I usually don’t comment on what New Jersey governor Chris Christie does. I don’t need to; enough has been said by commentators more thoughtful and knowledgeable than I about how his policies have done harm to this state that will take decades to undo. But last night I saw something that upset me so much that I had to say something. It was a tweet from Bike Jersey City announcing that Christie had pocket vetoed a bill that would have created a state-level panel to recommend improvements to pedestrian and bicycle safety. The panel would have, in the words of the New Jersey Bike & Walk Coalition:
“…examined issues related to pedestrian and bicycle safety and would advise the governor, legislature, NJ Department of Transportation and other state agencies on solutions that will make New Jersey communities safer and friendlier for bicyclists and pedestrians.”
To be clear, I have skin in this game. Or really, a whole body. I ride a bike in South Jersey, mostly in parts of Camden and Gloucester counties, extremely often. I live in a town where it’s easier to get around by walking or riding a bike than it is by car. I regularly travel an hour away from home on my bike, mostly on county roads with shoulders that provide a modicum of separation from cars by becoming de facto bike lanes when I and others use them (and I do quite often see other people on bikes when I’m traveling).
So what does a pocket veto mean for the bill? It essentially means that Christie did nothing with the bill on his desk. He simply let it die, ignoring the hard work of legislators who worked to get an entire government, except for one man, to agree to something. That he would insult his colleagues by ignoring that feat alone is horrible, but to do so on a bill that would help save lives and make our communities safer and more livable is a disgrace. I’m sure there are some who think our state government is big and convoluted enough, and who might say “good for Christie for not creating more big government.” I wish we didn’t have to create a board to examine bicycle and pedestrian safety either. But New Jersey has spent the last 60 years creating an environment hostile to anybody not in a car. It’s not just a problem in New Jersey, but in most of post-war America, as studies like Smart Growth America’s Dangerous by Design illustrate. But New Jersey does suffer to a very high degree when it comes to the safety of non-driving road users, having built up most of its congested suburbs for use by car. Simply put, the people who designed our roadways barely considered that anyone would use them who didn’t drive. And when they did, they were laughably inadequate.
This isn’t just a personal issue for me, but one that speaks to where New Jersey sees itself in the future. The state has been put on notice that its mid-20th century suburban advantage is now a 21st century disadvantage, with headlines like “Diamonds to dinosaurs: NJ towns struggle under weight of massive office park vacancies” and “Sprawl withdrawal: Young NJ residents push toward cities and away from suburbia.” I’ve publicly worried here in the past that the state’s leaders will allow it to become irrelevant in a world where young people just aren’t buying into the distant, drive-only suburbia their parents built. Some communities close to Philadelphia and New York understand what’s happening and have pivoted toward walkability and thriving downtown activity. But there are those in Trenton with the mindset that it’s still 1970 and that everyone wants the big house on a big plot of land with a two car garage where you can’t see your neighbors. Some people might want that, but the prevailing winds have changed direction in a big way.
Sadly, Chris Christie will not be the one to help usher a new direction into the statehouse. Yesterday, in addition to his veto of this safety bill, he also vetoed legislation that would have required twenty minutes of recess for children and that would have raised the smoking age to 21. These vetos show that the distractions of running for president trump the welfare of the children of New Jersey in Christie’s mind. It’s a disgusting thing to do, and this state will be a much better place once this self-serving and hateful man is gone from our lives.