A Wheel Mess: CB2 Says Widen Park Bike Path

Brawny bikers and baby carriages converge with runners and pedestrians in a free-for-all mixing zone at 14th St. on the Hudson River bike path. | Photo by Lincoln Anderson

BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | It was 6 p.m. on Sun., July 8, and a little boy on his kick scooter was coming through a dangerous “S” curve on the Hudson River bikeway at W. 14th St. He and his dad were in a temporary pedestrian lane that has been marked out on the bike path’s western edge — but the turn made the tot suddenly topple off of his scooter, and he fell right smack into the bike lane. The boy’s worried father anxiously reached out to grab his little son’s hand and yank him to safety, right before a lycra-clad cyclist came zipping by on a high-tech bike, swerving slightly to barely miss the still-staggering tyke. It easily could have been an awful accident.

This is, at the moment, one of the most chaotic spots on the busiest bikeway in America. The “S” curve is a result of a so-called “connector” project that will run in front of Barry Diller’s Pier55 project to the south, which is creating an extra-wide esplanade along the river between Gansevoort Peninsula and 14th St., the construction of which is currently bumping the bike path out to the east. (After all the work is complete, this part of the bikeway will be straightened back out again.)

Meanwhile, just to the north, construction on Pier 57 — where Google will be the anchor tenant — has taken away the shoulders from the bike path; in addition, poorly thought-out dark construction netting that has been installed on both sides of the bike path around Pier 57 is obscuring path users’ views as they hit this “S” curve, making it exponentially more dangerous for everyone. Removing the dark netting is a no-brainer that would immediately make this spot far safer by opening up clear sight lines.

In addition, the crosswalk across the West Side Highway at W. 14th St. that additionally feeds into this “S” curve hot spot was recently closed, which is helping reduce the mayhem — but only a bit, since not everyone is respecting the crosswalk closure.

Cyclists, joggers, pedestrian tourists, and small kids all mix chaotically at the treacherous “S” curve at 14th St. on the Hudson River bike path. Fencing obscures visibility at this point, which is right between the busy construction zones for Pier55, aka “Diller Island,” and Pier 57, where Google will be the anchor tenant. | Photo by Lincoln Anderson

While pedestrians and joggers using the bike path have always been a problem, they are being forced to do so now because of the construction at Pier 57 and Pier55, which has temporarily taken away the dedicated pedestrian walkway. As a result, along this multi-block strip, a few feet on the western edge of the bikeway — marked with “WALK” stencils — has been used to create a pedestrian lane.

Although this frenzied stretch of the bike path is particularly bad, park and cycling advocates say the Hudson River bikeway, in general, is bursting at the seams — and bursting with multiple problems.

In addition to pedestrians and joggers, there is now a new breed of users further clogging up the path — namely, electric-powered ones — including electric bikes, skateboards and monowheels.

However, the most urgent issue affecting the path is to make it safe against terrorism. Last Halloween, an ISIS-inspired terrorist drove a rental truck onto the bikeway at Pier 40 at W. Houston St. and then gunned his vehicle south, killing eight people, most of them tourists riding bikes.

In response, temporary safety barriers were installed up and down the path last November.

As of last week (when this article originally appeared in our sister publication, The Villager), the state Department of Transportation (DOT) has started installing new permanent safety bollards. Some of the new-model barriers had already been put in at W. 40th St. as of earlier this week. The gap between the new bollards is 48 inches — slightly smaller than the width of the smallest passenger car, which is made in Italy. This is 1 foot tighter than the gap — 60 inches — that existed between the temporary bikeway safety barriers. (Though the gap in some of the temporary barriers does seem tighter than 5 feet.)

The new bollards — which are shiny silver metal, topped by bands of yellow — will be installed during the nighttime after 10 p.m. over the next month and a half between W. 59th and Chambers Sts. — which parallels the length of the Hudson River Park — and continuing on all the way down to Battery Place at the bottom of Manhattan. Workers will flag cyclists around the construction areas.

Cyclists passing through the new barriers at 40th St. didn’t seem to be having any problem with them. But only one cyclist per lane can go through them at a time, making passing impossible at that point — though some faster-moving cyclists were choosing to swerve into the opposite-direction lane if they didn’t want to wait. If cyclists mistime or misjudge this move it obviously could lead to accidents.

Meanwhile, Community Board 2 (CB2), which includes the section of the Hudson River bike path from Canal St. to 14th St., last month passed an advisory resolution calling on state DOT to do an “infrastructure and traffic behavior” study of the bikeway. The resolution notes that the American Association of State and Highway Officials’ Greenbook cites 5 feet as a desirable width on “shared-use paths.”

The community board is also urging DOT to look at widening the path, and also is urging that there be enforcement against illegal electric-powered vehicles and dangerous cyclist behavior, in general, such as speeding, and that a speed limit be set for the bike path and enforced. In general, there needs to be greater enforcement on the path, CB2 said.

The board asked that no bollards be installed with the 48-inch gaps until after the requested study — but, obviously, DOT is moving ahead with doing it.

The CB2 resolution also asks that the Trust provide accident data for the bike path.

Enter the mixing zone: Skateboarders, scooters, Sparky… and everybody else. | Photo by Lincoln Anderson

The board’s resolution was sent as a letter to Paul Karas, commissioner of state DOT. A request for comment for this article from DOT was not responded to by its original press time.

The new safety bollards, specifically, are also an issue for the Hudson River Park Trust, the state-city authority that operates and is building the 4-mile long waterfront park. In short, the Trust’s current electric- and gas-powered maintenance vehicles cannot fit through the narrower 4-foot-wide gaps between the new bollards. As a result, more staff will be seen on two wheels, plus the park’s vehicles might not all be based at one central garage anymore.

In general, the Trust referred questions about the bike path to state DOT.

Hudson River Park Friends, the Trust’s private fundraising arm, reportedly circulated a petition in Albany opposing the new bollards and also calling attention to the bike path’s congestion problem.

According to a Trust source, however, the New York State Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services and the New York Police Department’s Counterterrorism Unit “have been informing state DOT’s consideration of the 48-inch spacing.”

The Trust does not own the bikeway, which was built and is still owned by state DOT. However, the Trust does maintain the bikeway (which is not actually part of the park) for the state and city. In fact, the Trust is currently the subject of multiple lawsuits seeking a total of $300 million in damages from last year’s Halloween attack. Last November, the New York Post reported that the parents of one of that attack’s victims, Darren Drake, 32, in filing notice of their intent to sue, blasted city officials as “grossly negligent [for] failing to remedy the known occurrence of frequent motor vehicles entering the path.” At that time, the Drakes’ attorney charged, “This tragedy was 100 percent preventable.” They planned to sue the state, as well.

The Post also reported back then that data obtained by the group NYC Park Advocates showed that 50 motorists were ticketed for driving on the bike path — and one was arrested on the bike path for driving while drunk — between January and October of 2017. In the most horrific incident, nearly a dozen years ago, in December 2006, Eric Ng, 22, was killed while cycling by Pier 40 by a drunk East Village man who was driving his car down the bike path after leaving a party at Chelsea Piers.

The Trust declined comment on the litigation, and also on whether it keeps data on accidents on the bike path.

Traveling through the “chute” outside Pier 57, at W. 16th St.: Construction fencing is right up against the bike path here, giving everyone — bikers and pedestrians alike — a very cramped feeling as they squeeze through. | Photo by Lincoln Anderson

Dan Miller, the first vice chairperson of CB2, is also currently the chairperson of the Hudson River Park Advisory Council, and helped spearhead the community board’s resolution calling for a state DOT study of the bikeway.

“The bike path was created for members of our community — families, children, commuters, the elderly — to enjoy,” Miller said. “It is being hijacked by electric motorized vehicles, bike racing teams and deliverymen, making it no longer a viable option for many members of our community. The permanent installation of bollards, designed by members of the Department of Homeland Security, place emphasis on anti-terror mechanisms which are in direct conflict to the enjoyment of the bikeway experience. Rather than rush to put a visual band-aid on the bikeway with harmful 48-inch bollards, a study should be conducted to design appropriate methods to increase safety on the bikeway, rather than make it untenable for most users of the park.”

Steve Vaccaro, a cyclist activist and attorney focusing on lawsuits involving cyclist injuries and fatalities, said he agrees with CB2 that the Hudson Park bikeway should be widened.

“I think the bike path is coming under pressure from all the factors the community board mentioned — and also from increased popularity,” he said. “It’s wildly popular. It should be widened, absolutely. The widening really should be the main battle here.”

Like CB2, Vaccaro said what he called “the heterogeneous traffic” on the bike path is a big part of the problem. Basically, joggers and pedestrians should be using the esplanade next to the water — not the bike path, he stressed. The attorney bicycle-commutes each day from the Upper East Side to Lower Manhattan, using the Hudson River bikeway.

“I find myself constantly in conflict with pedestrians, runners,” he said of the West Side bikeway. “What frustrates me is that there is zero enforcement in keeping runners off the bike path.”

Enforcement should be done by Park Enforcement Patrol, or PEP, officers or “anyone” from law enforcement, he said.

“People know that they’re not supposed to be there,” he said. At the same time, he acknowledged, “At night, they say that the esplanade is too desolate for women — I’m not insensitive to those concerns.”

(A woman who was queried while jogging on the outside edge of the bike path a few weeks ago said she prefers it to the esplanade.

“There are too many tourists. It slows me down,” Kat, 30, originally from Belarus, now living “Downtown,” complained of the esplanade.)

Yet, Vaccaro said, it’s incredibly frustrating to him and fellow cycling activists that it was bikers who fought hard to achieve these car-free spaces, which are now also being exploited by walkers, joggers, e-skateboarders and all the rest.

“The runners are what they call in political science, ‘free riders,’” he noted. Why doesn’t the well-funded New York Road Runners club lobby for its own jogging space? he asked.

Also irking him, he noted that most joggers run with earphones in both ears. (Cyclists, on the other hand, can be slapped with a $50 ticket if they have earphones in both ears, though are allowed to ride with one earphone in one ear.)

“They never hear my bell,” Vaccaro said in exasperation of joggers. “I ring my bell, I call out, I say, ‘Have you tried using the esplanade? It’s over there.’ They say, ‘F— you.’ ”

There’s more than just one of them out there: Electronic monowheels are growing in popularity — and in speed, too. | Photo by Lincoln Anderson

Miller of CB2 also feels strongly that joggers should use the esplanade — as they are supposed to do.

“I agree 100 percent,” he said. “Keep the joggers, who often run side by side, off the bike path! It’s dangerous for everyone.”

Vaccaro also dislikes how electric skateboarders tend to ride right in the middle of the lanes.

“They don’t keep right,” he said. “They assume they’re faster — but they’re not.”

Meanwhile, electric monowheels are proliferating now, too, and the latest models are hitting speeds of 25 miles per hour, he noted. And it’s anticipated that the number of such electrically powered mini-vehicles will only keep growing. And Transportation Alternatives continues to push for the legalization of electric bikes.

But Vaccaro is less miffed at electric bike riders, who he feels at least make eye contact and “communicate.”

As for the dangerous “S” curve on the Hudson Park bikeway at W. 14th St., he said, “Oh, my God. That has gone through several iterations and the current one is terrible.”

(Basically a half dozen or more small orange “Detour” signs were recently plastered all over the construction fence there.)

“It’s a disaster,” Vaccaro said of that spot. “I’d be surprised if there haven’t been significant accidents.”

At the end of the day, Vaccaro’s recommendation is to increase the path’s total width to 18 feet, which would include two 6-foot-wide bike lanes flanked by two 3-foot-wide pedestrian/jogging lanes.

A polling of cyclists using the path over several visits found that most felt a broader pathway definitely would be better.

“They should widen it,” said one of them, Alex, 29, from the Upper West Side. At the same time, she noted, as a native New Yorker, she just always anticipates there will be a certain amount of chaos and knows it’s up to her to fend for herself. Sometimes she also jogs on the Hudson River bike path. Whatever mode she’s in at any given moment, that’s her mindset.

“When I’m jogging, joggers rule. When I’m biking, bikers rule,” she shrugged, with a smile. “It’s got the New York attitude,” she said of the bike path. “I just focus on where I want to get to — that’s it.”

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