2018/03 – Customer Service

If this is the PA’s new customer service, perhaps we should petition Apple to take over mass transit – or Amazon if it selects the region for its HQ2. Seattle takes cycling infrastructure very seriously.

Remarks to the Port Authority, 3/22/18

Chairman O’Toole, last September you promised to hold the Agency to the highest standards of integrity and ethics – also customer service.1 This is something I know from ten years managing a sales department that competed directly with Apple.2

Last month, I was forwarded the Port Authority’s reply to Bronx Community Board #93, who had previously called for wider GWB paths.4 From a customer service perspective, I was struck by the Agency’s failure to address their concerns, much less resolve them.

BxCB#9 is a minority, working class district of 170,000. It has few subway stations and chronically overcrowded bus service. They called for wider GWB paths in the expectation that they would “spur the development of connected facilities over the Harlem River and Bronx transportation deserts.”5

The PA replied that it would “provision access in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act”. But ADA does nothing to increase cycling capacity, AASHTO is the relevant standard.6

The photo on below depicts two cyclists straddling their bike in the New Jersey approach to the GWB South Path. At five foot across, the approach is ADA-compliant.7 But for the thousands of pedestrians and cyclists who’ll use it each day, AASHTO specifies 14 foot.

Robert Schmon GWBADA-compliant 5 foot wide approach to GWB South Path. Photo Robert Schmon. 

The Agency contends its “improvements will improve overall user experience” – which is a function of path width and peak use. But it never performed a traffic count prior to approval, so how could it know?8

We know now that the current GWB grades “F-Failing.”9 10 11 As does the PA’s proposed configuration for 2025, if current growth sustains.12 13 14

screen-shot-2016-10-28-at-11-11-39-amScreen Shot 2016-10-28 at 11.16.11 AM.pngFederal Highways Administration “level of service” grading for current and proposed GWB configurations.  Traffic counts PANYNJ and NYC DOT.

You tout investment in paths on you Staten Island bridges15, but neglect their relevance to cycling across the Bronx.

You say you may consider widening a some point, but provide neither date nor criteria.16 Which begs the question: If you don’t do this now when the cost is minimal and support overwhelming, when will you ever find the political will?17

The Agency’s letter cites the input and approval of “several advocacy groups,” yet omits that Transportation Alternatives, a principal member of that group, is now calling for AASHTO-compliant paths.18  Or the 240 organizations and communities asking for more,19 including project stakeholders.20  Or USDOT guidelines which urge substantial bike-ped upgrades during reconstruction.21

Mr. Chairman, the Agency has been circulating the same faulty arguments since 2014. What’s new is that your signature is on the letter. As it will be on restored paths that are frankly doomed to fail.

If this is the PA’s new customer service, perhaps we should petition Apple to take over mass transit – or Amazon if they select us for their HQ2.  Seattle takes its cycling infrastructure very seriously.22

Either way, the competition should spur the Agency to achieve the world-class level of service to which you aspire and of which it is surely capable.

Neile Weissman, 2018

Fairview Ave N, SeattleRendering of Fairview Avenue N Bridge Replacement. Image Seattle DOT.


[1] “The Port Authority must aspire as well to delivering world-class customer service. The public’s impression when traveling through PA facilities can be dramatically influenced for better or for worse by their customer service experience.” Chairman Kevin O’Toole, PANYNJ Board Meeting 9/28/17, PANYNJ Videos & Transcripts, https://tinyurl.com/znlnpjq

[2] Tekserve, Precursor to the Apple Store to Close After 29 Years, New York Times, https://tinyurl.com/y9q8xm8e

[3] PA letter to Bronx CB#9, 2/15/18, PANYNJ, https://tinyurl.com/ybrukclu

[4] CB9 letter to the PA, 2/2/18, Bronx Community Board #9, https://tinyurl.com/yapyxuj2

[5] As is now happening in Bergen, NJ, CUES, Rutgers, http://tinyurl.com/ydctmpph

[6] National Standards, Complete George, https://tinyurl.com/y7p25wlj

[7] 403.5.3 Passing Spaces. An accessible route with a clear width less than 60 inches (1525 mm) shall provide passing spaces at intervals of 200 feet (61 m) maximum., United States Access Board, https://tinyurl.com/yarffdta

[8] The current design was presented to the PA Board in December 2013 and authorization was announced in March, 2014. The Agency installed a bicycle-pedestrian counter in August, 2014.

[9] In 2015, NYC DOT performed a six month study of GWB bike travel and the PA later installed a bike and ped traffic counter. Peak use averaged 521 users per hour for six months in 2014-2015, well exceeding AASHTO’s 300 user per hour threshold to widen to 14 foot., Capacity & Demand, Complete George, http://tinyurl.com/jpcfphq

[10] FHWA grading for the GWB South Path was an “F-failing” during 2014-2015: “Significantly diminishes the experience for at least one, and most likely for all user groups. 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

[11] 39 cyclist-related accidents were reported on or in the vicinity of the GWB between 2010 and 2016., Bicycle Master Plan, 2017, at 42, PANYNJ http://tinyurl.com/ycnaac8k

[12] Weekend bike trips across the GWB grew from 2283 per day in 2010 to 3699 per day in 2015 or 10.4% per year. This growth took place on an “F” rated facility which users would avoid if they had other options.; Capacity and Demand, Complete George, http://tinyurl.com/jpcfphq

[13] From 2010 to 2015, bike trips across New York City overall grew 12.5% per year, pacing the buildout of the NYC’s bike grid to 1000 miles and the growth of bike share to 10 million trips per year; Cycling in the City, NACTO-NYCDOThttp://tinyurl.com/ho9gvy5

[14] While separating pedestrians from bicyclists would technically improve the level of service, pedestrians comprise just 25% of current peak period travel and 5-10% of users always use the “wrong” path.  And by 2024 the growth in bike trips will erase any nominal improvement.

[15] “The Port Authority is also providing bicycle and pedestrian access on the new Goethals and Bayonne Bridges representing a total commitment of over $275 million.”, Letter to Bronx Community Board #9, 2/15/18, PANYNJ

[16] “Depending on actual growth of users … and the availability of agency funding, widening of the sidewalks could still be undertaken at a later date.”

[17] Presuming 3% annual cost of construction increases plus 2% inflation, the PA’s incremental cost of $90 million to widen the GWB paths grows to $430 million by 2050., Return Rate Calculator, moneychimp.comhttp://tinyurl.com/4ghj6

[18] The (PA’s) plan falls short on one key safety concern: at only seven feet wide, these paths are only half as wide as guidelines from AASHTO suggests.  Before construction begins, the plans must be revisited to ensure that this once-in-a-lifetime project is planned to optimum standards, not just good enough., BikeNYC 2020, What New York Needs to be a World Class Bicycling City, Transportation Alternatives, https://tinyurl.com/yaolzjta

[19] Supporters, Complete George, https://tinyurl.com/yc8x3ypu

[20] The PA named Fort Lee, NJ and Manhattan Community Board #12 as “stakeholders” in it program to Restore the George. Both have called for wider GWB paths.

[21] Policy Statement on Bicycle and Pedestrian Accommodations, USDOT, http://tinyurl.com/yccn8qmo; Accommodating Bicycle-Pedestrian Travel: A Recommended Approach, USDOT, http://tinyurl.com/ya8wmpxe

[22] “Seattle’s (pop. 714,000) 3-5 year bicycle facility implementation plan will cost $390 to $524 million.”, Bike Program, Seattle Department of Transportation, https://tinyurl.com/yb2eu5z7