Development, Sustainability, Transit

The New Whole Foods in Cherry Hill has a bike rack, but will anyone use it?

About a month ago, the Whole Foods in the Ellisburg Shopping Center at the intersection of Haddonfield Road and Route 70 in Cherry Hill finally opened. Taking over the old Genuardi’s location in the plaza, it became the second Whole Foods in South Jersey, with the first being in Marlton on Route 73. It’s got all the modern trappings a new Whole Foods would have: wide, well-stocked and spacious aisles; fresh produce, meats, and fish; a large prepared food section and a bakery in the back. But it also has a few things on the outside that are rather progressive for its location. There’s an electric car charging station, outdoor seating, and a few bike racks. While this is right in line with the Whole Foods brand and social initiatives, I can’t help but feel like it bumps up uncomfortably to the reality of current day Cherry Hill. That is, it remains, in 2014, an utterly unwalkable haven for automobiles.

Let’s look at the environment the Whole Foods finds itself in. Outside its doors and past the row of tables lies an ocean of parking. Like every other New Jersey shopping plaza, the shops are separated by very large distances from the road by parking lots that never get full. Moving past the gluttony of empty parking spaces, the plaza itself is bordered by Haddonfield Road, a.k.a NJ Route 41, and the Marlton Pike, a.k.a. NJ Route 70. These are, without a doubt, stroads, horrible combinations of streets and roads where drivability is the only concern, leaving pedestrians and bikers with little or no place to go. As Streets Blog has recently discussed, state departments of transportation are not concerned with making communities livable, enjoyable places to exist. Rather, their only metric is car throughput, regardless of the very undesirable reality this inflicts on local communities. NJDOT does not care if Cherry Hill, Marlton, or Mount Laurel are successful communities. It only cares that people can drive to them from Interstate 295 or the Turnpike. And if you’ve ever been to these communities, you know that they’re what people talk about when they call South Jersey a sprawling mess.

Another recent article discusses issues of traffic and congestion that New Jersey planners would do well to read. In short, they explain that merely concerning yourself with car throughput is a losing battle, since building larger roads creates induced demand, and that there exists a 1:1 correlation between how much roadway you build and how many people use it. But there’s another interesting point that the state should pay attention to, one that says if you reduce roadway capacity, you don’t see the cataclysmically negative responses that traditional road planners imagine would happen. Cities have removed entire expressways through their downtowns and replaced them with streets that handle fewer cars, and yet congestion has remained the same, not worse. The takeaway is that building more roads simply makes congestion worse, and that paring down lanes does not increase it, but in fact improves local communities and their desirability as places to live. What I’m getting at is that New Jersey should be working to turn these stroads built for the middle of the last century into walkable streets and boulevards for the future at a time where people are choosing towns to live in based on different things than they did 60 years ago. Maybe people buying homes for the first time today want things like good public spaces, walkable communities, and efficient public transit, all of which many South Jersey communities, like Cherry Hill, tend to lack.

Speaking of public transit, that’s something that can work in Cherry Hill’s favor if it does in fact pare down its stroads. There are many busses that travel through the town between Camden and Philadelphia and the rest of South Jersey. Take Route 70 for example. NJ Transit bus route 406, which connects Philadelphia with Berlin, travels down a very built up part of the road between its intersection with US Route 130 and the Turnpike. But its schedule is dreadful. It’s very irregular, sometimes coming every 20 minutes, and sometimes coming only once an hour. If car capacity were lessened on Route 70, those who haven’t opted to walk or bike would benefit from increased and more regular service on this route, making it possible for the many houses near the road to go car-lite or car-free to jobs, shopping, and entertainment.

To sum it up, Cherry Hill is at an interesting crossroads. Its proximity to jobs in Philadelphia and the surrounding area will keep it relevant enough, but to truly capitalize on that proximity and the trend of the new generation to drive less and prefer to live in towns with strong cultural amenities like walkable downtowns, the township has a lot of work to do. And while they recognize this and have in fact adopted a complete streets policy, I’m worried that they have no say over the state roads that go through the town, and that this will hurt them for decades to come. New developments like Whole Foods and Honeygrow coming into town are a good start at keeping up with the 21st century, but some very important things need to be addressed to reverse the decades-long obsession with the automobile the township has had.

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Development, Sustainability

Check out “Jersey Urbanism – What South Jersey’s Doing Right”

So a few days ago, I wrote a piece on New Urbanism, which is something I’m passionate about. Specifically, I wrote about how its tenants of walkable communities, smart land-use patterns, and a turning away from dependence on cars could be seen in South Jersey, a place generally though of for its sprawling suburbia.

I started out wanting to write the article to dispell the notion that that sprawling suburbia was all that the area had to offer. But honestly, I discovered more that’s going on here regarding smart development than I even realized. We’ve got a really great thing going on here, and I think we’ll see a lot more of it in the future. Here’s an excerpt and a link to the full article:

I’m not afraid to say it: I live in South Jersey. Considering that I’m an ardent urbanist, this might seem confusing. When we talk about urbanism, we’re usually debating Jane Jacobs’ theories about what makes Philadelphia a beautiful place or what Robert Moses brought to New York City in the early 20th century. But taken more generally, the quality of life that New Urbanism espouses isn’t endemic to big cities. What we’re really talking about is walkable communities, smart land usage, and a general shift away from dependence on cars to get around. So how does this relate to where I live? It might be surprising, but you can find examples of all of this in South Jersey.

You can read the whole thing on the This Old City blog at http://thisoldcity.com/vignettes/photos-jersey-urbanism-what-south-jerseys-doing-right

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Sustainability

Green Festivals in South Jersey

Earth Day is coming up in a few weeks, and towns around South Jersey are preparing festivals for showing off the benefits of green technologies and encouraging people to adopt more environmentally-conscious habits. They’re generally huge events where you can learn about things from composting and recycling to biking and gardening. Some of them even have recycling for things like old appliances and other stuff not easily gotten rid of.

Here’re a few events going on over the next few weekends.

 

Saturday, April 12th

Collingswood’s Green Festival, 9am – 2pm

 

April 21st – 27th

Camden’s Earth Week 2014, with an entire 7 day program of ways to learn about and help the environment

 

Saturday, April 26th

Haddon Township’s 6th Annual Go Green Event, 10am – 2pm

Washington Township’s Earth Day 2014, 10am – 3pm

Cherry Hill’s 5th Annual Cherry Hill Art Blooms Earth Festival, 10am – 2pm

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Sustainability

Sustainability in the Suburbs

Cherry Hill adopts a Complete Streets policy

Last monday at its bimonthly township council meeting, Cherry Hill did something pretty awesome. The council voted to take a step toward 21st century planning that puts it at the forefront of a national trend. They adopted a Complete Streets policy, which basically means rethinking roadways as not only streets for cars, but also pedestrians and bicycles. As Cherry Hill Mayor Chuck Cahn put it, “Complete Streets is a holistic approach to promoting joint use of our roadways by all users, including pedestrians, motorists, bicyclists, seniors, children, and those with limited mobility,”

This is a huge step for the suburbs. South Jersey has basically been dominated by car-dependent sprawl more than anything else over the past fifty years, a sprawl I’m very familiar with having spent my entire childhood living in it. To see the township, which covers just over 24 square miles very close to the region’s core, adopt a complete streets policy is a huge step toward turning suburban roads into more than just speedways for cars.

The full report can be found on Sustainable Cherry Hill’s website.

Example of a complete street that accommodates cars, bikers, and pedestrians. Could this be the future of the busy, wide roads of Cherry Hill like Route 70?

 

Camden County releases a long-range sustainability plan

Also within the past week was Camden County’s release of its 5-year sustainability plan, its first ever plan of this type. What’s that mean exactly? As the official report puts it, “Having a sound sustainability program provides a road map to conserving resources, promoting innovation and saving money. In addition, as the possibility of having to deal with events like Superstorm Sandy on a more regular basis seems likely, it’s critical to include resiliency and sustainability into all of our projects and planning.”

Basically this means formalizing a county-wide plan for things like water conservation, waste recycling, environmentally-friendly building design, alternative transportation, and energy efficiency. I look at all this as doing more with less, not wasting natural resources when you don’t have to, and giving county residents ways to engage in environmentally-friendly practices. Examples of initiatives already undertaken in the county include a bike sharing program that Collingswood started up and single-stream recycling paying dividends in Gloucester Township.

Overall it’s great to see the county committing to a sustainable future. People are obviously moving in this direction themselves, and it’s nice to see Camden County formally adopt these practices for itself. If you’re a sustainability nerd and environmentalist like I am, you can read the entire report here. Otherwise, you can find practical information about the plan on county’s new sustainability website, http://sustainable.camdencounty.com.

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Sustainability

South Jersey’s Sustainable Businesses

The other day I was looking through the website of the Sustainable Business Network’s Philadelphia branch, which has a directory for all of their member businesses. I noticed there was a spot where you could filter not only by neighborhoods like Center City, Mount Airy, or West Philly, but also larger areas like Montgomery or Delaware Counties. I saw New Jersey on the list, so I clicked it, but got nothing back. I was definitely confused; I know there’s at least on SBN network member in the area that I’ve actually used. So I shot them a tweet to ask what was up. They quickly responded with a list of area businesses, and it was even more than I realized. Check out the list below to find out where you can go in South Jersey to support local environmentally and socially responsible businesses.

Organic Home, Collingswood — Offering “a unique service providing green cleaning, organizing, design and consultation for home or office”.

Verde Salon, Collingswood — An environmentally conscious hair salon from Kevin Gatto.

Thomas Lift, Camden — Artist and clothing designer who runs Camden’s 3rd Thursday arts crawl.

Magnum Computer Recycling, Pennsauken — Offering “eco-friendly methods for reusing and recycling electronic parts and devices.”

Wu & Associates, Cherry Hill — A general contracting firm “specializing in LEED sustainable building, historic preservation, institutional and residential projects.”

EP Henry, Woodbury — Providing sustainable hardscaping services.

Animo Juice Bar, Haddonfield — A juice bar that believes “all natural, organic, whole foods that taste great and nourish the body.”

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