Complete the George Washington Bridge
Starting in 2017, the Port Authority will rip out and restore the 1931-era paths on the George Washington Bridge as part of a $1.9 billion restoration.
The GWB is the sole bike-able connector between North Jersey and NYC. Its 7 foot paths are dangerously overcrowded at 3700 cyclists per day and growing 10.4% per year. If that sustains, we’ll see 9,000 cyclists per day by the time the paths re-open in 2024.
The PA should seize this once-in-a-lifespan opportunity to widen the paths to comply with national standards, but their plan is to restore them as sidewalks. Which means cyclists will have to walk.
This will thwart efforts to establish a regional bike grid, along with durable enhancements to competitiveness, sustainability, resilience, tourism and public health.
George Washington Bridge, 2015Current GWB. (1) 7′ path for peds, runners, cyclists. Photo by Hassan Diop.
- In 2015, NYCDOT recorded that the GWB averaged 3700 trips per day on weekends, making it the #3 most-biked-bridge in NYC.
- Also, the fastest growing at 10.4% per year.
- If that sustains, the GWB will host 9000 bike trips per day by 2024.
- At 7′ the GWB would have by far the narrowest path.
- Daily bike trips across NYC overall rose from 250K in 2010 to 450K in 2015, or at an annual growth of 12.5%, indicating a secular trend.
- At 521 users per hour, current travel well exceeds AASHTO‘s 300 UPH threshold to widen the paths to 14’ and its FHWA level of service grades “F – Failing“.
- Replace the stairs on the North Path with ramps.
- Widen the NY-NJ approaches.
- Restore 7′ paths “as is”, including the blind turns through the towers.
- Maintain one path for peds-runners another for cyclists.
Unfortunately, PA’s Plan is obsolete on arrival:
- Bike traffic is on track to increase 140% by 2024
- Peds-runners comprise just 25% of current peak use.
- Traffic engineers expect 5-10% peds-runners will still use the bike path.
- ADA won’t protect the PA from liability in accidents involving cyclists.
- FHWA grade for the GWB in 2024 under PA’s Plan remains “F – Failing”.
- Four paths totaling 33.5′ for pedestrians, runners and cyclists.
- 9′ high anti-suicide barrier with an unobstructed view for peds-runners.
- No cables intrude on bike paths. They can be snowplowed to full width.
- Eliminates the blind turns around the towers.
- A widened North Path would provide added capacity as soon as 2020.
- AASHTO-compliance ensures capacity and insulates from liability.
- FHWA grade is: “A – Excellent“.
Benefits to the Region
Rutgers University reported that biking and walking added $497 million to NJ’s economy in 2011 or $56 per resident. If we extend this to the 3.1 million residents of the Lower and Mid-Hudson Valley, that’s $174 million per year.
Even a modest drop off resulting from the GWB ceasing to function as a cycling facility would cost the region tens of millions of dollars per year.
And with the completion of the New Tappan Zee in 2019, the GWB would comprise the south end of a 42 mile loop drawing even more cyclists from throughout the region.
A “linear park” across the GWB, comparable to Walkway Over the Hudson , is projected to attract 300K tourists per year spending $40 million and sustaining 675 jobs.
Applying the World Health Organization “HEAT” model, a widened GWB that could support 14,000 cyclists per day would annually prevent 21 deaths worth $195 million in health care spending.
Doctors from the Columbia School of Public Health determined that increased physical activity supported by widened GWB paths will add 100K quality-adjusted life years at a cost of just $883 per QALY. That’s incredibly cost effective. By comparison, driver’s side airbags are $30K/QALY and flu vaccinations are $12K/QALY
If a 100-year old, saltwater-damaged Hudson rail tunnels, need to be taken off line for repairs, a widened GWB could support thousands of commuters per hour, just like daily bike traffic across NYC’s East River bridges rose from 13,000 to 30,000 after Sandy.
That scenario will repeat in 2019 when “L” subway service is shut down for 18 months to facilitate repairs to the Canarsie Tubes.
Widening the paths will help the region reduce GHG emissions 80% by 2050.
If current bike trips across the GWB were subsidized as the PA does low-emission vehicles ($2.75-$6.75 per trip), the annual CO2 offsets would be worth $5.8 million.
Dozens of national studies correlate increases in home prices to their proximity to bike paths, ranging from 4% in Delaware to 23% in Chicago.
Crediting NYC’s 1000 mile (and growing) bike grid with a “Delaware” multiple, its current share of annual city property taxes would be $150 million.
If we accord the GWB another half a percent for connecting the city grid to recreational roads in Bergen-Rockland, the incremental revenue would be $19 million per year.
Key beneficiaries of widened paths are working class communities who’ve borne the brunt of bridge congestion, unsafe streets and degraded air quality for generations.
Also, San Francisco-Oakland whose expansion of the Bay Bridge provides a critical waterway link where no other option exists.
A revitalized GWB would draw bike share up to Washington Heights, a grid across Bergen and resuscitate dormant projects like Hudson Valley Greenway through the Bronx and River Road Corridor through Edgewater.
Hudson Valley Greenway. Source RBA.
River Road Corridor in Edgewater. Source RBA and Louis Berger Group.
For New York to retain it ranking as World’s #1 Most Competitive City, it must attract and retain a millennial workforce, a demographic that favors bicycling over driving and mass transit.
London (#2 MCC), is in the midst of a $1.4 billion buildout of its bike grid and expects that 50% of all trips into the central business district will be by bike by 2019.
The European Cyclists’ Federation credits the cycling across the E.U. with $27.7 billion per year in reduced noise, emissions, gas use and health costs. That’s $546 per person.
Portland, a city of 600k, credits its bike grid with saving $800 million per year from leaving the region and recently opened the Tilikum Crossing for $135 million that featured (2) 14′ bike-ped paths.
- $3-13 million is the cost for PA’s Plan, net of anti-suicide barriers
- $39 million for Walkway over the Hudson
- $55 million for a path on the new Kosciusko Bridge over Newton Creek
- $60 million to renovate the High Bridge
- $90 million is PA’s estimate to widen the paths to AASHTO standards
- $165 million for the raised Bayonne
- $165 million for the new Goethals
- $380 million, or 20% of $1.9 billion restoration budget, is what USDOT recommends to upgrade bike-ped paths on bridges during renovations
- $400 million on the new Tappan Zee
- $400 million estimated to add paths to the Verrazano
Considering that the GWB will need to sustain more bike trips than all these bridges combined, its widening should be seen as a “best buy.”
Widening the GWB during recabling vs. later as a stand alone project:
- Cantilevers for bikeway can support scaffolding during recabling.
- Historically low interest rates allow the PA to finance construction cheaply and without affecting their credit rating.
- Saves decades’ worth of Construction Cost Index increases.
150 organizations, businesses and communities are calling on the Port Authority to widen the George Washington Bridge paths as part of the upcoming recabling.
“As one of the densest metropolitan areas in America, we must commit to shore up 20th Century infrastructure that cannot keep up with the demands of the 21st Century.” – Rep. Charles Rangel (+10)
“With new off-road opportunities opening up in Sterling Forest, Harriman State Park, paths that meet federal guidelines will insure that cyclists can commute to and from NYC with ease.” – International Mountain Bike Association (IMBA)
“We acknowledge the logistics and expense, but we firmly believe that the benefits will justify these costs many times over. The health, safety, time efficiency, and sheer quality of life of our residents should be our highest priority and deserving of our full commitment.” – Council Members Ydanis Rodriguez and Mark Levine
“The PA’s Plan to allocate (1) 7’ path for peds and runners and (1) 7’ path for cyclists will inevitably cause runners to move over to the cyclists’ path.” – NY Road Runners
“We will be proposing a regional bike network as part of the Fourth Plan, and I would fully expect (the GWB) to be part of it.” – Regional Plan Association
“CB4 supports policy which advocates for, accommodates, and respects all road users, and is on record requesting that new cross-Hudson River tunnels and bus facilities include cyclist needs. The closest Hudson River Crossing to CB4 which allows cycling is the GWB.” – Manhattan Community Board #4
“Over the past several years, the Borough has installed bike lanes, promoted bicycle safety and has served as the host community to bicycle races and similar functions. Widening the paths would serve as a perfect compliment to improvements and policies that we, and neighboring communities, have implemented.” – Fort Lee, NJ
Questions for the Port Authority
- If 3700 cyclists per day and a 10.4% growth rate are insufficient to warrant widening the 7′ pedestrian paths, then what is PA’s threshold? How much more crowded does it need to get?
- If the PA regards the cost of widening the paths during recabling as too high, then what’s the likelihood that a standalone job, at far greater cost, will find acceptance later?
- With bike-share expanding on both sides of the Hudson, how will providers load-balance rush hours if bicyclists get a single 7′ path?
CitiBike 12-unit transporter. Photo by Susan Brennan.
- If 140 bike clubs, shops , elected officials and government agencies are not adequate constituency to get this project moving, then who is?
- Departments of Transportation across the U.S. adhere to AASHTO guidelines to design bicycle-pedestrian paths to insure safety and adequate capacity and to insulate themselves from cycling-related liability. Absent such protection, how can the PA guarantee bicyclists access if it restores the paths as sidewalks?
To ensure that cyclists never have to walk the George Washington Bridge.
Marine Parkway Bridge. (1) 6′ path for pedestrians. Photo by John T. Chiarella.
Neile Weissman, 2017