Complete the George Washington Bridge
In 2017, the Port Authority of NY&NJ will begin a seven-year, $1.9 billion reconstruction of the George Washington Bridge which will rip out the 1931-era, 7 foot paths on the edges of the roadway.
The GWB already supports 3700 cyclists per day, and growing at 10.4% per year. If this continues, the GWB will see 9000 cyclists per day by 2024.
If not widened to meet demand, the only bike-able connection between NYC and North Jersey will become a choke point, crippling the growth of cycling across the region, costing enhancements to tourism, public health and resilience that annually exceed the one-time cost of construction.
Who We Are
Complete George is an ad hoc coalition of 170 organizations, businesses and electeds calling on the PA to widen the GWB paths to national standards as part of the upcoming reconstruction.
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 foot across, the GWB would have by far the narrowest path.
- Daily bike trips across NYC 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 in 2015, travel across the GWB paths well exceeds AASHTO‘s 300 UPH threshold for widening to 14 foot.
- The current GWB’s FHWA level of service grade is “F – Failing“.
Port Authority’s Plan (ADA-compliant), 2024Port Authority’s Plan: (1) 7′ path for peds-runners. (1) 7′ path for cyclists. 11′ high anti-suicide barrier. Rendering by Amman & Whitney.
The Port Authority’s plan for the GWB paths chiefly comprises:
- Replace the stairs on the North Path with ramps.
- Widen the NY-NJ approaches.
- Restore paths as ADA-compliant, 7 foot pedestrian paths
- Assign one path to peds-runners and another to bicyclists.
Unfortunately, PA’s plan won’t improve the GWB’s current level of service.
- Peds-runners comprise just 25% of current peak use.
- 5-10% of pedestrians and runners will still use the bike path.
- Will not offset a 140% increase in bike trips by 2024.
- ADA won’t protect the PA from liability in accidents involving cyclists.
- Snowdrifts between the cables will continue to restrict winter access.
- Barriers block views of Palisades and Manhattan skyline.
- FHWA grade for PA’s plan in 2024 remains “F – Failing”.
As compared to the PA’s plan, a facility compliant with national standards (AASHTO) as envisioned a Cyclists’ Proposal, would comprise:
- Four paths totaling 33.5′ for pedestrians, runners and cyclists.
- AASHTO-compliance ensures capacity and insulates from liability.
- No cables to intrude on bike paths. They can be snowplowed to full width
- 9′ high anti-suicide barrier with an unobstructed view for peds-runners.
- A widened North Path would add meaningful capacity as soon as 2020.
- FHWA grade in 2024 is “A – Excellent“.
A Rutgers study shows biking and walking adding $497 million to NJ’s economy in 2011 or $56 per resident. Extended to the 3.1 million residents of the Lower-Mid Hudson Valley, that’s $174 million per year put at risk.
Between the Empire State Trail and the new Tappan Zee Bridge, NY will invest $500 million to grow active transportation in the Lower-Mid Hudson Valley. But cycle tourism could well decline if the single bikeable Hudson crossing out of NYC ceased to function as a cycling facility.
To emphasize the GWB’s importance as an amenity, NYC has 800K residents who bike three or more times per month, but no recreational cycling facilities not shared with pedestrians.
Strava heat map depicting regional cycling activity.
Camoin Associates, who did the economic studies for Walkway Over the Hudson, estimates that a “linear park” across the GWB would attract 289K tourists per year spending $42 million and sustaining 675 jobs.
With the completion of the new Tappan Zee, the GWB would form a 44 mile loop drawing cyclists from across the region past food and tourist stops in upper Manhattan and the Bronx.
Applying the World Health Organization HEAT model used the quantify the health benefits of cycling infrastructure, the increase in physical activity spawned by a widened GWB would prevent 21 deaths per year and save $195 million in health care spending.
And doctors from the Columbia School of Public Health determined the expansion of the GWB proved to be an incredibly cost effective public health intervention at $883 per quality adjusted life year – that’s 14 times more cost effective than vaccinating kids against the flu.
Should we lose a Hudson rail tunnel before Gateway can be built, wider paths would support tens of thousands of commuters per day, just like the East River bridges did after Superstorm Sandy and will again in 2019 when the L Train is shut down to facilitate repairs to the Canarsie Tubes.
Williamsburg Bridge. Image Bowery Boogie.
Increasing bicycle mode share will help the region achieve its 2050 GHG reduction goals. 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.
Key beneficiaries of widened GWB paths are working class, minority communities who’ve borne the brunt of bridge congestion, unsafe streets and degraded air quality for generations.
The PA would then align itself with cities like Baltimore, and Los Angeles which will spend $4 billion over 40 years to extend cycling infrastructure to its “transit deserts.” The expansion of the San Franciso-Oakland Bay Bridge provides a critical waterway link where no other option exists.
A widened GWB would draw bike share up to Washington Heights, motivate 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, the #2 MCC, is in the midst of a $1.4 billion build out of its bike grid. By 2019, they expect that 50% of all trips into the central business district will be by bike.
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 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 $15 million per year.
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 600,000, credits its bike grid with saving the city $800 million per year. The recently opened $135 million Tilikum Crossing features a pair of 14 foot paths.
- $20 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, 20% of $1.9 billion reconstruction budget, is what USDOT deems reasonable to upgrade bicycle-pedestrian access
- $400 million for the new Tappan Zee
- $400 million estimated to add paths to the Verrazano
Considering that the GWB may need to sustain more bike trips than the other bridges combined, its widening should be seen as a “best buy.”
*From PA engineers and press reports. The agency has declined FOIA requests for a breakout of actual costs.
Saving realized by widening the GWB during recabling vs. later as a stand alone project:
- Cantilevers for bikeway can support safety scaffolding during recabling.
- Historically low interest rates allow the PA to finance construction cheaply and without affecting their credit rating.
- Proceeding now saves decades’ worth of Construction Cost Index increases.
- GWB turf war dates back to a wooden bike, NorthJersey.com, 3/2/2017
- PA will widen Pinch Points Around GWB Towers, StreetsBlog, 2/17/2017
- There’s still time to ask for wider GWB Paths, StreetsBlog, 2/174/2017
- GWB project: 7 years, $2 billion, and one thing missing, Crain’s, 2/14/17
- I’m back and things have only gotten worse, Bike Snob, 2/6/17
- Help make the GWB in NYC Better for Cyclists, The Radavist, 1/29/16
- (Foot) traffic problems on the GWB, Brian Lehrer Show, WNYC 12/27/16
170 organizations, businesses and communities are calling for wider GWB paths as part of the upcoming reconstruction.
- “We ask that you call on the Port Authority to widen the George Washington Bridge paths as part of any state program to expand cycling infrastructure.” – Letter to Governor Cuomo signed by 15 State Senators and Assemblymembers
- “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.” – Letter to the PA signed by 11 members of Congress
- NY City Council Resolution 1072-2016 calling upon the Port Authority of NY & NJ to widen the GWB’s sidewalks. – sponsored by 13 NYC Councilmembers
- “6,000 cyclists cross the GWB per weekend. This is a number that will go up, not down.” – Orange County
- “As a long-distance cycling club, we wholeheartedly support segregating the pedestrian walkways and widening the bicycling pathways of the GWB as part of the planned refurbishing of the span.” – Long Island Randonneurs
- “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, (Fort Lee) 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
- “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)
- “The PA’s Plan to allocate one 7 foot path for peds and runners and one 7 foot 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
- “We would encourage the Port to continue to think aggressively about planning for adequate bike facilities in all of its projects. Specifically, about the long-term need for additional capacity on the George Washington crossing. – NYC Deputy Mayor, and former PANYNJ Executive Director, Anthony E. Shorris
Questions for the Port Authority
- If a projected 9000 cyclists per day is insufficient to warrant widening the 7 foot paths now, then what is the 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 are allocated a single 7 foot path?
CitiBike 12-unit transporter. Photo by Susan Brennan.
- If 160 organizations, businesses and communities aren’t enough of a constituency to get this project moving, then who is?
- Absent the insulation from liability afforded by an AASHTO-compliant design, how can the PA guarantee bicyclists continued access?
Marine Parkway Bridge. (1) 6′ path for pedestrians. Photo by John T. Chiarella.