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The Unnamed Bicycle Column: Change In The Air

Freehold Borough mayor leads bike ride through town

It was just an hour. It was just a couple of dozen people. It was just a bike ride, for goodness sake.

But it was more.

The bike ride recently organized by the mayor of a small central New Jersey town was emblematic of a cultural shift, a national movement toward embracing so-called “alternative’’ modes of transportation, bike advocates say.

Any way you look at it, Sunday’s hour-long ride through the streets of Freehold Borough led by the town's mayor, J. Nolan Higgins, was enough to turn some heads. Mine included.

“To me, that shows there’s a sincere interest by the walking and cycling public to explore the future of cycling and walking in the town,” said Wally Tunison, a bicycle shop owner and longtime cycling advocate who attended the April 1 ride.

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Mayors of small towns around here don’t call bike rides. It just doesn’t happen. This is New Jersey, the suburban sprawliest of all the states, and the car here reigns supreme.

If this were, say, Berkeley, Calif., no one would even notice. But in the Borough of Freehold, the seat of Monmouth County, .

“It was really kind of spur-of-the-moment,’’ Higgins said, seemingly a little surprised by all the attention the ride attracted. “I think we only announced it a couple of days before.’’

Still, about 28 people came to ride with the mayor and talk about bikes, bike safety, the town’s “safe streets’’ initiative and more, Higgins said.

The ride started at and weaved through the auto-centric streets of town to the Henry Hudson Trail, a 24-mile, paved, multi-use path that stretches along the Raritan Bay.

There were kids as young as 7 or 8 years old. There were seasoned riders. There were bicycle advocates from towns miles away, and they all came out despite poor weather – it was a little chilly and damp that day – and whatever other obligations they had.

That says something to Tunison.

“People don’t show up unless there’s a sincere interest, especially on a Sunday when there’s a ton of other things to do,’’ Tunison said. “Folks who were there were interested and they showed up on a very informal invitation.’’

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Higgins, a Democrat, describes himself as a recreational rider, owns two bikes – one mountain, one road, he said. He prefers his mountain bike.

He’s also the mayor of a town that has an increasing pedestrian and non-driving population that currently has no bike lanes.

Higgins said he and the town's governing body are in the midst of putting together a street policy for cars, bikes and pedestrians that would include street markings and signage to promote safer travels for all modes of transportation.

The first bike ride was a beginning, he said, a way to open the conversation. It was an introduction to the idea that riding bikes is a viable means to get around.

“This was the first step,’’ Higgins said.

He plans to have more rides, although nothing is set yet, he said.

* * * * *

It’s encouraging, Tunison said, Nolan’s ride. It holds promise. It recognizes a larger trend.

“There’s a cultural change happening nationally of leaving the auto at home and trying a different way to get around,’’ Tunison said. “This mayor is part of a new generation of mayors willing to listen to the message.’’

Of course, Higgins' group ride had a police escort to help riders cross the busier streets in town, something not afforded to every bike commuter trying to get to work on time during rush hour.

At first, we take baby steps. Sprinting comes later.

Richard Berger April 06, 2012 at 11:34 AM
Great article, but I may also add that the bike ride was lots of fun too!!!
John F. Newman April 06, 2012 at 12:13 PM
It's back to the future. Freehold was once the Bicycle Capital of the World in the 1890s. It had several bicycle manufacturers and the greatest cyclist of the era called Freehold his home, Augustus Zimmerman. Today we have the internationally renown Metz Bicycle Museum, a true gem. Sunday was the Bike Ride with the Mayor. Monday Freehold passed a Complete Streets Policy. Tomorrow, I hope Freehold implements its Complete Streets policy and the bicycle and pedestrian plan it passed a year ago.
Keith Brown (Editor) April 06, 2012 at 01:40 PM
It was people on bikes. I figured the fun part was implicit! :)
Keith Brown (Editor) April 06, 2012 at 01:41 PM
I know about the Metz museum, and plan that for a future column, actually. But Augustus Zimmerman is someone I do not know. If you could contact me and educate me on this, I'd be most appreciative.
Marc LeVine April 06, 2012 at 03:24 PM
It's one thing when a Mayor talks the talk and walks the walk...Freehold Borough has one that rides the bike. Nice to see Mayor Nolan come out and "share the ride" with other bike enthusiasts. Biking is good for our health and the environment. Nice!
Michele Tidd Pfannenstiel April 07, 2012 at 10:54 AM
What a great article and what a great idea. I wish we could have participated! I look forward to more rides. I also thought the HH trail was just that little path off 537. Looks like it is a bit more than that!
Richard Berger April 07, 2012 at 12:02 PM
Yes, even though it has two gaps (one in Marlboro and one in Aberdeen) you can take it from Freehold all the way to Sandy Hook!

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