The goal of the Regional Center Partnership (RCP) Challenge Grant Program is to help achieve the broadly accepted Regional Center vision that includes creating vibrant connections within the Regional Center, increasing pedestrian movement and bicycle usage, strengthening Regional Center resiliency and sustainability, enhancing natural resource protection, and supporting economic development and downtown revitalization. This program makes available grants of up to $15,000 per project. Funding is made available on a year-to-year basis depending on other planned work program activities.
Since the Challenge Grant program began in 1999, the Challenge Grant program has awarded $1,194,500 to help each Regional Center community advance local projects that resolve or mitigate regional problems and advance the goals of the Somerset County Regional Center Strategic Plan. To date, at least $130,000 has been awarded to support resiliency and sustainability initiatives, over $375,000 has been awarded to support economic development and downtown revitalization, and over $525,000 has been awarded to support pedestrian and bicycle mobility initiatives. Sample Challenge Grant projects include the Peters Brook Greenway, the Raritan Borough Downtown Revitalization Study, and the Somerville Landfill Plan Revision. Also, over $75,000 was awarded in 2013 to help the Regional Center towns prepare natural resource inventories, riparian corridor protection ordinances, and open space and recreation plans which together were an essential component toward achieving Regional Center Plan Endorsement from the State Planning Commission
Pedestrian Safety Enhancement
In 2017 the RCP initiated a pilot project focusing the Challenge Grant program on enhancing pedestrian safety. The goal of the Challenge Grant Program for Pedestrian Safety Enhancement is to help make the Regional Center more pedestrian and bicycle-friendly, to help advance the goals and recommendations of the Regional Center Strategic Plan, and to reinforce the work of RideWise Transportation Management Agency in working with towns to advance pedestrian and bicycle mobility through the North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority StreetSmart campaign. Because this was the first time RCP offered a grant program focused on pedestrian safety enhancement, RCP regarded this as a pilot project. The projects were so successfully implemented and because the need for pedestrian safety remains a high priority goal, the RCP allocated funding for a second round for Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Phase 2.
In 2017 the RCP launched another Challenge Grant pilot program for creative placemaking initiatives. The goal of the Challenge Grant Program for Creative Placemaking is to help advance the goals of the Regional Center particularly to help strengthen the economic vitality of our downtown and Main Street districts. Creative placemaking leverages the power of the arts, culture and creativity that helps bring the community together, supports tourism and the local economy, and helps attract people to downtown and Main Street areas. Partners from public, private, nonprofit, and community sectors strategically shape the physical and social character of a neighborhood or town around arts and cultural activities or assets. Creative placemaking animates public and private spaces, rejuvenates structures and streetscapes, and improves local business visibility and public safety. Since this is the first time RCP has offered a grant program involving creative placemaking, RCP considers this to be a pilot project.
Below is a summary of the pedestrian safety enhancement and creative placemaking Challenge Grant projects to date:
2018 RCP Challenge Grants for Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Phase 2
For Phase 2 RCP approved grants of up to $15,000 per Regional Center town for the following pedestrian safety enhancement Challenge Grant proposals:
Somerville Borough: Permanent High Visibility Pedestrian Signage Improvements along Main Street
For Phase 2 the Borough is focusing on Main Street which has a history of pedestrian accidents. Of the five (5) uncontrolled crosswalks on the most heavily travelled section of Main Street, the Borough has targeted addressing the two highest priority crosswalks –West Main at Union Street (first priority) and the mid-block crosswalk at Giardina Alley (second priority). Grant funding would be utilized to purchase at least two (2) permanent high-visibility pedestrian signage (“Rectangular Rapid Flashing Beacons”) for installation at one of these intersections; because West Main Street (NJ Route 28) is under the jurisdiction of the New Jersey Department of Transportation, the project is subject to the NJDOT requirements.
Raritan Borough: Circulation Plan Element with a Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan
Raritan is utilizing the full $15,000 to update the Borough’s Circulation Plan Element with a Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan. Raritan’s’ proposal is consistent with the recommendations of the Regional Center Strategic Plan, the County’s work for Supporting Priority Investment in Somerset County, and complements the County’s Walk Bike Hike study.
Bridgewater Township: Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Travel Plan
Bridgewater is utilizing the full $15,000 to prepare a township-wide Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Travel Plan which considers the entire township. Having a Bicycle and Pedestrian Travel Plan in place will allow Bridgewater to apply for Safe Routes to School funding. Staff discussed the proposal with the Executive Committee noting that the proposal is consistent with the Regional Center Strategic Plan which discusses interconnecting the Regional Center with the rest of Bridgewater Township.
2017 RCP Challenge Grants for Pedestrian Safety Enhancement
RCP approved grants of up to $15,000 per Regional Center town for the following pedestrian safety enhancement Challenge Grant proposals:
Somerville Borough: School Pedestrian Improvements
Somerville utilized the grant funding to increase visibility of the crosswalks around Somerville High School and Somerville Middle School with proper signage and improvements where school children walk to and from school. The project was completed before the 2018-2019 school year began. In September, Somerville Police gave an in-school education presentation at both schools about the importance of bike and pedestrian safety.
Raritan Borough -1st project: 2018 Somerset Street StreetSmart Campaign
In the summer of 2018 Raritan Borough Police Department partnered with RideWise TMA to undertake an eight-week StreetSmart education and enforcement campaign along a designated section of West Somerset Street. The StreetSmart campaign included educational materials and measures to reinforce law-abiding behavior and to discourage law-breaking behavior by pedestrians, bicyclists and drivers. Data was collected before and after the campaign for analysis to determine program effectiveness.
Raritan Borough -2nd project: Traffic Striping Improvements
As a separate project, Raritan is using part of the grant funding to make pedestrian crosswalk striping improvements at designated intersections in town.
Bridgewater Township: Commons Way Pedestrian Crossing Signals and ADA Ramp
Bridgewater Township utilized grant funding to upgrade four Township-owned traffic lights at four intersections along Commons Way: Crossings Boulevard, Prince Rodgers Avenue, Fifth Street, and Garretson Road. The Township also installed an ADA-compliant handicap ramp at Commons Way and Hanlon Road and a crosswalk across Commons Way connecting with an existing sidewalk along the high school side of Commons Way.
2017 RCP Challenge Grants for Creative Placemaking
In June, 2018 RCP received two creative placemaking grant proposals which were reviewed and approved for $15,000 each:
Raritan Borough: Raritan Borough Bench Art Project
Raritan has proposed a Bench Art Project consisting of selected artwork that will be transferred onto vinyl wrapping to be applied onto existing benches along Somerset Street. Raritan’s Historic & Cultural (H&C) Commission solicited designs from area artists to illustrate Raritan’s history and assets in which selected artworks will be applied to vinyl wraps to be installed on a number of existing benches along Somerset Street. The project will complement Raritan’s ongoing economic revitalization initiatives. In conjunction with this project, the Raritan H&C Commission intends to partner with Raritan’s Community Events Coordinator to plan for and hold an unveiling event in conjunction with an arts festival to be held in town.
Somerville Borough: Find Your Place in Somerville
Somerville utilized the grant funding to have on display five art sculptures created by world-renowned Seward Johnson Atelier with the goal of creating an opportunity for residents to interact with 3-D art works and to enhance the dining, shopping, and visiting experience in Somerville. The art sculptures were positioned in five different locations along Main Street. The Borough featured sculptures from the Seward Johnson Atelier Collection “Celebrating the Familiar” and “Seeing Beyond the Frame” series which have been shared by other towns in New Jersey on a rotating schedule. The grant proposal also considered undertaking a variety of art-related activities in conjunction with the sculptures, including an exhibit in the Somerville library of a visual explanation of the Lost Wax Method of casting bronze sculptures, educational components in coordination with local schools, fun fact sheets of Impressionist artists, and/or walking tours of the town.