2010-12-16 / Front Page

Bicycle and walking network plan takes shape

Upgrades aim to improve safety, provide greater access to parks
BY DAN HOWLEY Staff Writer

OCEAN TOWNSHIP — A draft concept plan to create a townwide network of pedestrian and bicycle paths is near completion and expected to be presented to township officials for review next month.

Presented by Cherry Hill-based Urban Engineers during an open house meeting held at town hall on Dec. 8, the plan, which is currently in draft form, calls for the creation of a network of trails, walking paths and off-road greenways that would connect various points of interest in town.

The network would provide residents with easier access to areas of the community that were previously too dangerous or distant to reach by walking or biking, Township ManagerAndrew Brannen explained last week.

The idea for the pedestrian and bicycle network was first introduced by residents Alan and Ursula Kerecman, who last year introduced their plan to create a network of easily accessible bicycle paths throughout the community.

Some time later, the township contacted the state Department of Transportation, which contracts with Urban Engineers for similar projects.

Because of the state’s existing agreement with the firm, the township was able to contract with Urban Engineers to create the draft concept plan for the network at no cost.

According to Urban Engineers Project Manager David Cox, the plan includes pedestrian friendly improvements to many of the township’s roadways, including upgrades to crossings, new signals and bicycle-only lanes.

“One of the challenges with this community is you’ve got Route 35 and Route 18, so it really breaks it into at least thirds east and west, and its not so porous north-south either. So, that’s part of our objective,” Cox explained.

Because it is still in the concept stage, the presentation of the draft plan provided by Cox did not include specific information as to when work on the improvements based on the plan would begin.

While leading a walkthrough of the various exhibits outlining the network, Cox was careful to point out that if the township chooses to move forward with the project, it would not immediately begin developing new pathways across the community.

The work, he explained, is more on the order of a long-term plan that would slowly take shape over several years.

In addition to providing pathways for recreational use, Brannen explained that the plan would also help the township develop a plan to create new, and improve the safety of existing, walkways and crossings children can use to walk to school.

“There are some kids that should be walking to school but aren’t because it’s not safe,” Brannen said.

That portion of the pedestrian network plan, he explained, could be financed through a state Safe Routes to School grant that would help pay for some of expenses associated with the construction of pathways near and around the township’s schools.

The state’s Safe Routes to School program provides communities with grants to develop and implement projects and programs that encourage walking and bicycling to school while improving the safety of the trips.

The township had previously applied unsuccessfully to the program to help pay for improvements to the pedestrian areas around the schools.

Brannen said he believed the main reason the township lost out on the grant was because at the time, Ocean Township did not have a plan to implement.

That could change, however, with the adoption of the pedestrian and bicycle network plan.

In addition to providing safe walking routes for the schoolchildren, the pedestrian network plan could also provide improved access to area parks, including Joe Palaia Park.

Brannen, who said he frequents the park regularly with his two young children, explained that the plan could eventually improve pedestrian mobility in the township to the point that residents will no longer have to drive in order to exercise in the park.

“It’s funny,” Brannen said. “People have to drive in order to walk in the park.”

With the pedestrian network in place, he explained, residents would be able to walk or bicycle to the park.

While the plan may not take cars off the road, Brannen explained that he was hopeful residents would take full advantage of the pedestrian network.

And if the number of people who frequent the area’s parks to exercise is any indication, he said, it would be a successful venture for the community.

In order to implement the network plan, the Township Council, Planning and Zoning boards would have to agree to its various components.

Once approved, Cox suggested that the township adopt the network plan as part of the master plan.

By making it a part of the master plan, he said, developers seeking to construct projects within the town could also have to construct new sidewalks and walkways on the properties that comply with the pedestrian network plan.

If adopted, the township could begin implementing portions of the plan in relatively short order.

Creating bicycle lanes on the roads, Cox explained, would require nothing more than restriping roadways.

Urban Engineers has already measured a good deal of the roads and during the Dec. 8 meeting provided several examples of what the roads would look like with bicycle lanes.

More complex portions of the plan, such as improvements to crossings near Route 35 and Route 18, would require DOT approval. The state would also fund portions of those projects, Cox noted.

Similarly, county roads included in the plan would require the county’s approval. The county would also be expected to pay for portions of those improvements.

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