2018/11 – Asymmetric Approach

Remarks to the PANYNJ, 11/15/18

Chairman O’Toole, today I ask you consider an asymmetric approach towards restoring the GWB’s bicycle-pedestrian paths.1  

The PA’s current plan treats North and South paths the same.  Both will get new entrances and safety barriers.  The North will get ramps to remediate flights of stairs added to facilitate car access.2  The end result will be to restore the George to its 1931 configuration comprising a pair of 7-foot walkways.

This configuration, however, does not align with projected use. Growth of foot travel has been incremental, while bike traffic has exploded and will continue to do so.3 The public will be best served by an approach that focuses scarce resources on areas of greatest need.

Limit expenditures on the South Path

The South Path, which the PA has designated as the pedestrian facility, is already suited to the task. Its New York approach does need the accessible ramp the Agency has planned, but the New Jersey access could be left as is.  

So can the safety shrouding installed by the Agency in 2017 – there’s no need for a new, view-blocking anti-suicide barrier.  Funds for these projects could be redirected to the greater needs.

IMG_8837Safety netting installed on GWB South Path, December, 2017.  Photo Neile Weissman.

Eliminate “gathering” and “viewing” areas

On both the North and South Paths, the Agency should eliminate planned “gathering” and “viewing” areas by entrances and ramps.  While they may be have been intended as amenities, they encourage crowds to form at critical points of cyclists’ ascent and descent, putting all users at risk. 

Effectively, they cripple the George as a cycling facility.5  

They also occupy space needed to support bike share.  Funds for these should be redirected as well.

Screen Shot 2017-09-29 at 9.40.53 AM.pngProposed NY-NJ entrances to GWB North Path. Images PANYNJ.

Cantilever the North Path

The North Path needs significantly more capacity to satisfy demand from bicyclists, and others who will inevitably share it.7  This can be accomplished by building a cantilevering a bikeway below the North Path.

This will also preserve the Path’s historic views from the existing 7-foot path.  This is crucial to realizing the George’s potential as a “linear park”—a place that will draw hundreds of thousands of new visitors per year, generating tens of millions of dollars in economic activity.9

gwb-enhanced-1Complete George. 10-foot bikeways plus 7-foot walkways. Rendering Joseph Lertola.

Over the coming years, the Authority should plan for additional improvements:

Cantilever a second bikeway off the South Path

Over time, as the demand for cycling grows, it will become necessary to cantilever a second bikeway off the South Path. This expansion will also increase trans-Hudson capacity in case of a widespread, possible unforeseen, transit outage.10 11  

The immediate restoration should include simple preparations to facilitate an eventual bikeway, such as installing support beams under the sets of cables.

Enclose the bikeways  

During winter, the paths are often closed due to unplowed snow that thaws and refreezes.  Also, due to the threat of ice falling from overhead. The PA should enclose the cantilevered bikeways. That would eliminate the need and expense of snow removal.12 13 Also, the need to close the paths during years when the bridge gets repainted.

Screen Shot 2015-04-09 at 10.18.14 AMCurrent GWB. One 7-foot path for peds, runners and cyclists.  Photo by Hassan Diop.

Add comfort stations to parks and service areas by NY-NJ entrances

They’re a basic human necessity.  And the need for robust facilities will only grow as improvements draw more visitors. Their addition will also head off certain conflicts with adjacent communities.

Adopt an Asymmetric Approach

A smart project is one that adapts to changing conditions. For the GWB restoration, that means reallocating existing resources to eliminate unnecessary expenditures and focus on areas of greatest need.

The most important function of the GWB paths is to support the rapid growth of active transportation – bikes, scooters, pedestrians and runners.  Secondarily, to realize the GWB’s potential as a public space, both as local amenity as well as a tourist draw. 

Taking an asymmetric approach towards path restoration will realize those goals. It will also lay a foundation upon which the Agency can partner with stakeholders14 on future improvements. And the emerging crop of mobility-as-a-service providers to grow the market.15

Neile Weissman, 2018

[1] George Washington Bridge “Restoring the George” Construction Program, Supplemental Information on Bicycle and Pedestrian Access, PANYNJ, https://tinyurl.com/ybchvgoc

[2] The North also gets ramps to replace flights of stairs installed, post-1931, to facilitate automotive access to the Henry Hudson Drive and Palisade Interstate Parkway., Walkthrough, Complete George, https://tinyurl.com/y7temlxu

[3] Capacity and Demand, Complete George, https://tinyurl.com/jpcfphq

[4] The PA has stated that its current GWB path plans will cost $118 million. Widening the main spans would cost an additional $90 million, or $45 million per side.

[5] “At both ends, cyclists will be forced through crowds encouraged by the PA’s plan. Predictably, they’ll be obliged to dismount, backing up traffic on the span.”, Ways the PA’s Plans to Restore the George Gets it Wrong, Complete George, https://tinyurl.com/ybeo524b

Screen Shot 2017-09-26 at 12.31.51 AM.pngManhattan Bridge on Bike to Work Day.  Photo Robert Wright.

[6] “The PA’s plan for (1) 7’ path for peds and runners and (1) 7’ path for cyclists will inevitably cause runners to move to cyclist paths.”, NY Road Runners, https://tinyurl.com/ybqfxssf

[7] To mitigate a regional transport outage, the 10-foot bikeway could operate in a single direction, with one of the 7-foot walkways used to support counter-flow bike traffic and to rebalance bike share.  Such a configuration could support 10,000 cyclists per day as soon as 2021.  Or 20,000 per day by 2025, if a 10-foot South Path is added. NJ Spotlight, https://tinyurl.com/ya8ffz3e

[8] What Would Othmar Do?, Complete George, https://tinyurl.com/y8zu5m6q

[9] “Using Walkway Over the Hudson as a model, a ‘Complete George’ with robust bikeways, discrete paths for pedestrians and runners, and unobstructed views of the NY-NJ skylines and the Palisades would annually draw 290,000 tourists, spending $42 million and sustaining 675 jobs.”, Linear Park, Complete George, https://tinyurl.com/y8zu5m6q

[10] This past summer, a loose electrical bracket hanging from the roof of a Hudson rail tunnel pierced the passenger compartment of two trains.  Had the incident resulted in loss of life, the tunnels would have been closed immediately, for an extended period. Where did the metal pole come from that punctured an NJ Transit train? nj.com, https://tinyurl.com/y9xfns6a

dmizdfsu8aaaesuImage nj.com.

[11] Citi Bike will expand in Manhattan and Williamsburg during L train shutdown, Curbed New York, https://tinyurl.com/y9faxhw8

[12] The PA has put the annual cost of path snow removal at $1 million.

[13] Under the PA’s current plan, the problem of un-plowed snow between cables thawing and re-freezing would remain.  If a standard snow blower is employed, the PA’s proposed 11’ high barriers will make snow removal even more difficult and expensive.

[14] PA-identified external stakeholders in the GWB Suspender Ropes Replacement Program who’ve called for wider GWB paths include the Borough of Fort Lee, Bergen County, Manhattan Community Board 12 and NYC Department of Transportation, GWB Suspender Ropes Replacement Program, PANYNJhttps://tinyurl.com/y8zphkut

[15] Mobility-as-a-service (“MaaS”) providers operating locally include Motivate/Lyft, P3GM/EYSA, Jump/Uber, Lime, Pace and (soon to be) Bird., MaaS, Complete George, https://tinyurl.com/y787zrtr