17/01 – Capital Plan

Chairman Degnan, Director Foye. Commissioners.

I call on you to include wider bicycle-pedestrian paths on the George Washington Bridge as part of your 10-Year Capital Plan.

Between 2017 and 2024, the Port Authority will rip out and restore the 1931-era, 7’ GWB paths as part of a $1.9 billion recabling and restoration project.

The GWB is the sole bike-able connector between North Jersey and New York City. Its 6.75’ paths are already very overcrowded at 3700 cyclists per day and growing at 10% per year.

The PA should seize the opportunity to widen the paths to comply with national standards, but their plan is to restore them to an ADA-compliant pedestrian standard.

To coin a phrase, PA’s plan “collars the baby,” insuring that bike travel across the bridge will choke on its own growth and thwart efforts to establish a bi-state bike grid.

The benefits to the region, including enhancements to sustainability, resilience, tourism and public health would exceed in a single year, the capital cost of widening. [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6]

They would extend affordable transit options to working class, minority communities; make an immediate and highly cost effective improvement to the lives of residents and spur the development of connected facilities.

Overall, robust bicycle pedestrian paths would make a compelling addition to the PA’s portfolio of trans-Hudson facilities.

gwb_horizontal_wires_02 copy (1)Cyclist’s 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.

Transportation Equity

Key beneficiaries of widened paths are working class, minority communities whose residents have borne the brunt of bridge congestion, unsafe streets and degraded air quality for generations.

The Authority would align itself with cities like Baltimore; Los Angeles, which will spend $100 million a year over the next 40 years to extend cycling infrastructure to its transit deserts; and San Francisco-Oakland, whose expansion of the longer, more costly Bay Bridge provides a critical waterway link where no other option exists. [7] [8] [9]

1024x1024-2San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, East Span, Caltrans. Source, W. Mueller II.

Immediate Effect

New Jersey residents, impatient for upgrades to Penn Station, the 8th Avenue Bus Terminal and PATH, will see little actual improvement in their daily travel routine from Capital Plan expenditures for a decade. Nor will New Yorkers, who, on the whole, frequent PA facilities less often than their NJ counterparts. [10]

But Hoboken, Jersey City and Weehawken have all adopted bike share, and 800,000 residents of the Five Boroughs now bike at least several times per month. [11] [12]

Connected Facilities

A revitalized GWB would draw bike share up to Washington Heights, a grid across Bergen and resuscitate dormant projects like Hudson Valley Greenway through the Bronx and River Road through Edgewater. [13] [14]

Screen Shot 2017-01-03 at 10.07.37 PM.pngHudson Valley Greenway Link. Source RBA.

Screen Shot 2017-01-03 at 10.13.49 PM.pngRiver Road Corridor. Source RBA and Louis Berger Group.

Value Proposition

In its 2017-2027 Capital Plan, The PA has allocated $4.2 billion, to build new rail links to Newark and LaGuardia airports to move less than 10,000 riders per day at an operating subsidy of $100 million per year. Wider GWB paths could serve as many travelers for 2% of the construction cost and no subsidy. [15] [16]

In 1931, when the PA set bridge tolls to compete with local ferry service, cyclists paid $0.25. Or $4.00 adjusted for inflation.  As cycling mode share reaches regional targets of 6%, the nominal value of that travel would approach $26 million per year. [17] [18]

It would be highly counter-productive to exact a toll in the foreseeable future – the benefits from expanded bike travel far exceed potential revenues and the effects would fall hardest on low-income users that should be some of the paths’ principal beneficiaries. Rather, the PA has a compelling value proposition upon which to seek funding and/or negotiate forgiveness of other obligations. [19] [20]

During a recent segment on The Brian Lehrer Show, a cyclist named Lindsey called to say she stopped bike commuting between Manhattan and Weehawken, because she found cycling on the GWB paths to be too dangerous. Lindsey now spends $18 per day on ferries. [21]

 

Screen Shot 2017-01-04 at 8.41.12 AM.pngDyckman St. Ferry.  Source, My Inwood.


[1] $6 million per year, “Green Pass”, Complete George, http://tinyurl.com/hqgkw3l

[2] $17 million “Cycle Tourism”, Complete George, http://tinyurl.com/he77pp8

[3] $24 million, “Amenity”, Complete George, http://tinyurl.com/zuth3oe

[4] $42 million, “Linear Park”, Complete George, http://tinyurl.com/howhova

[5] $195 million, “Mortality”, Complete George, http://tinyurl.com/z2u4d9r

[6] Anecdotally, the PA’s incremental cost to widen the paths is $90 million.

[7] “Our Work”, Bikemore, http://tinyurl.com/zt4xfpc

[8] Los Angeles Ballot Measure Recap, Investing in Place, http://tinyurl.com/jkyze4r

[9] “Bridging the Bay”, Bike East Bay, http://tinyurl.com/j6ugord

[10] “PA Capital Investment by Primary Business Segment,” PANYNJ.

screen-shot-2016-12-30-at-3-30-10-pm

[11] “Hoboken, Jersey City & Weehawken To Launch Regional Bike Share System”, Hobokennj.gov, http://tinyurl.com/jglqsbe

[12] “Cycling in the City”, NYC DOT and the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.  http://tinyurl.com/hcu5yaz

[13] “Hudson River Valley Greenway Link”, RBA, NYMTC, http://tinyurl.com/jj5u4wq

[14] “River Road/Hudson Waterfront Corridor Strategy, 2013” RBA, Louis Berger Group, NJTPA, Bergen County, http://tinyurl.com/h5jwokg

[15] Commissioner Kenneth Lipper, 1/5/2017 Board Meeting, 0:40:40 to 0:50:26, PANYNJ Meeting Videos, http://tinyurl.com/znlnpjq

[16] 9000 cyclists per day on weekends plus 25% peds-runners. “Capacity and Demand”, Complete George, http://tinyurl.com/jpcfphq

[17] Hudson River Bridge Progress Report, 1928, Port Authority of New York, http://tinyurl.com/hsdku9z

gwb-toll-rates (1).jpg

[18] 110 million trips per year times 6% times $4.00 = $26.4 million

[19] The Port Authority should not levy a toll on peds-cyclists:

  • The benefits to the region in terms of resilience, sustainability, tourism and public health from growing the constituency for cycling far exceed potential revenues.
  • It conflicts with USDOT guidance to transport agencies to adopt policies that expand biking and walking. US DOT Bicycle-Pedestrian Policy, 2010, http://tinyurl.com/h3dfg92
  • It would comprise a regressive tax, falling hardest on low-income residents that should be some of the paths’ principal beneficiaries.
  • If accorded subsidies similar to low-emission vehicles under Green Pass ($2.75-$6.75), that alone would offset any reasonable toll. EZ-Pass/Green Pass, PANYNJ, http://tinyurl.com/ctx9ngy

[20] Alternate revenue sources:

  • Alternately, to negotiate arrangements with the NY/NJ that included elements of “tax incentive financing” and offset of other PA “payments in lieu of taxes.”
  • If a user fee were instituted as part of a comprehensive “per person” vs. “per vehicle” overhaul of trans-Hudson travel pricing, active transportation fees could be offset with individual tax rebates and reimbursement by private health insurance, comparable to membership in health clubs.

[21] (Foot) Traffic Problems on the George Washington Bridge, The Brian Lehrer Show 12/27/2016, http://tinyurl.com/jqlwqcv


Neile Weissman, 2017

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