New Brunswick is on the East Coast Greenway, but we took the road, not the towpath (and ECG), for this ride to check out New Brunswick’s Ciclovia (more than 3 miles of streets shut to motorists and opened to people to bike, play and more). While we knew the first few miles, we’d never been to East Brunswick and Milltown even by car. So the bike option on Google maps it was.
And it was a nice route on generally quiet, flat roads well to the east of U.S 1. On weekdays, a few spots might be a bit hairy, but Saturday traffic was light, even by shopping centers. We crossed U.S. 130 at a light — easy. And when we finally did encounter U.S. 1, the overpass over it was straightforward, and on the way back, the driver of a white Mustang on the off ramp slowed and waved us in front. Sometimes New Jersey drivers surprise you.
Total miles, including wandering around New Brunswick: 42.
As for Ciclovia … it’s not Manhattan’s Summer Saturdays, but then New Brunswick doesn’t have the density of New York. It was great to see little kids on their bikes, and there were some cool spots, like a rock-climbing wall and a skateboard trick park, and of course a fire hydrant turned into a sprinkler. There was a dance contest for little kids, a repair spot from New Brunswick’s Bike Exchange and a mobile New Jersey Hall of Fame that I thought was cool (and not just because of the air-conditioning break on a hot, cloudless day). But it felt too spread out for the number of people we saw, and you found stuff more by chance, such as the Hall of Fame that was hidden at the end of a side street.
Ciclovia went beyond “downtown”, and it lacked a block party atmosphere in the neighborhoods.
So here’s my outsider’s take, fwiw: Ciclovia needs to be marketed more widely in the region, to get it filled up with people from neighboring towns, as happens with Communiversity is in Princeton, and to work with New Jersey Transit and New York bike groups to get the word out there and people coming down by train with their bikes. I’d open up space to every nonprofit that wants to be there, no matter where they are from, to help fill up the quieter spaces. I’d encourage downtown merchants to have sidewalk sales or bring restaurant tables outside. Actually, I’d have had it kick it off Restaurant Week, which we inadvertently discovered was also starting. Or play on the range of ethnic groups in New Brunswick and create a list of participating food stops and pitch it to the foodies. Honduran specialties, anyone?
And at one end, have a spot for teenagers and their bands, or high school bands, all of which would bring in their friends and families. It certainly works for our local farmers market. (Too bad there’s no Saturday market in New Brunswick that it could brush by from the side.)
But it’s also early days. New Brunswick’s first Ciclovia was last October, and this was the second of three planned for this year. Maybe it’s more crowded when Rutgers is humming with 41,500 students. And maybe it’s just a matter of time.
At any rate, it certainly was more popular than what we saw of Princeton’s Ciclovia in May, which took over a long stretch of underused roadway.