In 2019, the L-subway between Brooklyn and Lower Manhattan will shut down for 15 months to facilitate renovation of the salt-water-damaged Canarsie Tubes. To offset the loss of train service for 225,000 commuters, the MTA and NYCDOT will add new rail, bus, private car, ferry and cycling capacity.1 2
By 2026, it becomes increasingly likely3 that the region will face the same choice on Hudson Tunnel Project.4 The window is closing to permit, fund and complete the replacement tunnels – as are options to replace lost capacity by other means.
Here we consider the role of cycling in mitigating the worse case transportation crisis scenarios. The New York agencies have already committed to expanding cycling capacity as an integral part of the solution. The PA has not yet chosen to but would be wise to do so. The benefits are considerable and costs minimal.
The renovation of the Canarsie Tubes will involve total closure and will not be preceded by the creation of new tunnels. Rather, commuters will be re-routed: 75% to beefed-up service on alternate subway lines; 15% to new bus routes; 5% to start-up ferry service.
The adjacent Williamsburg Bridge traffic lanes will be reserved exclusively for bus, truck and high-occupancy vehicles (HOV3). New bike lanes across Brooklyn and lower Manhattan are expected to double daily ridership across the Williamsburg paths to 14,000.
Hudson Tunnel Project
Table-top planning for the Hudson Tunnel Project, which will also affect 200,000 daily commuters, appears far more difficult and expensive.
While the NYC subway comprises vast, overlapping lines with multiple river crossings, the Hudson Tunnels comprise a single point of failure for interstate travel on NJ Transit and Amtrak. Alternate bus and PATH service are already at capacity during peak hours.
Buses and for-hire vehicles could absorb some displaced commuters, but would require considerable on-street storage. And converting single-occupancy vehicle (SOV) lanes to bus and HOV would significantly reduce toll revenue under the current rate structure.5 6 7
PATH could be expanded by lengthening stations, adding cars and replacing outdated signal systems. But these improvements are not funded in the Port Authority’s 10-Year Capital Plan and would not be completed in time to make up lost capacity.8
Increased utilization of Hudson River ferries, which run at just 25% of capacity would help.9 The challenge is getting travelers to the water.
Which brings us to cycling.
A Complete George configuration — adding two 10 foot paths to the existing two 7 foot paths — would safely support 4000 commuters per hour, or 20,000 per day, plus pedestrians and enough cross-peak capacity to rebalance bike share.10
Communities adjacent to the GWB now send tens of thousands of bus commuters per day into NYC.11 Many will prefer a 60 minute bike ride to sitting in traffic for hours.
Six Hudson cities have implemented bike share – this will increase ferry utilization without added congestion.14 15 By 2019, bike paths on the Bayonne and Goethals bridges will enable 60 and 75 minute bike trips to Wall Street.
As an indicator of latent demand, 60 municipalities from Middlesex to Passaic have called for greater cycling capacity across the George.16
The MTA-DOT preparations for the L-Train shutdown provide a strong model that the Port Authority should consider adapting for the Hudson Tunnel project, including the following:
- In setting a date for a shutdown, schedule the renovation to span the warmest months to maximize cycling utilization, reduce the public’s exposure to the elements and minimize the chances for additional weather-induced outage.17
- Hold plenty of public hearings.
- Widen the GWB paths. If included in the upcoming bridge restoration, elements could be online by 2021, with full capacity by 2025.18
“Doing nothing is not an option.”
Unless we can be certain that replacement tunnels will be in operation before the old tunnels are shut down, the region must plan for the worst-case scenario. To quote NYCDOT, “Doing nothing is not an option.”
“Even partial tunnel closure would put 50,000 additional cars on the road, pushing Manhattan into gridlock and backing up New Jersey traffic 25 miles.”19
“Martin Robins, of the Voorhees Transportation Center says he is ‘terribly’ worried about NJ real estate values and Nicole Gelinas, transportation expert at the Manhattan Institute, says she may ‘start advising friends to move to Long Island, not New Jersey’ ”20
On the Thursday following Superstorm Sandy, cycling across across NYC’s East River bridges surged from 13,000 to 30,000.21 But this was preceded by a decade of investment in cycling infrastructure during which the commuting public became accustomed to cycling.
Cycling is the low-cost means to expand transit capacity. The more you stimulate adoption, the less you spend on more expensive modes.
The sooner these investments are made, the sooner residents will incorporate them into their daily travel habits, creating resilient new capacity for inevitable changes down the road.
 The Williamsburg is not a toll bridge. Repurposing its traffic lanes will not impact revenue.
 The 10-Car PATH Program would likely not be operational until 2028 if approved today, given the design and construction timeline for the associated projects., THCCS, pp. 6-7, PANYNJ, http://tinyurl.com/y7ejduqz
 (2) 10 foot paths and (2) 7 foot paths would provide an acceptable level of service to support 4000 peak hour cyclists or 20,000 per day plus pedestrians, cross peak cyclists and bike share.
 Bayonne, Jersey City, Hoboken, Weehawken, West New York, Guttenberg, North Bergen, Five New Cities Choose Hudson Bike Share, Leaving Jersey City Alone With CitiBike, Jersey Diggs, https://tinyurl.com/y9zre298
 The L-Subway shutdown will commence in April, 2019 for 15 months, spanning a single winter.