14/05 – Charles Komanoff

Statement to PANYNJ Trustees, May 28, 2014.  Also see February 16, 2017

My name is Charles Komanoff.

I was president of Transportation Alternatives in the late eighties and early nineties when the bicycling community negotiated access across the George Washington Bridge south path.

My Port counterpart in the negotiations was Ernesto Butcher, then director of bridges, tunnels and terminals, who retired from the Port in 2011 and died last week. Ernesto was smart, tough, loyal, determined and public-spirited. I join you in saying that I miss him.

I make several dozen round-trips across the GWB each year: a handful as a driver, but mostly as a bicyclist using the south path. As much as I treasure the access granted, I have to say that conditions today for cycling are frequently appalling, especially at the constricted entry points on each side (where an oncoming cyclist struck me last May, incidentally). Yes, you could say that the often teeth-clenching ride is because of “crowding,” making us cyclists victims of our own success. But that is my point.

The improvements slated to be installed in this decade, while significant and welcome, are also all too likely to induce or otherwise fall victim to their own crowding. In just the eight years leading to 2010, by the Port’s own figures, weekend cycling counts increased by over 5% a year, and weekday counts by over 15% annually. Extrapolated just to 2020, annual one-way trips will surpass one million.[1] At which point peak-hour levels of service will have degraded to the point of discouraging use.

I am here to say that the Port can and must do better. And that you must begin by stretching your imaginations and extending your horizons.

Just a quarter of a century ago, NY-area cycling was a marginal subculture and its infrastructure vestigial. Today, cycling is valorized for its environmental advantages, its physical and mental health benefits, its economic rewards and its contribution to regional resilience.

Consistent with your mandate as Port trustees to develop “a strategic plan to enhance regional capacity and the quality of intercity travel,”[2] you must recognize the strides cycling has made over the past quarter-century. You must go beyond tolerating cycling on the GWB. You must maximize it.

Don’t constrain cycling with improvements that will only suffice for one generation. Plan for, and build, a 21st-Century George.

[1] Figure excludes non-cyclists (e.g., walkers, runners) and, for conservatism, applies downward adjustment factor of 0.75 to PANYNJ’s 2010 weekend cyclist figure of 2,250 and weekday figure of 900 (PANYNJ Master Plan, p. 7).

[2] http://www.panynj.gov/about/preparing-future.html

Charles Komanoff, 179 Duane Street, New York, NY 10013