On a typical morning during the school year, commuters in downtown Red Bank might encounter an unusual sight: a cluster of dozen or so children, accompanied by a parent or two, crossing town from east to west on bicycles.
Led usually by Mori Place resident Marc Dostie, the rolling parade of pedal-powered ducklings crosses heavily traveled Broad Street and Maple Avenue before arriving at its destination, the Red Bank Charter School on Oakland Street.
It’s a healthy, social and environmentally hospitable alternative to automobile travel. It’s also often faster than travel by car. But it’s also somewhat fraught, says Dostie.
“A lot of times I feel I have to choose between a safer ride and a legal ride,” he says, referring to a need sometimes to direct his charges up onto sidewalks to avoid close encounters with parked cars or moving vehicles that hug the right curb.
“We encounter a lot of motorists who don’t seem to understand the rights of way of pedestrians and bicyclists in crosswalks,” he says.
On Wednesday night, a newly formed organization of which Dostie is a member hopes to begin addressing ways not only to improve safety for riders and walkers, but to make Red Bank more conducive to car-free commuting for kids.
Known as Red Bank Safe Routes, the group has arranged a town hall meeting of sorts to start a public dialogue on issues of concern to walkers and bikers, how to address them, and how to pay for those that require outlays.
Some of those fixes might include better signage and bike lanes, proponents say. But the biggest component of the effort, says group spearhead (and redbankgreen tech guru) Jim Willis, is education of both motorists and bikers about the rights and responsibilities of walkers and bikers.
“Not every solution is going to involve separate infrastructure,” says Willis, of Harrison Avenue. “That may not be the best solution, and we want to know what the best solutions are.”
And it’s not just about biking, either. Group co-founder Jenny Rossano of Worthley Street notes that the borough board of education earlier this year eliminated busing to the primary school for students who live on the West Side, saving the district some $60,000.
That’s an inducement for a concept known as “walking buses,” whereby parents of children who live farthest from the school accompany groups of kids on foot to the next-farthest group, handing them off to one or more other adults, until the group has reached the school.
The Safe Routes event starts at 7p. Members of the borough council have indicated they’ll attend, and borough engineer Christine Ballard will be there on her own time, at no charge to the borough, according to Willis.
A representative of the borough police department will also be present, as will someone from the state Department of Transportation’s Safe Routes to School program, he says.
There’s more info available at Red Bank Safe Route’s Google Group.