This story begins with a personal experience I had in Asbury Park back in the day, but if you continue reading, you’ll find that it takes you to Asbury Park Now.
When I was four years old, I walked five hundred miles on the beach in Asbury Park.
“What? That’s nonsense,” you say. Well, I guess it would be since Asbury Parks beach is only one mile wide. Actually, the entire city of Asbury Park is just one square mile. But to a four year old, that’s what it felt like. I was with my family and we had just spent the day on the 5th Avenue beach. My mother and I went up to the boardwalk to get food for everyone so we could have something to eat before heading home. My father and brother were still on the beach, or so I thought.
As I was waiting in line with my mother at one of the food concession stands near the Howard Johnson’s, I began to get impatient. We were standing among a crowd of people also waiting for their food. It was a hot July day and I didn’t like being in the middle of this crowd of sweaty grown-ups, so I decided to go back on the beach with my father and brother. I knew exactly where they were…sort of.
I turned around, walked towards the steps and back onto the beach. I went to the spot where we had been sitting, but didn’t see them. I circled around a few times, nothing. I came to the conclusion that they were a bit further down then I remembered and walked a little more; stopped, looked around, still nothing. Then I just started walking. I remember feeling like I was on an adventure, exploring the beach. I must have been feeling energetic that day because I continued to walk to the end of Asbury Parks beach, through Ocean Grove, and into Bradley Beach!
Somewhere between Asbury Park and Bradley Beach I became paralyzed by fear. I knew I had gone too far and should turn around, but didn’t know where to go or how to get back if I did. Perhaps if I had been walking along the water I would have spotted a life guard, but I was walking through a sea of blankets in the middle of the beach. I just kept walking.
Finally, I was exhausted. I knew I needed to ask someone for help, so I began sizing up every person I saw; eliminating several possibilities. Then my eyes caught site of a woman sitting on a blanket by herself, she looked friendly. Being four and scared, I walked up to her blanket, collapsed in the sand, and let the tears roll. She asked me what was wrong and I told her I was lost. She brought me to the life guards who notified the police immediately. All I had to do now was wait for my mother to get in her car, drive to Bradley Beach, and come get me. That woman did turn out to be pretty nice after all; she stayed and waited with me, while I slept, the whole time.
Unlike the song by the Proclaimers, I wouldn’t walk five hundred more – but what I’m beginning to see is a shift in our culture. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve shown houses and apartments to recently who want to live close enough to commerce so they could walk – to a store for a loaf of bread, to a cafe for lunch, or to take care of their daily errands.
We have become a society that depends on our cars to take us everywhere, and it seems people are tiring of it. There’s too much traffic, no place to park, and absolutely no health benefits to sitting in your car. More and more I’m seeing it become the deciding factor on whether or not someone wants to live in a particular area, and it’s one of the things that make Asbury Park so desirable.
When I first moved here, I would ride my bike to the farmers market on the corner of Sunset and Main every Saturday; buy some fresh tomatoes and corn, some homemade mozzarella, and a loaf of bread from Gino, who sells delicious bread from Brooklyn. Then I would ride into town to buy a bottle of wine with the loaf of bread sticking out from the top of my bag. I felt like I was French for the day. There is something innate about being in the fresh air and riding your bike or walking, as part of your everyday routine; when we do that we are connecting with our natural state of being. We become more in touch with our senses and our instincts because we are no longer separated from the earth by huge chunks of metal, chrome and glass. And I believe beginning to emerge is a new awareness and appreciation of that.
In an effort to make Asbury Park a more pedestrian and cyclist friendly community, there is a coalition in town that has been building momentum called Complete Streets and they’ve been putting forth a lot of effort towards the approval of changing Main Street, (state route 71) from a four-lane highway into a two-lane roadway with a center turning lane. This new road configuration would include bicycle lanes on each side. I am told it will slow down the speed of cars and keep the flow of traffic moving, making it safer for motorist, pedestrians and cyclists.
When I first heard about this new street design I had some reservations, as does the city council; and rightfully so. Interestingly, over the 4th of July weekend, I had a chance conversation with a woman named Emma, a recently retired law enforcement officer and new resident in Asbury Park. Emma’s job was to study traffic patterns, and had experience with emergency vehicle accessibility. After hearing Emma speak, and share her knowledge, I feel much differently about this initiative.
If this proposal comes to fruition it could be the shift that spawns a new pace of life in Asbury Park…Let’s start the movement; you don’t have to walk five hundred miles, just start with one…Main Street.
For more information about Complete Streets check out the links below:
COMPLETE STREETS OVERVIEW IN NJ: https://youtu.be/IKAKxQvpeHk
If you are in support of the complete streets plan sign the petition: