Chairman Degnan. Director Foye. Commissioners. I ask you to consider a hypothetical but plausible scenario:
- November, 2022. One month after Superstorm Hermione. Assessment of damage to the North River rail tunnels is grim. Interruptions of service, previously kept in check by aggressive maintenance, will only increase in frequency and duration.
- Engineers’ consensus is not to wait for Gateway to be completed, but to commence with a shutdown and sequential overhaul of the 112 year old tunnels in the Spring.
- Repairs to take three years, pausing November through February to reduce travelers’ exposure to the cold and minimize the incidence of further disruptions from winter storms. Effectively, the region is to be placed a war footing.
Fortunately, this scenario had been anticipated. Strategies to maximize throughput via alternate means, including the use of cycling, have been developed and implemented.
- Work to widen the GWB paths had begun in 2017 and an expanded North Path capable of supporting thousands of users per hour was online by 2020.
- Bike routes to the GWB and ferries had been mapped, striped and signed.
- Bike clubs and shops throughout Bergen partnered to prepare residents for a Manhattan commute. Others purchased bikes with electric assist.
- Bike share systems in Jersey City and Hoboken have been extended north to Edgewater, Fort Lee and Englewood Cliffs in NJ and Inwood-Washington Heights in Manhattan.
- Everyone able to commute on their own, freed up bus and train capacity for residents further out.
Cyclists’ Proposal: (2) 10′ paths for cyclists. (2) 6.75′ paths for peds-runners on the upper level. 9′ high anti-suicide barrier. Rendering by Joseph Lertola.
The precedent for this scenario was after Superstorm Sandy when mass transit was crippled and bike traffic across East River Bridges spiked from 13,000 trips per day to 30,000.
But here, NYC DOT implemented bike routes over the preceding decade; commuters had become accustomed to cycling; and the bridges themselves had capacity to absorb the surge.
While no one can predict the next weather event, 85% of transportation professionals surveyed at the 2015 Regional Plan Assembly already presume that the North River tunnels will be need to be taken offline before Gateway is ready.
So, it is imperative that we follow best practices of major cities around the world, and even lessons learned during Irene and Sandy, and provide robust and varied facilities for those able to commute under their own power.
The sooner we attain that capability, the better we’ll be able to face the next disaster. A bike commute from Fort Lee to Times Square is 55 minutes.
Englewood Cliffs, Fort Lee, Edgewater, Yonkers plus eight community boards in Manhattan and the Bronx together form a crescent of 1.2 million residents calling for wider GWB paths.