FHWA grading of Cyclists’ Proposal – “A – Excellent”.
In December, 2014, Port Authority Commissioners were presented with a proposal to upgrade the George Washington Bridge’s east-west approaches and augment its pedestrian paths along the main spans. Its benefits would include:
– 33.5 total width ensures separate paths for pedestrians, runners and cyclists, sharply reducing conflicts between the users.
– Support for thousand of bicycles per hour – plus thousands of pedestrians who’ll have the footpaths to themselves.
– Creates contingent space for single-side closure during maintenance and repainting, civil emergencies and extended shut down of other modes of transport.
– A 9′ high anti-suicide barrier, set flush with the current railing, that retains unobstructed views of the Manhattan skyline and Palisades, preserving the GWB’s potential as a linear park.
– Carves a second path through the towers to spare cyclists from negotiating the blind turns that cause so many conflicts.
– Load bearing sufficient for maintenance and emergency vehicles.
– Bikeways can be snowplowed to their full width, unobstructed by cables.
– Permanent supports for the bikeways could serve as the basis for temporary catwalks during the recabling.
– The proposal incorporates lightweight prefabricated aluminum structures that reduce cost and speed production time relative to conventional steel and concrete, and because the color already matches the rest of the GWB, will never need painting.
– Cyclists’ Proposal conforms to national guidelines for high use pedestrian facility (AASHTO). It will support increased demand by all users well into the century (FHWA); and fulfills USDOT expectations that transportation agencies upgrade bicycle-pedestrian facilities on bridges during major renovations.
The Cyclists’ Proposal was issued in response to Port Authority’s Plan for rehabilitating the paths, announced in March, 2014, which bypasses the existing stairs on the North Path; upgrades the NY-NJ approaches and adds anti-suicide barriers.
Port Authority’s Plan: (1) 6.75′ path for pedestrians and runners (shown in artist’s rendering) and (1) 6.75′ path for cyclists. Image by Amman & Whitney.
– But PA’s ADA-compliant plan does not widen the main spans beyond their current 6.75′. In fact the Port Authority refers to the paths as “sidewalks”, indicating that their function is to support pedestrian traffic.
– PA’s Plan does not remedy the blind turns through the towers — arguably the most dangerous sections of the pathways.
– Neither will it allow the paths to be snowplowed to full width due to the presence of shielded cables. As a result, the unplowed snow will continue to melt and refreezes across path surface.
PA’s Plan will not remedy blind turns through the towers.
Third parties have put PA’s cost of widening the main spans at an additional $90M.
Gatorbridge, who makes the prefabricated aluminum bridges estimated $14 million for the approaches and main spans, including FRG decking and anti-suicide barriers.
This is a relatively straightforward costing exercise that does not include: installation of cantilevers below the support cables every 63′; foundations for the approaches; modifications to towers to accommodate the second path; nor related “soft costs”. But without access to PA’s cost and engineering studies, these elements cannot be quantified.
Potential savings from the Cyclists’ Proposal include:
– Direct savings from the reduced weight and ease of installation of prefabricated aluminum structures relative to a conventional solution.
– Secondary savings in supports and foundations due to reduced dead loads.
– Also, that the permanent supports for the bikeway can also provide the foundation for temporary structures (catwalks) which will be needed to service the re-cabling.
Again, without access to PA’s studies, neither can the potential savings be quantified.
Feedback from Port Authority
The Cyclists’ Proposal was presented to Port Authority’s Board of Directors at their December, 2014 public session. Following which, Commissioners Schuber, Lynford and Moerdler asked that the proposal be vetted.
On January 30, 2015, cyclists, including Peter Matusewitch, an engineer experienced adding bike-ped facilities to long span bridges, and principals from GatorBridge, who fabricate these types of aluminum structures, met with PA engineers.
– PA engineers expressed concern that the lowered bikeways could pose an enforcement problem since PA Police could not directly visually monitor activities from the roadway. But allowed that this concern could be addressed by security cameras.
– PA’s own plans for the east-west approaches were consistent, and in some cases exceeded, concepts advanced by cyclists.
– Modifications to the towers to create space for the second path were not “off the table”.
– PA’s engineers stipulated to, or at least never questioned, the Cyclists’ Proposal’s purported benefits. Nor were any of the proposed elements to widen the span deemed technically unfeasible. Rather, PA’s engineers affirmed that the Authority could widen the GWB paths at any time, but that “other projects required funds”.
If not now …
PA engineers’ last remark begs the questions: The GWB is expected to gross $800M in 2016. When will come a time that other projects don’t require funds?
Also, what level of user demand would trigger a buildout? Peak use on the GWB paths is already 3700 bicyclists and growing at 10.4% per year. By 2024, just as the recabling is completed, we’re on track for 9000 bicyclists per day.
Certainly, if the renovated bridge generates increased demand as is expected.
Neile Weissman, 2015.