoid Alexander Road,” he said.
Despite the close call, Foster is still optimistic about cycling, and there is data to back him up, showing that people who bike to work are generally happier and more productive than those who drive cars. “People who do bike to work have much higher reports of happiness about being at work and report feeling more awake and alert during the day,” he said. “The daily commute can be a real source of happiness instead of aggravation,” Foster said.
Foster said many businesses in the Route 1 area have bike racks due to local ordinances that were passed in the 1970s and 1980s. More recently, bike sharing company Zagster, in partnership with Princeton University, has installed eight stations with 60 bikes in and around the campus, including the Forrestal campus. For a one-time $20 membership fee, anyone can rent a Zagster bike and ride it for two hours. Keeping one longer than that costs $2 an hour.
Foster said the Zagster system could serve as a model for other businesses that want to promote biking to work. Alternatively, they could just lend bikes to their employees to use for free.
Foster said there are other ways that employers can make their workplaces friendlier to bike commuters. The first is to have some sort of bike storage facility on site, be it a room inside the building or a bike rack outside. The second is to either provide shower facilities or make an arrangement with a nearby gym so that workers can shower and change into non-sweaty work clothes. The third is to administer the biking tax benefit program, perhaps with the help of an outside contractor, so that bike commuters can easily collect their tax rebates.
Perhaps no business does more to encourage bike commuting than REI of Princeton, a sporting goods store at Mercer Mall on Route 1 that opened last year. About eight out of REI’s 45 employees bike to work, giving the store an impressive rate of bike commuters. Not only does REI provide shower facilities and bike storage, it holds classes and workshops, which are open to the public, on how to safely ride in traffic, how to repair bikes, and other topics. REI also allows employees to repair and tune up their rides at the bike shop. The store has applied for an official “bike friendly business” designation from the League of American Cyclists. As of 2015, only one other business in New Jersey, a bike shop in Jersey City, had received that honor.
Store manager Colin Manning, who is himself a bike commuter, hopes to see the number of biking employees rise during May, which has been dubbed “Bike to Work Month.” During the week of May 16 to 20, national “Bike to Work Week,” the store will challenge its employees to ride to work at least part way by providing a meetup point at a parking lot at Carnegie Road, where workers can gather and bike to work together. The store will give prizes to employees who bike the most miles. On Tuesday, May 10, at 7 p.m., the store will hold a bike-to-work clinic.
Elizabeth Usmiani, outdoor programs and outreach market coordinator for REI Princeton, also commutes by bike. She said she hopes all the support the store offers to cyclists will encourage more people inside their company and out to ride to work. “Commuting by bike is invigorating, contagious, and fosters a culture of healthy people and places,” she said.
Manning said that as a manager, he has seen a difference between employees who bike to work and those who travel by car. The fresh air and time outside every morning seems to get workers off to a good start. “Everybody who bikes to work is always happier,” he said. “It really is as simple as that.”
#b#How Bikeable Is Your Workplace?#/b#
Is your workplace walkable or bikable, or do you need a car? Redfin, a real estate company, created a tool to analyze the “walkability” factor of any address, be it a home or a business. The site created the factor using its Smart Walk Score algorithm that incorporates walking routes, nearby amenities, restaurants, coffee shops, grocery stores, pedestrian friendliness, and other factors.
Comparing cities nationwide, the algorithm scored New York as the most walkable city in the country, unsurprisingly. But it can also be used to assess individual addresses.
For what it’s worth, we plugged in a few Route 1-area workplaces into the algorithm to assess their walkability.
101 Carnegie Center. The typical suburban office park, the buildings of Carnegie Center are the destination of hundreds of commuters each day. With few restaurants and public transportation routes within walking distance, the algorithm gave Carnegie Center a score of 26 out of 100, meaning most errands require a car.
15 Princess Road. The headquarters of Community News Service, publishers of U.S. 1, is located in a small office park right off of I-295. This makes the area highly accessible by car, but with few amenities of any kind within walking distance, it received a score of 12 on the walkability scale — almost all errands require a car.
182 Nassau Street. A typical office building in the center of Princeton, 182 Nassau Street received a score of 95 — rated as a “walker’s paradise,” meaning that daily errands do not require a car.