Make Streets Safe
New Jersey has been one of the worst states for pedestrian fatalities over the last ten years. The truly sad part about this fact is that these deaths can be preventable. The fact that older residents are the victims at a far higher rate than younger people highlights the need to address this problem.
The Complete Streets Policy initiative, which has been implemented by the New Jersey Department of Transportation, is an important part of the solution. It makes it clear that new state-funded transportation projects should consider the safety of all users of our roads, including those who are walking, riding bicycles, and traveling in cars.
AARP believes that to be effective, Complete Streets policies have to be implemented at all levels of government. Thankfully, New Jersey leads the nation with over 100 municipalities and seven counties having adopted these policies over the last few years. The Safe Streets Act has gotten bipartisan support at the federal level, sponsored by NJ Congressmen such as Rush Holt, Frank LoBiondo, and Rodney Frelinghuysen.
To the residents of towns where Complete Streets policies are not active: Call your local officials and tell them about the importance of Complete Streets! You can save lives and make your community a safer place for everyone.
Princeton Forrestal Village Highlands Act: Ten Years Strong
‘These watersheds should be preserved from pollution at all hazards, for upon them the most populous portions of the state must depend for water supplies. There has been too much laxness in the past regarding this important matter.”
— New Jersey Potable Water Commission, 1907, commenting on the New Jersey Highlands region.
More than a century later, these words still ring true. This month marks the 10th anniversary of the signing of the landmark 2004 New Jersey Highlands Water Protection and Planning Act, one of the most significant steps New Jersey has taken to protect its water supply.
It became clear decades ago that our state’s 565 municipalities could not, acting alone, adequately protect water and natural resources. As a result, regional planning initiatives in the Meadowlands and Pine Barrens were enacted and have made New Jersey a national leader in innovative land use planning. The Highlands is the most recent example.
A major, but not sole, driver in establishing the Highlands Act and plan was safeguarding our water supply. More than 5 million New Jerseyans, including those in the state’s most populous cities — Newark, Jersey City, Paterson and Elizabeth — depend on Highlands water. So do numerous industries, including pharmaceutical firms and food and beverage companies like Anheuser-Busch.
Anyone who follows world news knows that water is a precious commodity, becoming scarcer every day. An adequate supply of clean water makes life and civilization possible, with lawsuits and wars fought over it. And what would the economy of this state we’re in be without it?
After more than 100 years of discussion and debate about protecting Highlands water, in 2004 the time was finally right and Governor James McGreevey signed the Highlands Act into law.
The Act established an independent Highlands Water Protection and Planning Council, charged with creating a regional master plan to guide development into appropriate areas and protect water resources, forests, critical wildlife habitat, farmland, historic sites, recreation and scenic beauty. Today, the Highlands Act is making headway in preventing the loss of thousands of acres of open land.
Over the last decade, a huge investment has been made in protecting the water supply for nearly two-thirds of the state’s residents. More than a third of the Highlands has been preserved and 47 of the 88 Highlands towns have begun to align their master plans and zoning ordinances with the regional master plan, which is now undergoing a mandated review.
The Highlands Act implementing rules restrict development in the most environmentally sensitive areas. Owners of those lands can apply for compensation through open space and farmland preservation programs. While funding for these preservation programs is currently depleted, the possibility of new funding in the near future may be welcome news to landowners.
This November New Jerseyans will vote on a ballot question that would continue state funding for land protection, including land in the Highlands. This would provide much needed funds to acquire critical conservation lands and help landowners at the same time.
In addition, a bill to extend the federal Highlands Conservation Act through 2024 is under consideration in Congress. This act also provides funding for land conservation projects and assistance to private landowners.
Politics may be ever changing, but the need for clean, plentiful water is constant. Our health depends on it, our jobs depend on it, and our economy depends on it!
To learn more about the Highlands and what is being done to protect it, go to Highlands Council website at www.state.nj.us/njhighlands. Another resource is the New Jersey Highlands Coalition, www.njhighlandscoalition.org.
To learn more about preserving New Jersey’s land and natural resources, visit the NJ Conservation Foundation website at www.njconservation.org or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Michele S. Byers
NJ Conservation Foundation