16/04 – National Standards

Chairman Degnan. Director Foye.  You and other Commissioners compared various Port facilities to Circles of Hell.  I’d add the bicycle-pedestrian paths on the George Washington Bridge.

LaGuardia Airport and the Bus Terminal may no longer be pleasant or efficient, but at least they don’t expose users to the threat of physical injury in the course of normal use.

The GWB is dangerous because it consigns too many users onto a facility that’s too narrow.  And plans to restore them “as is” during the upcoming recabling ignore national standards developed to enhance user safety and insulate transportation agencies from liability.

For a two-way bike lane (just bikes), the Federal Highway Administration (“FHWA”) recommends a width of 12′ plus a 2′ buffer.

FHWA1 (1)FHWA 2015 Bike Lane and Design Planning Guide

For mixed use, the American Association of State and Highway Traffic Officers (“AASHTO”) calls for a 10′ to 14′ wide facility, plus a 2′ buffer on either side — with the wider values advised for traffic over 300 users per hour. [1]

AASHTO1AASHTO 2012 Guide for the Development of Bicycle Facilities

Practically, 11′ to 14′ has been found sufficient for two directional paths plus a shared passing lane.  15′ supports two paths plus two passing lanes.

So then current plans to widen GWB path approaches, but leave the main spans at 6′ 9″, are like funneling traffic from multi-lane access ramps onto a single-lane road.

Screen Shot 2016-04-24 at 6.03.19 PM

PA’s current plans for the GWB call for pedestrians and runners to be segregated onto the South Path, but that’s unrealistic. Pedestrians and runners always find their way onto cycling facilities, as other engineers — and any cyclist — can attest.

Plans for the East Midtown Waterfront presume 9% of traffic on the bike path will be walkers, joggers and skaters, notwithstanding a 20′ wide pedestrian promenade immediately adjacent. [2]

odr-esplanade-looking-south (1)East Midtown Waterfront Project – NYC Economic Development Corporation

Reconciling the points above with the assertion by Director Fulton that the PA is “not opposed to widening the paths when conditions warrant”, my questions would be:

– If 600 users per hour are insufficient to warrant widening the GWB now, then how much more crowded does it need to get?

– If you regard the cost of a fix during recabling as too high, then what’s the likelihood that a standalone job, at far greater cost and disruption, will find acceptance later?  [3]

If 110 bike clubs, shops and elected officials from across the region are not adequate constituency to get this project moving, then who is?

If the Authority moves to widen the paths as part of the recabling, pedestrians and bicyclists would get real relief by 2020.  Otherwise, we’ll be stuck on this damned circle for decades, if not the rest of eternity.

Thank you.

Neile Weissman, 2016


[1] In very rare circumstances, AASHTO allows for 8′ widths for short distances where bicycle traffic is expected to be low even during periods of peak use, and pedestrian use is not expected to be more than occasional.

[2] East Midtown Waterfront Project – User Demands/Levels of ServiceScreen Shot 2016-04-24 at 8.15.14 PM

[3] Cost Savings

– Historically low interest rates allow the PA to finance construction cheaply and without affecting their credit rating.

– Supports required for a permanent bikeway can be used for temporary structures during recabling.

– Proceeding now saves decades’ worth of Construction Cost Index increases.

CCI 1913-2013Construction Cost Index 1913-2013.  Engineering News Record.