2017/09 – Gathering Places

Chairman O’Toole. Director Cotton. Commissioners.

As many of you are new to the Board, I will review why the George Washington Bridge paths are important, elements of why the Port Authority’s Plan is inadequate and what you can do to fix it.  At stake are enhancements to tourism[1], public health[2], property tax revenues[3], sustainability[4] and resilience[5] annually worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

The GWB is the sole bike-able crossing between New York City and North Jersey.  It is also the nexus of the 1650-mile Tri-State Trail Network, an aggregate of in-progress and completed facilities recently tallied by Regional Plan Association.[6]

Much has transpired since the Agency’s hatched its GWB plan in 2013 – without prior public disclosure, let alone input.  This is remarkable.  By contrast, the NY State Thruway Authority has posted online numerous iterations of alternate plans for the bike path on the Mario Cuomo Bridge and hosted dozens of public meetings.

Now that specifics the GWB paths are known, 180 organizations, businesses, communities and public officials representing millions of residents have called for a design that supports high current and future traffic volume and that meets the needs of all user groups.[7]

Critically, the PA Board approved without performing a traffic count – a fundamental prerequisite to the design of any transportation facility. We now know that weekend use of 600 users per hour is double the threshold for widening to 14 foot.[8] And that bike trips have been growing 10.4% per year,[9] which is unheard of for a failed facility – one which cyclists would avoid if had any alternative.[10]

And for good reason.  Between 2010 and 2016, the Port Authority Police Department filed 39 reports of collisions involving cyclists on or near GWB paths.[11] No other PA transportation facility poses the risk of bodily injury in the normal course of use.  It will get worse once the paths are restored. Whatever incremental capacity is gained, by segregating pedestrians from bicyclists on separate paths, will be overwhelmed by growing demand.[12]

And the PA’s plan to add “gathering places” to the entrance of each approach pose new threats to user safety.

Screen Shot 2017-09-29 at 9.40.53 AM.pngProposed NY and NJ North entrances. Images PANYNJ.

On the New York side, these “gathering places” will be located at the bottom of a graded ramps, which cyclists will naturally descend at speed to exit and have to accelerate to enter.  In New Jersey, cyclists traveling south down Hudson Terrace will need to make fast left turns against oncoming traffic to access the Bridge.  In both places, cyclists will be forced into areas where crowds have now been encouraged to form.

The PA will no option but to require cyclists to dismount and walk, in turn creating bottlenecks and traffic jams along the entire span.

Screen Shot 2017-09-26 at 12.31.51 AM.pngManhattan Bridge on Bike to Work Day.  Photo by Robert Wright, aka Invisible Man.

It doesn’t have to be this way.  You can change this flawed plan before it’s too late.  Widen the main spans to national standards and dispense with the gathering areas to ensure a safe, orderly flow across the length of the facility.

cyclists exiting GWB South.jpgCurrent NY South path feeds cyclists directly onto connected paths. Image Daniel Panzer.

This would satisfy federal mandates to grow biking and walking,[13] insulate the Agency from liability,[14] strengthen the linchpin of regional cycling and add new trans-Hudson capacity that will be crucial should we lose a Hudson rail tunnel.[15]

This Agency is already acting decisively to stem the flood of GWB suicide attempts by building a new fence.  But why stop there?  Why not apply the same urgency to protect the safety of all path users?

I urge you to not waste the historic opportunity afforded by the recabling and to fix the Agency’s plan for the paths.  Do it now.  Do it right.

And please find a way to integrate the permanent safety fencing so that doesn’t ruin the view for the generations to come.[16]  Thank you.

Neile Weissman, 2017

How You Can Help

[1] Unless the GWB is upgraded to support the continued growth of regional bike travel, the  region could see a decline in bicycle tourism, despite $500 million being spent on cycling infrastructure in the Low-Mid Hudson Valley; Empire State Trail Complete George, http://tinyurl.com/zfcduvw

A GWB with discrete and adequate pedestrian and cycling facilities, like Walkway Over the Hudson, is projected to attract 300K tourists per year spending $42 million, sustaining 675 jobs; Linear Park, Complete George, http://tinyurl.com/howhova

[2] The increase in exercise supported by a expanded cycling across a wider GWB would reduce mortality by 21 lives per year vs. the same population who didn’t cycle. That’s a public health savings of $195 million per year; WHO/HEAT, Complete George, http://tinyurl.com/z2u4d9r

Similarly, the reduced morbidity (incidence of disease) comprises an exceptionally low-cost public health intervention at $833 per quality-adjusted life year – that’s 14 times more cost-effective than vaccinating kids against the flu; QALY, Complete George, http://tinyurl.com/zx4llxn

[3] Proximity of homes to bike paths increases their value 5% to 10%; Field Guide to Effects of Trails and Greenways on Property Values, National Association of Realtors, http://tinyurl.com/y9s4daxf

[4] If current bike travel across the GWB were subsidized at the same rate as low emissions vehicles under, the reduction in greenhouse gases would be worth $5.8 million per year; Green Pass, Complete George, http://tinyurl.com/hqgkw3l

[5] Cycling across the GWB, in combination with a regional bike grid, meets the PA’s criteria for a successful strategy to reduce bus trips into the midtown Bus Terminal; Latent Demand, Complete George, http://tinyurl.com/yb8atw8t

[6] “Creating an effective network also means improving existing trails and connections. In particular, the connections between the greater region and New York City include major bridge crossings – such as the Brooklyn and George Washington Bridges – that are likely to be in high demand by many users”; RPA Proposes Extending and Connecting Region’s Trails to Form a Unified Network, Regional Plan Association, http://tinyurl.com/ydba4gk5

Screen Shot 2017-09-24 at 2.41.38 PM.pngImage Regional Plan Association.

[7] As of September 2017, 180 organizations, businesses, communities and public officials are now calling for wider GWB paths; Supporters, Complete George, http://tinyurl.com/j2nbfj2

[8] According to the American Association of State and Highway Traffic Officers Guide to the Development of Bicycle Facilities, 2012 (AASHTO Bike Guide), 300 users per hour are sufficient to warrant 14 foot wide paths; National Standards, Complete George, http://tinyurl.com/y9ggq2se

[9] Weekend bike trips across the GWB grew from 2283 per day in 2010 to 3699 per day in 2015 or 10.4% per year; Capacity and Demand, Complete George, http://tinyurl.com/jpcfphq

Over the same period, bike trips across New York City grew 12.5% per year, but it took the continued build out of the city’s bike grid to 1000 miles and the implementation of bike share; Cycling in the City, NACTO-NYCDOThttp://tinyurl.com/ho9gvy5

[10] The Federal Highways Administration Shared Use Path Level of Service Calculator grading for the GWB South Path was an “F” or “failing” for the level of use recorded in 2015: “Significantly diminishes the experience for at least one, and most likely for all user groups. It does not effectively serve most bicyclists; significant user conflicts should be expected (emphasis added); Shared-Use Path Level of Service Calculator, A User’s Guide, Federal Highways Administration, http://tinyurl.com/y72nocnk

Screen Shot 2017-02-25 at 7.49.28 PM.png

[11] Between 2010 and 2016, the PAPD filed 39 reports with PA Claims arising from collisions involving cyclists on or near the GWB paths; 2017 Bicycle Master Plan, PANYNJ, http://tinyurl.com/ycnaac8k

[12] While separating pedestrians from bicyclists normally would improve the level of service (“LOS”), pedestrians comprise just 25% of current peak period travel.  By 2024, if trends continue, the growth in bike trips will erase any improvement.  The LOS grading for the PA’s plan in 2024 remains “F/Failing”.

Screen Shot 2016-10-28 at 11.16.11 AM.png

[13] Relevant federal guidance on biking and walking facilities from USDOT, FHWA and AASHTO; National Standards, Complete George, http://tinyurl.com/y9ggq2se

[14] A study of 20 state DOTs found virtually no incidence of successful lawsuit if the facilities provider followed AASHTO guidelines; Legal Aspects of Bikeways, National Cooperative Highway Research, http://tinyurl.com/p8c2cl6

[15] Following Superstorm Sandy, bike traffic across the NYC’s East River bridges surged from 13K per day to 30K.  They’re expected to play a similar role when the MTA shuts down “L” subway service for two years to facilitate repairs to the Canarsie Tubes; War Footing, Complete George, http://tinyurl.com/m2qmb2q

[16] Compare the PA’s plan (left) to Complete George’s (right) which drops the bike path and safety fencing below pedestrian sightlines ; A View from the Bridge, Complete George, http://tinyurl.com/y7r44bcu

Screen Shot 2017-07-16 at 10.12.12 AMRenderings PANYNJ and Joseph Lertola.