No room on the road puts cyclists at risk on River Road

If motorists should share the road with bicyclists, what happens when there’s no road to spare? On River Road, there is no shoulder to speak of for cyclists to use as the road heads under the railroad trestle between Lambience Court and Cleveland Avenue. Traffic is two-way there, as with the rest of River Road, and it moves at a steady 35 mph. A sign on the road warns pedestrians not to walk through the tunnel, but there is no such advisory for cyclists.

There is a bike path that avoids the tunnel. It starts opposite Cleveland Avenue, cuts its way through Johnson Park, under a different arched trestle, past a marsh between the park and the Raritan River, and finally intersects with Cedar Lane. Use of the scenic path, however, poses challenges. It is not lit at night and is substantially longer than the more direct trek along River Road.

“It does go out of the way,” said Montgomery Street resident Peter Bilton, who serves on the Highland Park Complete Streets Advisory Committee. In addition to the cycling enthusiasts who do take advantage of the Johnson Park bike path, Mr. Bilton has seen other bicyclists who just stay on River Road and go under the trestle.

One obvious way ahead is simply to add a bike path under the trestle, like the sharrows along Raritan Avenue. In fact borough did apply for a grant to erect a concrete barrier under the trestle, to create such a bike lane. The grant was denied.

“We really are at the minimum width for adding things there, anyway,” said Borough Council President Susan Welkovits, who serves as council liaison to the Complete Streets Committee. “At present we’re looking at other alternatives.”

The Complete Streets Advisory Committee will be at the at the Eugene Young Environmental Education Center from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., Sunday, April 19, as part of the Earth Day event being held there. Representatives will be gathering information about children’s cycling habits.

In the meantime, the question of how to accommodate cyclists on River Road is not going away anytime soon, and Ms. Welkovits says the borough is ready to consider any proposal that would make the road safer for bicyclists of all ages.

One suggestion is to divide River Road into two one-way roads. The northbound lane would continue to go through under the trestle, while a southbound lane would branch off, go under a separate arch closer to the river, and then reconnect a little farther down.

But a move like that is something of a longshot. River Road itself is a Middlesex County road, and Johnson Park also is a county park that lies in a flood plain near riparian wetlands. The imagined roadway also would go under the Northeast Corridor rail line, which is owned by Amtrak and used by NJ Transit.

“That’s an idea that we’ve talked about, and it seems to be one of the few possibilities,” said Mr. Bilton, who also serves on the board of the transportation management organization, Keep Middlesex Moving. “That’s such a big project, that would probably be far into the future.”

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