In 2019, New York enacted the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act which mandates aggressive reductions in greenhouse emissions and protects at-risk communities.1
New York has also signed onto the Transportation & Climate Initiative of the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic States—a regional compact to tax gas consumption and use the proceeds to fund sustainable technology and user incentives.2
The state can have its biggest impact by addressing emissions from transport, as these contribute more than a third of its greenhouse gases.
Image NYS Department of Environmental Conservation.
Low-cost bicycle mode share
Replacing vehicle miles traveled with bike trips is the cheapest way to reduce greenhouse emissions from transportation.3 4 5
Building infrastructure for bikes is significantly less expensive than that for cars.6 Also to alternative strategies: increasing subsidies to mass transit, raising vehicle emission standards, building electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure and providing point-of-sale cash incentives for EV purchase.7
Commitment to a cycling network
New York is investing billions of dollars in bike infrastructure.
New York State has allocated $500 million to put bikeways across the Mario M. Cuomo and Kosciuszko bridges and to build out the Empire State Trail.8
New York City has grown its bike grid to 1250 miles; its bike share program to 17 million trips per year; and its constituency of cyclists to 800,000.9 Over the coming 10 years, it will spend $1.7 billion on Vision Zero improvements.10
A crucial link in the chain
The GWB is the linchpin of the region’s bike grid. It directly connects the nation’s two most heavily biked routes: Hudson Greenway and Route 9W.11
The Port Authority’s plan to rebuild the North Path as a 7-foot sidewalk is like connecting two fire hoses with a straw—wholly inadequate to support the current volume of traffic, let alone the growth to come.12 13 14 15
Penny wise, pound foolish
Restoring the North Path to a pedestrian standard will “collar the baby,” ensuring that the popularity of cycling chokes on its own growth. (The PA’s plan meets the ADA standards for pedestrian travel—which is half what AASHTO recommends for cycling.)16
If New York fails to prioritize cycling as the cost-effective means to reduce transport emissions, it will have to fund more expensive strategies to achieve its climate goals.
The farsighted and fiscally sound choice is to build out the GWB North Path to the standards of modern bikeway to strongly encourage the growth of cycling locally and across the region.
This will grow bike use for recreation; mitigate the impact of congestion pricing on Upper Manhattan;17 and offset the economic and ecological fallout from widespread mass transit outage—notably failure of the Hudson rail tunnels.18 19
Manhattan Bridge on Bike to Work Day. Photo Robert Wright.
1 “Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (Climate Act),” New York State, 2/20, https://tinyurl.com/yb48ktss
2 “Framework for a Draft Regional Policy Proposal,” Transportation & Climate Initiative of the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic States, 10/1/19, https://tinyurl.com/y65rmehq
3 “A (global) increase in cycling could save $24 trillion cumulatively between 2015 and 2050 and cut CO2 emissions from urban passenger transport by nearly 11%.” “A Global High Shift Cycling Scenario,” Institute for Transportation and Development Policy, 2015, https://tinyurl.com/y9qpz7xb
4 “Cycling fully-fledged part of Dutch climate policy,” European Cyclist’s Federation, 9/29/19, https://tinyurl.com/ycb64fgw
5 “London,” Complete George, https://tinyurl.com/y68n7oen
6 “For the equivalent cost of a single mile of freeway ($60 million), Portland has a bike infrastructure” Politifact, 2/22/11, https://tinyurl.com/y4ses5yx
7 “Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions”, NYS Department of Environmental Conservation, 2/20, https://tinyurl.com/y52nzr86
8 $440 million for the path across the Mario M. Cuomo (1/9 of total $4B); $55 million for the Kosciuszko (1/10 of $55M); and $100 million for Empire State Trail (1/2 of $200M).
9 “Cycling in the City, Cycling Trends in NYC,” NYCDOT/NACTO, 5/19, https://tinyurl.com/hcu5yaz
10 “After Spike in Deaths, New York to Get 250 Miles of Protected Bike Lanes”, NY Times, 10/28/19, https://tinyurl.com/sgrn4yj
11 “Heat map” of Hudson Greenway, George Washington Bridge and Route 9W, Strava, https://tinyurl.com/yb5ody64
12 “Due to persistent overcrowding, the GWB grades an “F” level-of-service,” “National Standards,” Complete George, https://tinyurl.com/y7p25wlj
13 “Nine Ways Restore the George Gets it Wrong,” Complete George, https://tinyurl.com/y43djtd8
14 “Connecting Communities, A Vision for Harlem River Bridges,” NYCDOT/AECOM, 2018, p. 3, https://tinyurl.com/yc5ac9h2
NYCDOT plan to upgrade cycling capacity on six Harlem River Bridges. Image AECOM.
15 “We predict a doubling of bike trips from 2019 to 2022. The difference will be marked. Tens of billions of additional bicycle rides per year means fewer car trips and lower emissions, with spillover benefits for traffic congestion and urban air quality.” “Cycling’s technological transformation, Making bicycling faster, easier, and safer,” Deloitte Insights, 2020, https://tinyurl.com/yxcaxzjl
16 “National Standards,” Complete George, 8/17, https://tinyurl.com/y7p25wlj
17 “As Congestion Pricing Looms, Pols Rethink Uptown Parking: Report, Politicians fear that suburban drivers may try to avoid congestion fees by parking just above 60th street.”, Patch Upper West Side, 11/4/2019, https://tinyurl.com/y3l66upl
18 “(Failure of the Hudson rail tunnels would result in) two million additional tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere, the equivalent of 2.6 million people flying between New York and San Francisco,” “A Preventable Crisis: The Economic and Human Costs of a Hudson River Rail Tunnel Shutdown.”, Regional Plan Association, 2/25/19, Section 6, https://tinyurl.com/y3d87rad
19 “GWB paths widened to comply with AASHTO would safely support 20,000 cyclists per day,” “With tunnel repairs in the offing, bikes are key to keeping people on the move,” NJ Spotlight, 7/23/18, https://tinyurl.com/yb5r9g57