Cycle City

Intimidated by that bank of bike-shares? Hop on the saddle!

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Imagine traveling down an open road winding through a bucolic countryside on a sunny summer day with the top down. It’s a world of freedom and excitement that few urbanites experience. In Jersey City, your horsepower has no room to gallop. But pedal power is on the rise, thanks to a new bicycle infrastructure, software that enables bike sharing, and a local government increasingly concerned about carbon emissions, air quality, and congestion.

Many Jersey City residents have grown tired of parking and traffic tickets, outrageous insurance bills, rising gas prices, and taking more time looking for a parking space than the car trip itself. Privately-owned bikes aren’t always the answer, either. Storing a bike in an apartment takes up much-needed space. Taking the bike onto public transit is a hassle. During rush hour, bikes are not allowed on the PATH, never allowed on the bus, considered a nuisance on the crowded light rail, and the ferry charges extra for a bike.

That’s where bike sharing comes in.

Jersey City has a contract with Citibike, which makes riding anywhere a lot easier. A rider can hop on a bike parked at one of the city’s 20 stations, drop it off at a public transit station, and pick up another in New York City. The bike is guaranteed to be tuned up, tires fully inflated. No maintenance required.

Full disclosure. I’m a cyclist. I own a bike, and I sometimes grab a Citibike when I want to get home quickly after I’ve been on the light rail or PATH.

Pedal Problems

But bike shares are not all sunshine and rainbows. The bikes are clunky, and there are only three gears, a problem when climbing Jersey City’s steep hills. Without a little extra gear help, try pedaling up the hill behind the Beacon or the one leading to Dickinson High School. But the upside to clunky bikes is that they have a lower center of gravity, and are therefore a bit more stable than a lighter road bike. The bike share program in New York City introduced electric bicycles into their fleet. They are not currently legal in Jersey City, but this option would make those clunky bikes significantly more user friendly. No longer would a rider have to break a sweat on his or her way to work. But until Citibike extends that technology to Jersey City, it’s pedal power all the way.

Road Sharing

Inconsiderate driving seems to be a badge of honor for Jersey City motorists. At least that’s how it can look from the bike lane. That means cyclists should know what roads are best for them and which ones to avoid. Many streets have signs on the sidewalk that alert drivers to what everyone already knows. “Bicycle route,” they usually read, as though every road is not a bicycle route.

The ideal bike lane shares no real estate with motorized-vehicle lanes and is protected from the rest of traffic by a raised median or parked cars. That said, veteran cyclists dread getting “doored” by motorists who don’t look in the rearview mirrors before throwing open their doors.

Jersey City’s bike lanes have no protections yet. Plans are in the works to create a two-way separated bike lane called a “cycle track” on Grand Street. One side of the street will have two lanes for cyclists traveling in both directions instead of one lane on either side of the road. Jersey City’s cycling community pushed for these safeguards and is lobbying for protected lanes on Columbus Avenue, Montgomery Street, and Marin Boulevard.

The next best thing would be a regular bike lane with two solid vertical stripes indicating where cyclists should ride, free of motorists. Many motorists, however, drive or double-park on these designated bike lanes.

That Ribbon of Highway

Narrow streets are best for cyclists because motorists drive slower and have less space on either side of their cars. My favorite roads are Monmouth Street and Coles Street. They are parallel one-way streets, running in opposite directions. The routes take you under Route 78 and into Hoboken without crossing the scary, multi-lane interstate highway that feeds into the Holland Tunnel bringing thousands of motorists into lower Manhattan daily.

The western edge of downtown closest to the Palisades is the most ripe for the creation of uninterrupted bike-riding. Jones Park, for instance, has a path that starts on Division Street but abruptly ends. The cycling community is pushing local government to invest in the route by connecting it to a street and extending the path underneath Route 78.

Smooth Cycling

Jersey City has come a long way in the last decade. It was only recently that it started posting those ineffective “bike route” signs. The Fulop Administration has created a citywide Bike Master Plan, which suggests guidelines for new and improved bicycle infrastructure citywide. Let’sRideJC has been hosting public workshops on the plan.

Now, Jersey City has a bike share. It soon may have electric bikes, a protected bike lane, and, let’s hope, many more bike lanes to come. Who knows? One day, the roads may be safe and enjoyable for everyone. Until then, cyclists should be aware of distracted drivers, abide by traffic laws, push for better cycling infrastructure, wear reflective clothes, use lights at night, and always wear helmets.

Cyclists need to be as responsible as motorists. I once saw a guy texting while cycling. Need I say more?—JCM