The State of New Jersey has given the primary responsibility for how its land will be used to its 566 municipalities. The Municipal Land Use Law (NJSA 40:55D-1 et seq.) sets up a three-step planning process for land use decisions: development and adoption of a master plan, adoption of land use and zoning ordinances, and site plan and subdivision review.
Pathways for the Garden State is a practical handbook about how to plan bikeways and walkways. It’s intended not only for environmental commissions but also for other local groups, including park and recreation departments, planning boards and citizen associations.
The planning process often begins with drawing lines on a map, planning routes over existing streets and sidewalks to connect community focal points. Sometimes this means designing new walking paths or bicycle routes. Frequently it means retrofitting existing paths, sidewalks and roadways to make them safer and more attractive for walkers and bikers.
Greenways—linear corridors of preserved undeveloped land, and the trails they encompass— can be prime locations for recreational walking or biking in a community. In 1989, ANJEC published Keeping Our Garden State Green: A Local Government Guide for Greenway and Open Space Planning. As a reference and guide for making communities more “walkable” and “bikeable,” Pathways is an adaptive reuse of techniques and resources found in that earlier publication.
Many New Jersey communities have been able to plan and begin implementing new greenways, often using funds from special local municipal open space tax levies. Municipalities have created some of these greenways to protect sensitive environmental areas, but in most cases, these linear parks can incorporate opportunities for active recreation.
To ease traffic congestion, combat air pollution and improve public health, New Jersey needs more people to walk and ride bicycles more regularly. People can walk and bike not only on recreational greenways but also on roads and streets that will take them to work, school, the library, the market, the post office, or town hall. To accomplish this, we need to find ways to make our communities friendlier to walkers and bikers and to improve safety. We can start by renovating or modifying the existing infrastructure, such as altering roadways to slow and even diminish the volume of traffic, and to accommodate bicycle lanes. We can begin with simple steps: providing bike racks, benches, better lighting and signage and pedestrian-oriented plazas.
As pioneers and veterans of the greenway movement, environmental commissions are well positioned to take the initiative to restore safe streets and create walk/bike opportunities in their communities.
The environmental commission has both the legal authority and the responsibility for taking part in the site plan review process. The enabling legislation states that an environmental commission has responsibility for “the protection, development or use of natural resources, including water resources, located within its territorial limits” and if a municipality has an Environmental Resource Inventory (ERI) or Natural Resource Inventory (NRI) then a copy of every application for development must be submitted to the EC for review. In addition, the Municipal Land Use Law requires that a member of the environmental commission be a member of the planning board. More information about Site Plan review can be found here or in the ANJEC Commissioners handbook.