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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, NYCDOT recorded an average 3700 trips per day on weekends, making the GWB 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 sources: NYCDOT and PANYNJ.  Measurements by Neile Weissman.

  • Between 2010 and 2015, bike trips across NYC overall grew 12.5%, driven by expansion of its bike grid and the debut of bike share.
  • At 521 users per hour, travel across the GWB paths well exceeds AASHTO‘s 300 user-per-hour threshold to widen the paths to 14 foot.
  • Remarkably, this growth has occurred 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 would:

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

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.
  • Melt-refreeze of snow accumulation will continue to restrict winter access.
  • Safety barriers will obstruct views of city skylines and the Palisades.
  • ADA won’t insulate the PA from liability in crashes involving cyclists.
  • If current levels of growth sustain, its grade 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 safety barriers below the existing 7 foot  paths which would both be reserved for pedestrians and runners.

  • This would result in four paths totaling 33.5 foot.
  • It would maintain unobstructed views of pedestrians and runners.
  • No cables intruding on bikeways allow them to be fully snowplowed.
  • Increased capacity would be available as soon as 2021.
  • AASHTO-compliant paths insulate the PA from liability.
  • FHWA grade for this proposal in 2025 will be “A – Excellent

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

Tourism – Regional 

NYC has 828,000 adult cyclists and no recreational facilities not shared with pedestrians.  They represent a core market for cycle tourism across North Jersey, Low-Mid Hudson Valley, Long Island and Connecticut. 

In tandem with the Mario M. Cuomo Bridge, the George would form a forty mile loop, drawing cyclists from across the region. 

Biking and walking added $497 million to NJ’s economy in 2011.   The Empire State Trail  and Cuomo, Kosciuszko Bridges represent half a billion invested in cycling across lower New York.  But cycle tourism could well decline if the single bikeable Hudson crossing out of NYC ceased to function as a cycling facility.

The GWB connects the two most heavily biked roads in the country, Hudson Greenway and Route 9W and is linchpin to the 1650 mile Tri-State Trail Network.

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

Based on studies used to fund Walkway Over the Hudson, a linear park across the GWB, with unobstructed views of city skylines and the Palisades, and discrete paths for all pedestrians, runners and cyclists is projected to attract 290,00 new visitors per year, 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.

Environmental Justice / Transportation Equity 

Key beneficiaries of widened GWB paths include communities who’ve borne the brunt of bridge congestion, unsafe streets and degraded air quality for generations.  

By widening the paths, the Port Authority 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 bike -ped capacity across 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.

Affordability

The Regional Plan Association has called for reducing expenditures for housing, utilities and transportation from 51% of household income to 45% by 2040.

Commuting by bike saves thousands of dollars per year versus mass transit or car.

Cycling reduces the need for off-street parking, which lowers the cost of affordable housing and frees up real estate near transport hubs for transit-oriented development.

Screen Shot 2016-06-24 at 4.09.24 PMPercentage of income spent on housing and transport.  Image Regional Plan Association.

Connectivity

Bergen, NJ and New York City are each moving forward on programs to dramatically expand cycling 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.  Twelve Amazon HQ2 finalists were ranked in Bicycling Magazine’s Top 50 U.S. Cities to Bike.

London, ranked as the the #2 Most Competitive City worldwide (behind NYC), spent $268 million on its cycling infrastructure in 2018.   It is expected that daily bike trips into its Central Business District will soon exceed car trips.

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

Considering that its paths may need to sustain more trips than the other bridges combined, the GWB should be considered a “best buy.”

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

Cost Savings

  • It is less expensive and disruptive to accomplish the widening as part of the recabling than later as a standalone project.
  • Proceeding now saves decades’ worth of Construction Cost Index increases. 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

250 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 current cost of widening the paths too expensive, what’s the likelihood that a standalone job, at greater cost, will find acceptance later?
  • If 250 organizations, businesses, communities and public officials aren’t enough of a constituency to get this project moving, then who is?
  • DOTs broadly adhere to AASHTO for the design of shared use paths – to insure safety and adequate capacity, as well as to insulate themselves from liability. How can the PA continue to guarantee bicyclists access if it restores the paths to an ADA standard?
  • How can the PA guarantee bicyclists continued access without the insulation from liability afforded by an AASHTO-compliant design.
  • How will the PA’s path design support bike share?  How many docking stations will the entrances accommodate?  How will providers load-balance periods of peak use if cyclists are allocated a single 7 foot path?

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

What Would Othmar Do?

GW Bridge designers Othmar Ammann and Cass Gilbert envisioned the paths as a great public space. Original design drawings depict 16′ wide paths and portals and early use projections showed foot traffic growing faster than car trips.

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