Blinding Headlights Make Part of West Side Greenway Unusable

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Blinding headlights make cycling difficult on a mile-long uptown stretch of the Hudson River Greenway.

Lars Klove is a professional photographer who lives way uptown and uses the Hudson River Greenway to bike to and from his apartment on 183rd Street just about every day. Now that it is getting dark earlier in the evening, Klove and his wife — she bikes too — have noticed that blinding motor vehicle headlights make a section of the Greenway between 102nd and 125th Street virtually unusable. The photo above is what Lars and his wife see at night as they try to ride their bikes home in the evening. Below is Lars’ letter to John Herrold at the Parks Department:

I’m wondering if you can help me. My wife and I bicycle commute to and from our home at 183rd St to our jobs in Midtown and Downtown. We ride and love the Greenway. It was a big consideration in our choice in moving to Washington Heights. It has become our favorite part of the day.

Now that it gets dark earlier there is a section of our ride home that is very difficult. The section runs from approximately 102nd Street to 125th (sometimes called the Cherry Walk). It is unlit and, if riding northbound, into the blinding headlights of southbound traffic, it is impossible to see the bicycle path even with a bike headlamp. The Greenway itself has one semi-reflective line marking the pedestrian lane from the bicycle lane. There is not a line marking the outside edges of the lane or a couple of grassy islands along the way. Its easy to find yourself suddenly off the roadway and in the grass or trees.

A simple solution would be to add a reflective line to the outsides of the lane and in the areas of the grassy islands. Is there anything that can be done here?

Thank you for your time,
Lars Klove

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The "Cherry Walk" section of the Greenway in daylight.

  • Iggy

    This track needs nice hedgerow, which would also muffle the noise.

  • Ian D

    Sounds like an issue to bring to the Community Board. If I’m not wrong, that’s CB9:

    Manhattan Community Board 9
    565 West 125th Street,
    New York, NY 10027
    Phone: 212.864.6200
    Fax: 212.662.7396
    Email: nyc-cb9m@juno.com

    They’ll refer it to the appropriate committee (probably Parks or Transportation, depending on the board’s structure), and they can get city agencies involved.

  • Hilary

    My suggestion is to help persuade the Mayor’s office to support the Henry Hudson Parkway Scenic Byway, which recognizes that the parkway (which encompasses the parkland and greenway on either side) is an integrated design. As a scenic byway, the parkway would be eligible for new federal funding for improvements to the greenway and park that are described here. Community Board 9 is a strong supporter of the initiative, as are the other CBs in the corridor. In fact the entire Manhattan Borough Board recently passed a resolution asking the Mayor to stop holding it up. It is baffling why the administration (and great new DOT commissioner!) would deprive the city of this new source of funding, the willing cooperation of the state to rethink management of its highway, and an approach that is so completely in synch with the larger goals of PlaNYC.

  • Ken Campbell

    I faced the same issue when I bike-commuted from Inwood. I resorted to gradient-tint sunglasses. I could tilt my head to block the headlight glare with the tinted upper lenses and see the path with the clear lower lenses. I still had some close calls with oncoming bikers, but it helped a lot. A monster lighting system on my bike helped as well.

  • Mark

    Is it possible that part of the problem is drivers using high beams on their headlights? If so, the solution would be highway signage saying use low beams only.

  • flp

    wow!! finally this subject comes up on streetsblog (OK, sure, i coulda brought it up myself i s’pose).

    i recall a letter once written to TA about this very issue, and their reply in a newsletter was “write a letter” to the department of parks or whatever. i honestly think that they and others could make it more of a campaign to increase the safety of that stretch, and the rest of the greenway, after sundown.

    several parts of the greenway also suffer from the intense glare of automobile lights, and, per Mark, no, i think it is not just a highbeam problem. i like the idea of a hedgerow. in fact the better parts of the greenway benefit tremendously from a (puny) headgerow. however, more would be needed on the so-called “cherry walk” stretch. some lights would be great for one thing since seeing the path isnt the only problem. as ken rightly points out, being able to see oncoming cyclists is a problem (BTW, why is it that folks spend hundreds upon hundreds of dollars on their bikes, but cannot fork over the 10 measly greenbacks for a decent light – ok make that 20 for front and back – argh!).

    there is no reason why use of the ENTIRE greenway should be restricted to day light hours. i appreciate this post and look forward to some progress on that front.

  • Marcus

    I wrote a letter to the Parks Department and NYCDOT several years ago with the same complaint (it is quite a dangerous route, I nearly rode into a tree… twice!). I actually found US DOT guidelines for glare and quoted them in the letter to give it some more gravitas (and signed the letter as a Licensed Professional Engineer).

    The DOT replied several months later saying they would look further into the matter but dismissed several of my options out of hand.

    One option is paddles mounted on top of the adjacent guardrail, but as I noted (and they concured) they don’t work as well with the ‘W’ section metal rails (I have since seen them mounted on a W rail in another location).

    Another option was a hedgerow to block the glare, but this was dismissed as being unsafe since the police couldn’t see the path from the roadway. I meant to write back and mention that they can’t see a large portion of the park from the roadway, but I never did.

    A third option, which they said they would look into, is adding lighting to the path. The addition of ambient lighting cancels out much of the glare (headlights don’t bother you in the daytime for instance). The lighting standards in the center median are a bit too far away to help. This could be done with standard park luminares at a decent spacing. Needless to say, I never heard back from them. I have since moved and lost the letter unfortunately.

    On a related subject, the lights in Riverside Park just north of the waste water treatment plant (Riverbank State park) haven’t worked for years. I wrote to the parks department and called 311 many times to no avail.

  • Charlie D.

    We have the same problem in Boston with the Charles River Path directly adjacent to Storrow Drive/Soldiers Field Rd/Nonantum Road.

    This is one of the big problems with two-way sidepaths adjacent to a roadway. In my opinion, it would be better to have a path in each direction, one on either side of the road, so that bicyclists are always traveling the same direction as traffic.

  • DroveACityCarForYears

    This problem is basically unsolvable given the configuration of the greenway at this point. More reflective striping might help a little, but I doubt it. This time of year, I take Riverside Drive. from About 96th st on.

  • ln

    I also have to take riverside north of 96th st, and really miss riding that stretch home at night in the winter.

    I tried it once, it was terrifying, car lights in your face, inability to see whats in front of you, and the constant feeling that at any moment you might just ride into the river. I know someone that almost did.

    Then when you get to 125, a dark scary route up to washington heights through unlit riverbank park.

    This is an urgent probem and an accident waiting to happen.

    However, regarding engineering of this section, for some reason the water doesnt cover the bike path when cars are regularly drowned on the west side hwy in a rainstorm flood. Fun to ride by the pile ups as cars stall in enormous puddles.

  • KVI

    I’m “the wife that bikes” (from the orig. post) I really appreciate everyone’s comments and interest. I think the reflective tape would be quite helpful and perhaps more to the point it would be a relatively quick and inexpensive fix until the hedgerows (love that idea) grow in—and as of 2 nights ago, the lights north of Riverbank have been on! Not all of them, but many more than in the past. It’s much better. So, don’t give up!

  • Nona

    Same issue on the Belt Parkway bikeway in Brooklyn.

  • Friends,

    I discussed this problem with Riverside Parks administrator John Herrold at the annual meeting of the Riverside Park Fund on November 11. I suggested that the headlight problem could be reduced if conifers (pine trees) were planted between Cherry Walk and the highways. The nice thing about confers is they can shield us in all seasons, as well as reduce noise and pollution.

    Herrold is a cyclist and was sympathetic and interested in this idea. I will direct his attention to this item in Streetsblog so he may respond.

    Three other steps would help improve safety for this stretch of the greenway:

    1. More stencils and signs indicating that cyclists riding in both direction need to stay on the east edge of the path, and pedestrians on the river-side. It’s a bit confusing, because the order changes south of 98th street.

    2. The Parks Departments uses reflective paint to separate cyclists from pedestrian lanes, and it is very helpful to follow that line with a headlight when riding at night. They need to extent these lines AROUND each sides of the 2 small islands with trees that are at about 116th street. Right now, if you follow the line because of the blinding headlights, you will either wander into the pedestrian side at the islands, or crash into the islands themselves!

    3. We cyclists have to be more diligent and through persuasion and peer pressure get all our fellow cyclists and runners who use our greenways to use lights when using these facilities in the evening. More and more cyclists are using lights, but I still encounter too many who don’t. Cyclists without lights after dark are a danger to others, and they need to get with the program!

    I also asked Herrold about the lights that don’t work north of 160th street. He said they (and we!) are the victims of vandals, who come to the park at night, cut the copper wire that runs between the lights, and pull out the cable from the conduit to sell the metal. One solution might be cameras, but they raise civil liberties concerns and they are expensive too. If NYC wants to install them, perhaps they could get some Homeland Security money, since this section of the greenway is also an approach to the GW bridge!

    Ride on!

  • eLK

    I am Lars Klove.

    I did receive a very good response from John Herrold. He likes my idea of a reflective stripe but says there is a funding problem.

    I spoke with the Riverside Park Fund and am looking for other Foundations who may provide a grant.

    Any suggestions?

    I am all for lights and a hedgerow. But that would require additional funding.

    A stripe would be enough to get me and others just through the area for the time being.

    I am also curious about the lighting north of Riverbank State Park.

  • vnm

    Thanks for raising this issue.

    I am constantly annoyed by the high number of cars that have misaligned lights blasting pedestrians in the eye, and the number of clueless idiot drivers who forget to turn down their high beams (why do they always seem to be hiding behind tinted windows?).

    Add light pollution wrecking the public realm to the many ills caused by cars and condoned by society.

  • Hannah

    The greenway on the east side of northern Manhattan, along the Harlem River Speedway, has a similar issue southbound.

    Hannah
    who ran into a tree when she tried riding Cherry Walk after dark, even with a headlight

  • Hilary

    This is why all of these parkways should be designed as the multi-modal linear parks that they are, not as highways with greenways tacked on.

  • curmudgeon

    Thanks Lars,
    The picture of that “island” with the tree right in the middle of it is one of the most dangerous “blinding” spots. All of a sudden you are off the path & headed straight for a tree, that you can’t even see, and you don’t know it’s there unless you ride the greenway on a daily basis. I’ve also asked the city to take some low cost measures like striping the edges of the bike lane with a reflective stripe, and to fix all of the streetlamps over the HH Parkway (those lights make a difference: some of the worst spots are those areas where the lights are not working for several hundred yards). In fact, 2 years ago, I used 311 & the DOT online form to get the lights fixed, and nothing happened. I finally emailed someone that I know personally at DOT last month, which got some dark spots in Fort Washington Park up and running again, but not the ones along the HH Parkway adjacent to the Cherry Walk. I’ve also been told that it’s probably impossible to install Parks department lamps along the Cherry Walk, because they can’t dig a trench for the cables or install lampposts that close to the river.

    I don’t buy two things: 1) Parks Department saying there’s no money to stripe the bike path. So get some. There’s money out there for this kind of stuff, & it can’t be that expensive to stripe the edges of the bike path along the cherry walk. There’s enough people in these posts who said they’ve notified Parks & DOT, yet nothing happens. 2) TA telling people to write Parks or DOT a letter. Not good enough, TA. While the suggestion isn’t bad in and of itself, experience shows that Parks & DOT will respond to them nicely, but then do nothing. TA needs to add its voice to things like this.

    Really, streetsblog & TA have become so focussed on lower Manhattan, Brooklyn & congestion pricing, I was actually surprised to see an article about conditions for cyclists north of 59th St. This summer Port Authority (or whoever owns it) closed the bike & pedestrian path on the Henry Hudson Bridge for 3 years, yet there’s nary a peep from TA or a mention of it on Streetsblog.

    In the meantime, here’s how I deal with the blinding headlights issue:
    -use a superbright headlight to cast some light onto the path.
    -slow down so I don’t outrun my headlight or my vision.
    If you are a Southbound cyclist, and you are riding without a headlight at night, you are in danger of causing a collision. You can see northbound cyclists coming, but they might not be able to see you until the last instant.

    Curmudgeon

  • Hilary

    It would also be nice if TA rescinded its outdated endorsement of the idea of opening this and other parkways to trucks. If you think the headlights and exhaust from SUVs is bad, just wait.

  • trux

    hilary,

    you’re so right. much better to have trucks rumbling through neighborhoods than on limited access highways.

  • Hilary

    Thanks for at least opening the issue up to debate, Trux. Trucks belong on truck routes and expressways. They don’t belong on local streets or in parks. I’m sure you don’t want to expand the capacity of truckways in the city (“building our way out of congestion”). So if you create 400 miles of new truck capacity, can we close down the equivalent somewhere else? Unfortunately, trucks have to be able to make deliveries, so that will be hard to do. We need to address our truck-dependency in freight, but expanding capacity is not the way to do it. There are better uses for this precious green network, as demonstrated by many other cities.

  • Franklin

    Hilary,

    With all due respect, I have no idea what you’re talking about with your Parkway schtick. You are very much starting to sound like the fellow who uses Streetsblog’s comments section to advocate for “human-powered mass transit” technology.

    I believe I’m speaking for quite a few people here when I say: WTF are you advocating?

    If we don’t use the city’s limited access highways for trucks then where do the trucks go? Would we rather have trucks rumbling up and down avenues and neighborhood streets than on “parkways?” Does anyone in NYC other than you really think of a “parkway” as a linear park or is the idea of a “parkway” just some ancient fiction created by Robert Moses to enable him to sell highways construction to an urban populace? Is there a web site or a brochure or any place where we can see your Parkway advocacy vision explained and illustrated or does this Parkway advocacy project only exist here in the comments section of Streetsblog and as a criticism of TA for not having done this work for you?

    Seriously… rather than posting even another comment here would you please spend some time to lay out your Parkway advocacy vision somewhere else and provide us with a link? Otherwise, you’re just starting to come across as a troll. You may as well be pimping erectile dysfunction meds.

  • Jonathan

    Franklin, here’s a place to start with the difference between parkways and highways: there’s a big difference between pedaling on the LIE access road in Queens, the SIE access road on Staten Island, or Bruckner Blvd in the Bronx, and pedaling on the promenades along the Grand Central Parkway, the Cross Island Parkway, the Belt Parkway, the Henry Hudson Parkway, or the Harlem River Drive.

  • mork

    Parkways in NYC can’t handle trucks because of low clearances. That’s what’s behind their prohibition there.

  • Hilary

    Franklin,
    I am neither a troll (I contribute on many other topics to this blog and share 99% of my transportation DNA with others on it). Nor am I a lone crank on this issue. Regional Plan defends parkways, which they conceived. Our efforts to preserve the parks

    Please visit http://www.henryhudsonparkway.org, and come to AutoFree New York on Tuesday to learn more.

    That said, I agree I have spent far too much time here 🙂

  • Mitch

    I’ve also been told that it’s probably impossible to install Parks department lamps along the Cherry Walk, because they can’t dig a trench for the cables or install lampposts that close to the river.

    Madison currently has a bike path under construction that will be lit by solar-powered lights. This is an experiment, and I suppose it might not work out, but it sounds like a good way to put lighting in areas where trenches or electric lines are impracticatl.

  • Steve Faust

    franklin and trux,
    Moses didn’t invent parkways, F.L. Olmsted did, in the 1850s. Eastern Parkway and Ocean Parkway were the first.

    Olmsted’s concept was parkways would be linear extensions of the city’s parks out through the neighborhoods. There would be multiple uses, walking, bridal paths, carriage roads, and later, bikeways, for bikes were not invented in the 1850s. Ocean Parkway got the first bike path in the country in 1895. Cars weren’t added until well after 1900. The City of Brooklyn had a full network of parkways under the Parks Dept, but they had to give them up to budget cuts. 4th Ave used to be a tree lined parkway.

    Parkways are not motor highways with trees, they are multiple use linear parks.

    The greatest engineering problem with adding trucks to the city parkways is not the low bridges, those can be raised – at great cost. Rather, it is the width of the roadways. Right now, there is barely room in the 3 lanes for the SUV-Light Trucks that were first allowed to use NY parkways only some 15 years ago. Full size trucks are totally too wide to run in the 3 current narrow lanes. The only safe outcome would be to widen the lanes by reducing the roads from 3 traffic lanes to 2 lanes each way.

    As a result, you would have only 2 traffic lanes on these roadways, not 3. so you can get some trucks off the streets, but it will markedly reduce the total number of vehicles that can use the parkways.

    The only way to widen the lanes would be to take park land from the roadway sides and totally rebuild all the roadways wider for their entire length. That would include demolishing and rebuilding miles of retaining walls and bridge abutments at an incredible expense.

    I have never seen this issue addressed by proponents of trucks on the parkways. It is a bigger fatal flaw than the low bridges.

  • Hilary

    The way to reduce truck congestion is to unclog the cars on the expressways and truck routes and enforce the trucks’ use of those designated corridors. Even there, do everything possible to mitigate their impact on their surrounding neighborhoods. Many of them are sunken, which makes it possible to green-roof sections with parks, greenways and squares that would knit neighborhoods together, mitigate noise and pollution, and absorb storm water.

    We also need to accelerate all means of reducing our city’s and country’s dependency on trucks for freight. According to Congressman Nadler, almost all of the entire freight going up and down the eastern U.S. crosses the GW Bridge and through our city.

    In the meantime, CP can contribute most to the truck solution by getting cars out of the way of essential freight movement. Privileging car through-traffic with a free by-pass seems counter-productive in this regard. Those cars clog the bridges, which are the worst choke points, and spill out onto the expressways, truck routes, and local streets.

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