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GWB Reconstruction Misses Mark on Sustainability – Regional Plan Association Lab

Eight Ways the PA GWB Plan Gets it Wrong


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Complete George

Between 2018 and 2025, the Port Authority will rip out and restore the 1931-era, 7 foot 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 paths are already dangerously overcrowded at 3700 cyclists per day, on weekends, and growing 10.4% per year between 2010 and 2015.

If not widened to comply with national standards, the GWB will degrade to a “walk-your-bikes” facility, hobbling the growth of cycling across the region for decades, costing durable enhancements to tourism, public health, resilience and sustainability annually worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

George Washington Bridge, 2015Screen Shot 2015-04-09 at 10.18.14 AMCurrent 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 heavily biked bridge in NYC.
  • Also, the fastest growing at 10.4% per year.
  • Yet at 7 foot across, the GWB would have by far the narrowest path.

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

  • 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 growth has been achieved on a facility with an FHWA level of service grade of “F – Failing“.

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

Port Authority’s GWB Plan (ADA-compliant), 2025Screen Shot 2017-08-09 at 8.21.25 AM.pngPort 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 between 2015 and 2024.
  • Snowdrifts between the cables will continue to restrict winter access.
  • Barriers block views of Palisades and Manhattan skyline.
  • ADA won’t protect the PA from liability in accidents involving cyclists.
  • FHWA grade for PA’s plan in 2024 remains “F – Failing”.

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

Complete George (AASHTO-compliant), 2025gwb-enhanced-1Complete George: (2) 10′ paths for cyclists plus (2) 7′ paths for peds-runners. 9′ high anti-suicide barrier. Rendering by Joseph Lertola.

As an example of a facility compliant with national standards (AASHTO), the Complete George proposal would comprise:

  • Four paths totaling 33.5′ for pedestrians, runners and cyclists.
  • 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.
  • Compliance with AASHTO 2012 guidelines insulates the PA from liability.
  • FHWA grade in 2024 is “A – Excellent

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

16 Foot Wide Paths Part of 1931 DesignScreen Shot 2018-03-07 at 8.32.14 AMEarly GWB rendering depicting 16 foot wide pedestrian portals.  Image Cass Gilbert.

Regional Tourism 

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.  And with the new TPZ, the GWB would form a 44 mile loop drawing cyclists from across the region past eateries and tourist stops along the way.

But cycle tourism could well decline if the single bikeable Hudson crossing out of NYC ceased to function as a cycling facility.

  • NYC has 800,000 active cyclists, but no recreational cycling facilities not shared with pedestrians.
  • The GWB represents the sole point of access to bikeable roads and green space not available within NYC.
  • The GWB connects the two most heavily biked roads in the US: Hudson Greenway in NYC and Route 9W in New Jersey.

Strava Heat.jpgStrava heat map depicting regional cycling activity.

Local Tourism

In economic terms, using Walkway Over the Hudson model, 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

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  a replacement 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.

Cycling across the GWB meets all the PA’s criteria for an effective strategy to reduce bus traffic into its mid-town terminal.

williamsburg-bridge-path (1).jpgWilliamsburg 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.

Transportation Equity

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.

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


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.

screen-shot-2017-01-03-at-10-07-37-pmHudson Valley Greenway.  Source RBA.

screen-shot-2017-01-03-at-10-13-49-pmRiver 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.

Property Taxes

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.

Green Dividend

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.

In Tokyo, a city of 13 million, 90% use mass transit for their daily commute.  Of those, one third  bike the first-and-last mile.

Portland, a city of 600,000, credits its bike grid with saving the city $800 million per year.

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

Cost comparisons for AASHTO-compliant bike paths on local bridges 

  • $39 million – Walkway over the Hudson
  • $55 million – Kosciusko Bridge (Newton Creek)
  • $60 million – High Bridge
  • $90 million – George Washington Bridge
  • $135 million – Bayonne Bridge
  • $135 million – Goethals Bridge
  • $380 million – what USDOT deems reasonable to upgrade bike-ped access on GWB (20% of total $1.9 billion reconstruction)
  • $300-400 million – Verrazano Bridge
  • $440 million – Mario M. Cuomo Bridge

Note: the GWB will need to support more bike trips than 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.



240 organizations, businesses, communities from across the Port District are calling on the PA to widen the GWB paths to comply with national standards as part of the upcoming reconstruction.

  • “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, 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
  • “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
  • “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

screen-shot-2016-10-11-at-8-18-10-am60 North Jersey municipalities plus 9 community boards in Manhattan and the Bronx alone comprise 2.0 million area residents in support.

Questions for the Port Authority

  • If a 3700 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?

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

  • If 230 organizations, businesses and communities and elected officials from across the region aren’t enough of a constituency to get this project moving, then who is?
  • How can the PA guarantee bicyclists continued access without insulation from liability afforded by an AASHTO-compliant design.

Screen Shot 2015-04-09 at 4.09.33 PMMarine Parkway Bridge.  (1) 6′ path for pedestrians.  Photo by John T. Chiarella.

Neile Weissman, 2017