Image Regional Plan Association.
Despite its thousand miles of roadway, NYC offers no dedicated recreational facilities to its 793,000 cyclists.1 Its greenways and bike paths are invariably crowded with pedestrians, runners, food trucks and service vehicles.
For obstacle-free riding, NYC cyclists flock to bikeable roads and green space west of the Hudson, accessible only by the George Washington Bridge.
The GWB: lifeline and threat
At 7-foot, the GWB bikeway is dangerously overcrowded, drawing 3700 cyclists per day on weekends. This exceeds peak use on East River Bridges twice as wide.2
As part of its $1.9 billion recabling and restoration project, the Port Authority will rip out the 1931-era walkways—then restore them to the same 7-foot width.3
Current national standards, principally AASHTO, state that a bikeway needed to safely support this many users should be at least 14-foot wide.4
The PA’s failure to widen means they will soon require cyclists to walk the mile-long span.5 This will cleave the regional bike network in two and restrict access to NYC’s cycling communities.6 7
Rethink the barriers, preserve the view
As part of the restoration, the PA will install 11-foot-high fences along the paths to prevent suicides. In choosing this design, the PA ignores alternatives that would save lives without obstructing landmark views of the Palisades.8
The PA’s design thus creates a visual barrier to green space.
The proposal to widen the North Path would cantilever the bikeway and safety barrier below the roadway, thus preserving views for pedestrians and runners using the upper level.
Proposed plans for anti-suicide barriers. Images Joseph Lertola and PANYNJ.
A magnificent new public space
The North Path proposal substantially improves upon the PA’s plan by providing discrete and adequate paths for all users while preserving historic views.
Critically, it realizes the GWB architects’ vision of the span as a great public space with 15-foot-wide promenades and mile-long belvederes.9
For the $2 billion cost, ultimately paid by the public, we deserve a magnificent icon to celebrate shared sacrifices—not a cage to make us regret them.
1930’s depiction of the GWB with 15 foot-wide promenades. Rendering Cass Gilbert.
1 “Cycling in the City, Cycling Trends in NYC,” NYCDOT/NACTO, 5/19, https://tinyurl.com/hcu5yaz
2 “Capacity and Demand,” Complete George, 9/16, https://tinyurl.com/jpcfphq
3 “Restore the George, Supplemental Information on Bicycle Pedestrian Access,” PANYNJ, https://tinyurl.com/y8evmac6
4 “National Standards,,” Complete George, 8/17, https://tinyurl.com/y7p25wlj
5 “Safety, Litigation and the Demise of Cycling on the GWB,” Ibid, 9/17, https://tinyurl.com/y2gpfc3g
6 “Parks serving primarily nonwhite populations are half the size and five times more crowded than parks that serve majority white populations. Parks serving majority low-income households are four times smaller and four times more crowded than parks that serve majority high-income neighborhoods.” “The Heat is On,” The Trust for Public Land, August 2020, p. 2, https://tinyurl.com/y638cmtw
7 “Creating an effective network also means improving existing trails and connections. In particular, the connections between the greater region and New York City include major bridge crossings, such as the Brooklyn and George Washington Bridges, that are likely to be in high demand by many users.” “RPA Proposes Extending and Connecting Regional Trails to Form a Unified Network,” Regional Plan Association, https://tinyurl.com/y27u8m8s
8 “The cliffs of the Palisades were designated a National Historic Landmark in 1965. About 12 miles long, 1/2 mile wide, and comprising about 2500 acres of shorelands, uplands, and cliffs, the Palisades Interstate Park provides visual and physical access to natural grandeur for millions in the metro area.” “The Palisades,” National Trust for Historic Preservation, https://tinyurl.com/y9kq4m78Image mybergen.com.
9 “What Would Othmar Do?” Complete George, 12/17, https://tinyurl.com/vlhhm55