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Eight Ways the Port Authority’s Plan for the GWB Paths Gets it Wrong


“Restore” vs. “Complete”

Between 2018 and 2025, the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey will rip out and restore the 1931-era, 7 foot paths on the George Washington Bridge as part of a $1.9 billion program to “Restore the George.”

The George is the sole bike-able connector between North Jersey and NYC.  Its paths are already dangerously overcrowded at 3700 cyclists per day, on weekends, and growing 10.4% per year between 2010 and 2015.

If the paths aren’t widened to comply with national standards for a high use cycling facility (AASHTO), the George will become a solely pedestrian facility.

This will hobble the growth of cycling across the region for generations, impacting durable enhancements to tourism, public health, affordability, competitiveness, sustainability and resilience annually worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

CurrentScreen Shot 2015-04-09 at 10.18.14 AMCurrent GWB. (1) 7′ path for pedestrians, runners and cyclists.  Photo by Hassan Diop.

  • For six months in 2015, NYC DOT recorded that the GWB averaged 3700 trips per day on weekends, making it the #3 most heavily biked bridge in NYC.
  • Also, the fastest growing at 10.4% per year between 2010 and 2015.
  • Yet at 7 foot wide, the George has by far the narrowest path.

Screen Shot 2017-03-04 at 7.15.24 PM.pngData source: NYCDOT and PANYNJ.  Measurements by Neile Weissman.

  • Over the same period, bike trips across NYC overall grew 12.5%, driven by expansion of its bike grid and inauguration of bike share.
  • At 521 users per hour, travel across the GWB paths well exceeds AASHTO‘s 300 user per hour threshold for widening to 14 foot.
  • Remarkably, this level of use has been achieved on a facility with an FHWA level of service of “F – Failing“.

Screen Shot 2017-02-25 at 7.49.28 PM.png

Port Authority’s ADA-compliant PlanScreen Shot 2017-07-17 at 12.04.16 PMPort Authority’s Plan: (1) 7′ path for peds-runners.  (1) 7′ path for cyclists.  11′ high anti-suicide barrier.  Rendering by Amman & Whitney.

The PA’s “Restore the George” plan for the paths chiefly comprises:

  • Replace stairs on the North Path with ramps.
  • Widen the NY-NJ approaches.
  • Restore paths across the one mile span to 7 foot, in compliance with ADA.
  • Assign one path to pedestrians-runners and another to bicyclists.

Unfortunately, PA’s plan won’t improve the GWB’s current “F” level of service.

  • Peds-runners comprise just 25% of current peak use.
  • 5-10% of pedestrians and runners will still use the bike path.
  • Melt-refreeze of snow accumulation will continue to restrict winter access.
  • Safety barriers will obstruct views of NY-NJ waterfronts and Palisades.
  • ADA won’t insulate the PA from liability in accidents involving cyclists.
  • If current growth is sustained, the PA’s plan will remain “F – Failing”.

Screen Shot 2016-10-28 at 11.16.11 AM.png

Complete George’s AASHTO-compliant proposalgwb-enhanced-1Complete George: (2) 10′ paths for cyclists plus (2) 7′ paths for peds-runners. 9′ high anti-suicide barrier. Rendering by Joseph Lertola.

Complete George’s AASHTO-compliant proposal would cantilever a pair of 10 foot bikeways and connected anti-suicide barriers, below the sight lines of the existing 7 foot  paths. These would remain in use for pedestrians and runners.

  • This would result in four paths totaling 33.5 foot.
  • It would maintain unobstructed views from the upper walkways.
  • There are no cables intruding on the bikeways, which removes a significant safety hazard and allows for them to be fully snowplowed.
  • Unlike ADA which makes no mention of cycling, AASHTO insulates the PA from liability arising from crashes involving bicyclists.
  • The FHWA grade for this proposal will be “A – Excellent

Screen Shot 2016-10-28 at 11.18.44 AM.png

Tourism – Regional 

New York City has 828,000 adult cyclists and no recreational facilities not shared with pedestrians and represent a captive market for regional cycle tourism across North Jersey, the Mid-Hudson Valley, Long Island and Connecticut.

Between the Mario M. Cuomo Bridge and the Empire State Trail, New York will invest $500 million to grow cycling across the region.  The GWB connects the two most heavily biked roads in the country, Hudson Greenway and Route 9W.

With the completion of the Mario M. Cuomo, the GWB would form a forty mile loop drawing cyclists from across the region. But cycle tourism could well decline if the single bikeable Hudson crossing out of NYC ceased to function as a cycling facility.

Screen Shot 2017-09-24 at 2.41.38 PM.pngGWB is sole connector for 1650-mile trail network.  Image Regional Plan Association.

Tourism – Local

Employing models used to justify Walkway Over the Hudson, a linear park across the GWB, with unobstructed views of Manhattan and the Palisades, would annually attract 290,000 out-of-area visitors, spending $42 million and sustaining 675 jobs.

944216_10152797690855005_1986938337_nWalkway over the Hudson connecting Dutchess and Ulster Counties.  Image WOTH.

Public Health

World Health Organization model shows the increase in physical activity supported by wider GWB paths to reduce mortality by 21 deaths per years, annually saving $195 million.

Doctors from the Columbia School of Public Health similarly determined wider paths would reduce morbidity at $883 per quality adjusted life year (“QALY”).  That’s 14 times a more cost-effective public health intervention than vaccinating kids against the flu.

Sustainability

If bike trips across the GWB were credited as the PA subsidizes trips by low-emission vehicles ($2.75-$6.75 per trip), the CO2 offsets would be worth $5.8 million per year.

Widening bike paths to supporting the growth of sustainable modes of travel is the least expensive way to reduce greenhouse emissions from transportation, helping the PA, and the region, meet their “80 by 50” reduction goals.  

Organizations adapting to a “Two-Degree World” face three channels of risk: physical, liability and transitional. Investing in assets whose value would rise in a low carbon economy diversifies that risk.

Resilience

Cycling across the George represents a significant increase in trans-Hudson capacity, one that meets the PA’s criteria for as a means to reduce bus traffic into Manhattan.

Should we lose the Hudson rail tunnels before replacement tunnels can be built, wider paths would support 20,000 bike commuters per day.  If included in the ongoing restorations, significant new capacity would be online by 2021.

williamsburg-bridge-path (1).jpgWilliamsburg Bridge.  Image Bowery Boogie.

Transportation Equity

Stakeholders in plans to Restore the George are working class, minority communities who’ve borne the brunt of bridge congestion, unsafe streets and degraded air quality for generations.

If it widened the paths, the PA would align itself with cities like Baltimore, and Los Angeles which will spend $4 billion over 40 years to extend cycling infrastructure to its transportation deserts.”  The expansion of the San Franciso-Oakland Bay Bridge provides a critical waterway link where no other option exists.

1024x1024-2San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, East Span, Caltrans. Source, W. Mueller II.

Connectivity

Bergen County and New York City are each moving forward on programs to dramatically expand cycling across the region on either side of the George.  Unfortunately, they will further hasten it’s obsolescence as a cycling facility.

Screen Shot 2018-06-11 at 7.58.45 AMImages Rutgers CUES and NYC DOT/AECOM.

Competitiveness

Cities across the U.S. market their cycling infrastructure to attract a millennial workforce.  Fifteen Amazon finalists were ranked in the Top 50 U.S. Cities to Bike.”  Seattle was #3.  New York City was #1.  Newark was not ranked.

London, ranked as the the #2 Most Competitive City worldwide (behind NYC), is in the midst of a $1.4 billion build-out of its bike grid. This year, they expect that 50% of all trips into their Central Business District will be by bike.

Property Taxes

Multiple studies correlate increases in home prices to their proximity to bikeways.  These range from 4% in Delaware to 23% in Chicago.

Crediting NYC’s thousand mile bike grid with a “Delaware” multiple, its current share of annual city property taxes would be $150 million.

If adding a robust trans-Hudson connector to that grid enhances it value another half a percent, the incremental revenue would be $15 million per year.

Green Dividend

European Cyclists’ Federation credits cycling with saving the E.U. $27.7 billion per year in reduced noise, emissions, gas use and health costs or $546 per person.

90% of Tokyo‘s 13 million residents use mass transit for their daily commute.  Of those, 30% bike the first-and-last mile.

Portland, a city of 2 million, with a 6% bicycle mode share credits its bike grid with preventing $2.6 billion per year from leaving the city.

Tilikum_Crossing_-_bicycles_4 9.42.56 PM.jpgTilikum Crossing, Portland. (2) 14′ paths. Cost $135 million. Image Tedder.

Cost Comparisons 

  • $118 million to restore the GWB paths to a pedestrian 7 foot width (ADA)
  • $39 million for Walkway over the Hudson
  • $55 million for a bikeway on the Kosciuszko Bridge
  • $60 million to renovate the High Bridge
  • $90 million to widen GWB paths to national standards (AASHTO)
  • $135 million for a bikeway on the Bayonne
  • $135 million for a bikeway on the Goethals
  • $400 million estimated to add bikeways to the Verrazzano
  • $380 million, or 20% of the total $1.9 billion resoration, is what USDOT recommends to upgrade bike-ped paths on bridges during renovations.
  • $440 million  for a bikeway on the Mario M. Cuomo

The GWB will need to support more bike trips than all the others combined.

Screen Shot 2015-07-21 at 1.38.10 PMHigh Bridge – Getty.  Goethals Bridge – PANYNJ.  Bayonne Bridge – Ramlogue.

Cost Savings

Savings from widening the GWB during recabling vs. later as a stand alone project:

  • Cantilevers for bikeway can support safety scaffolding during recabling.

Presuming 3% annual increase in the cost of construction, plus 2% inflation, the cost to widen the GWB paths grows from of $90 million in 2018 to $430 million in 2050.

CCI 1913-2013Construction Cost Index 1913-2013.  Engineering News Record.

Press

Support

240 organizations, businesses, communities and public officials have called on the PA to widen the GWB paths to comply with national standards as part of the upcoming reconstruction.

  • “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.” – Eleven NY-NJ members of Congress
  • “6,000 cyclists cross the GWB per weekend.  This number will go up, not down.” – Orange County
  • “The Borough has installed bike lanes, promoted bicycle safety and has served as the host community to bicycle races and similar functions. Widening the (GWB) paths would serve as a perfect compliment to improvements and policies that we, and neighboring communities, have implemented.” – Fort Lee, NJ
  • Before construction begins, the (PA’s) plans must be revisited to ensure that this once-in-a-lifetime project is planned to optimum standards, not just good enough. – Transportation Alternatives
  • “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)
  • “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
  • “The plan to allocate one 7 foot path for peds-runners and another for cyclists will inevitably cause runners to move over to the cyclists’ path.” – NY Road Runners
  • “Despite being the only bike route over the Hudson leaving NYC, the proposed 7-foot paths seem more like an afterthought than a true civic amenity.” – Regional Plan Association

Questions for the Port Authority

  • If a 3700 cyclists per day is insufficient to warrant widening the 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 as too high during recabling, then what’s the likelihood that a standalone job, at far greater cost, will find acceptance later?
  • How will bike share providers rebalance during periods of peak use if bicycles are allocated a single 7 foot path?

image1 (1).jpgCitiBike 12-unit transporter.  Photo by Susan Brennan.

  • If 240 organizations, businesses, communities and public officials aren’t enough of a constituency to get this project moving, then who is?
  • How can the PA guarantee bicyclists continued access without the insulation from liability afforded by an AASHTO-compliant design.

What Would Othmar Do?

GWB architects Othmar Ammann and Cass Gilbert specified 16 foot wide paths in the original plans.

Screen Shot 2018-03-07 at 8.32.14 AMRendering of GWB entrance with 16 foot wide pedestrian portals.  Image Cass Gilbert.

Neile Weissman, 2019