Bikes improve transport choice, safety and resilience
Resilience in transportation means offering multiple options for travel. To move customers in the event of breakdowns, maintenance work, extreme weather or other disaster, municipal transit operators must construct complementary and redundant modes that keep the system running.
In NYC, bicycling infrastructure has greatly increased transport resilience. Thousands of people in each borough daily commute on bike lanes, and across modern bike paths on NYC bridges. This added mobility has proven crucial during various transit outages:
• When Superstorm Sandy shut down car travel and subway service in October 2012, NYC residents turned to bicycles for transportation. Across East River bridges, bike traffic immediately surged from 13,000 to 30,000 trips per day.1
• In 2018, as part of the planned L-subway shutdown, the Williamsburg Bridge was expected to support 14,000 bike commuters per day.2
MTA-DOT plan to offset lost L-subway capacity using Williamsburg Bridge bikeway.
• At the onset of the COVID-19 this past March, NYC officials encouraged residents to avoid mass transit. CitiBike usage soon jumped two-thirds. Commuters snapped up bike shops’ inventories and are keeping mechanics working overtime.3
Time and again, cycling infrastructure has kept NYC running without added manpower or expense. This is because the bike paths are well established, its bike share network is robust, commuters are accustomed to using them and, crucially, the arterial bridges have surplus capacity to handle the influx.
Alternative to rail tunnel failure, weather outage and congestion pricing
The region’s need for emergency transit capacity will only increase in the years ahead. The GWB’s North Path must be expanded into a modern, AASHTO-compliant bikeway, on a par with other NYC bridges.
At present, two aged Hudson rail tunnels are central to transit between New York and New Jersey. If they require repair before replacements are complete, that will reduce capacity by 75% for four years, costing $16 billion in gridlock and travel delays.4
In this “Hudsogeddon” scenario, a widened North Path could support 10,000 commuters per day.5 6 This includes personal bikes as well as bike share—with the GWB providing adequate capacity to rebalance docking stations.
This capacity would prove useful mitigating extreme weather events, acts of terror, labor outage, and the ongoing pandemic. When congestion pricing is (eventually) introduced, cycling the North Path will provide an alternative to driving and parking in Upper Manhattan.
London Bridge Associates has recommended that repairs of the Hudson Rail Tunnels proceed “in service,” prior to the completion of replacement tunnels. If implemented, weekend train capacity would be reduced from 24 to six trains per hour for a period of 31 months.
To mitigate lost service, LBA recommends “bus or other forms of transport to enhance to existing contingency and emergency plans.” Cycling is less expensive than buses or ferries.7 8
CitiBike 12-unit transporter. Photo by Susan Brennan.
1 “Sandy Caused a Mini Bike Boom in NYC,” WNYC, 11/5/12, https://tinyurl.com/yalsj74u
2 “City Plans for L Train Closure”, NY Times, 12/13/17, https://tinyurl.com/yc9dtbhc
3 “A Surge in Biking to Avoid Crowded Trains in N.Y.C.,” NY Times, 3/14/20, https://tinyurl.com/y8kypkg6
4 “A Preventable Crisis, The Economic and Human Costs of a Hudson River Rail Tunnel Shutdown,” Regional Plan Association, 02/19, https://tinyurl.com/y8oqzg9r
5 “[Both] paths widened to comply with national standards (AASHTO) would safely support 20,000 cyclists per day, plus pedestrians and bike share.” “With tunnel repairs in the offing, bikes are key to keeping people on the move,” NJ Spotlight, https://tinyurl.com/ya8ffz3e
6 “Where did the metal pole come from that punctured an NJ Transit train?,” NJ.COM, 9/10/18, https://tinyurl.com/y9xfns6a
7 “The report by London Bridge Associates argues that the existing, century-old cross-Hudson tubes can be repaired over nights and weekends, without first building a new crossing.” “Cuomo sets off new feud over Gateway tunnel,” Politico New Jersey, 11/23/20, https://tinyurl.com/y24ln7al
8 “Since (loss of service) can only materialize at off-peak hours, consider where bus services or other forms of transport could be used to take passengers between stations as enhancements to existing NRT/trans-Hudson contingency and emergency plans.” “Independent Review of the Refurbishment Proposals for the North River Tunnel Rehabilitation Project, p. 18,” London Bridge Associates, 11/23/20, https://tinyurl.com/y6kpsfz8