Consider a very plausible scenario:
- November, 2021. One month after Superstorm Hermione. Assessment of damage to the North River rail tunnels is grim. Interruptions of service, previously kept in check by aggressive maintenance, will only increase in frequency and duration.
- Engineers’ consensus is not to wait for Gateway to be completed, but to commence with a shutdown and overhaul of the 112 year old tunnels starting Spring, 2022.
- Repairs to take three years, pausing November through February to reduce travelers’ exposure to the cold and minimize the incidence of further disruptions from winter storms.
- Effectively, the region is to be placed a war footing.
Fortunately, this scenario had been anticipated. Strategies to maximize throughput, including the use of cycling, had been developed and implemented.
- Work to widen the GWB paths had begun in 2017 and an expanded North Path capable of supporting thousands of users per hour was online by 2020.
- Bike routes to the GWB and ferries had been mapped, striped and signed.
- Bike clubs and shops throughout Bergen partnered to prepare residents for a Manhattan commute.
- Others purchased bikes with electric assist.
- Bike share systems in Jersey City and Hoboken have been extended north to Cliffside Park, Edgewater, Fort Lee and Englewood Cliffs – all of whom had requested wider GWB paths by 2017
- Everyone able to commute on their own freed up bus and train capacity for residents further out.
The precedent for this scenario was after Superstorm Sandy when mass transit was crippled and bike traffic across East River Bridges spiked from 13K trips per day to 30K.
But NYC DOT implemented bike routes over the preceding decade; commuters had become accustomed to cycling; and the bridges had capacity to absorb the surge.
While no one can predict the next weather event, 85% of transportation professionals surveyed at the 2015 Regional Plan Assembly presume that the rail tunnels will be need to be taken offline before Gateway is ready.
So, it is imperative that we learn from Irene and Sandy, and provide robust facilities for those able to commute under their own power. The sooner we attain that capability, the better we’ll be able to face the next disaster.
A bike commute from Fort Lee to Times Square is 55 minutes.