In Boulder, They Plow the Bike Paths First

wburg_bridge_ice.jpgPhoto of the Williamburg Bridge bike path in February: Blind Robert/Flickr

A tipster sends this report from the New York City bike network following the season’s first major snowfall:

I rode to the Manhattan Bridge on Saturday evening (around 5 p.m.), and was warned by a cyclist exiting the bridge that it was completely covered in ice. He recommended I take the Brooklyn Bridge instead, since the city would surely plow and salt for the hordes of tourists. No such luck. On Sunday, I tried the Williamsburg Bridge. Again, completely covered in several inches of ice. Very thick and slippery. Was the Hudson River Path plowed and salted? What about the Queensborough? Were any of them plowed by today? This is a big issue if it takes the city 3-4 days to plow and salt vital bike paths, while the vehicle roadways get plowed immediately.

If you biked to work today, tell us about the conditions on the crossings and paths.

  • Jeffrey Hymen

    Not that this let’s the city off the hook or is meant to, but one advantage of the Brooklyn Bridge is the 2X4s flex and have gaps between each plank. Under certain conditions, the Brooklyn Bridge can be almost self-cleaning

  • Larry Littlefield

    I biked to work Friday. The ride home, in sleet and freezing rain, I found to be doable, but as I was advised last, week the bridge was a problem.

    I generally ride the Manhattan Bridge home, but thought I had a better shot on the Brooklyn, since it is more heavily used. But the conditions were so bad I had to walk the bike most of the way up. To be fair, I only came across one other cyclist.

    Took today off — a wind chill of zero is the lowest I go, because I don’t want to buy the gear required to be comfortable when it is colder, since that is rare. But I saw the Manhattan Bridge from the subway window, and the path appears to be ice, because it wasn’t cleared with it was snow. So what do I do tomorrow?

    If it weren’t a government operation, with “not my job” rules and turf, it would be possible to stick a plow on that small police vehicle that patrols the bridge and have the cop clear it while patrolling.

    But that’s not the police officers job, it would be taking work away from the DOT union, a DOT worker in a police vehicle is a jurisdictional issue, etc. etc. etc.

  • Mark

    The Manhattan Bridge was a skating rink when today at noon. I walked my bike but was passed by a very impressive fellow who managed to ride the furrowed ice without wiping out.

  • cornish phen

    This morning I took the Brooklyn Br. DOT was out salting (this was 9:30ish), but it was a couple inches of solid ice for the most part. The center was more broken up, so I stuck to the stripe. Luckly, the sections around the towers were clear, since this is where I usually bite it.
    Last Friday I took the Manhattan home, reasoning that it would be less slick than the wooden Brooklyn. Unfortunately I didn’t anticipate the drifts of icey snow. It took me a good twenty minutes end-to-end.
    Got to say, though – both trips were well worth it! Snow days are gorgeous, quiet and empty…

  • Doug Irvine

    When I talk to people about biking to work, they most commonly say either, “I don’t want to sweat when it’s hot.” or “What do you do when it snows?”

    I reply, “You don’t have to ride every day to make it worthwhile to have bike lanes, parking, car restrictions, etc.”

    I credit the brave souls out there in this weather, but IMHO these are the days to leave the bike at home.

  • The Prince Street Bike lan2 was plowed by 2pm though that may have been due to convenience rather than any priority.

    http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3081/3125108205_f8b08f6f43.jpg?v=0

    I’d imagine much of the snow on bridge roadways is melted by the heat of traffic and snow plows are probably quite difficult to get up onto pedestrian walkways. I’ve generally presumed the Sanitation was good about clearing the Manhattan Greenway because they have facilities there.

  • Grinner

    Mark in #3 writes of the Manhattan Bridge, “… the furrowed ice….”

    That is exactly what i observed on this morning’s crossing from 8:30 to about 9, when i walked my bike over. The tracks we left in Friday’s slush became fixed until a thaw in the melt/freeze/snow/rain cycle this past weekend.

    It’s the Brooklyn Bridge home for me tonight, using the tipster’s logic that it’d be cleared for the tourists. The good news in this is that i’ll be skipping Grand Street.

    I was pleasantly surprised to see that the Prince Street bike lane was clear, but not at all surprised to see the same of the Hudson River Park path — they were plowing that as i rode home Friday.

  • Carice

    I’m with Doug,
    Was walking a bunch yesterday and saw a couple of slow motion fender benders that didn’t do much damage to a steel cage, but would have been bad news for a cyclist. I personally don’t want to end up a smear on SUV’s bumper just because they don’t understand that 4 wheel drive doesn’t help you STOP.

  • blindrobert

    W’burg bride was a disaster this morning. There were a few clumps of salt spaced really far apart on the first 30-50′ of each entrance (on the North lane). The steep section of the climb on the Bklyn side was a sheet of ice, the mid-span was icy and completely untreated, but rideable for about 1/2 of its length. The downhill side on the Manhattan side was very icy – there was a worn area that was rideable for most of the run, but I didn’t see any salt for most of it. It is especially annoying when there are workers out there on the bridge with their motorized golf-cart…maybe they could toss out a little extra salt on the way, or push a small plow with that cart…

    I called 311 to complain – they are looking into it and will respond within 30 days. What a relief.

  • 8th avenue bike lane below 14th street – pretty bad, but rideable
    9th avenue bike lane – unrideable in some spots, still icy
    avenue C bike lane – 90 percent clear
    10th street bike lane – 80 percent clear
    4th avenue bike lane (between astor place and 14th street) – almost unrideable, construction and iced over areas.

  • Will

    The Williamsburg Bridge path was completely covered in ice this morning. It’s not just dangerous for bicyclists though. Don’t forget that people still depend on walking across the bridges, even in this weather.

  • Larry Littlefield

    This sort of ice is far more dangerous that snow.

    As bad as the weather was Sunday morning — more freezing rain — I still went out there and shoveled the slush so it wouldn’t freeze later in the day. I knew it was important. My sidewalk and steps are dry.

  • J

    This also sends a horrible message to tourists trying to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge. They are greeted by an icy walking path but peer over the railing at a dry roadway below. This is a slap in the face to walkers and bikers across the city.

  • I biked on Friday. It wasn’t terrible because it was mostly snow then, but there was still a ton of slipping. I can’t imagine what it would be like today with the ice.

  • Otis

    City DOT has a number of John Deere “Gator” mini vehicles that they use on some of their bridges and projects. Usually you see a couple guys hauling trash from the Brooklyn bridge trashcans. They have snow plow attachments but I have never seen them used in that manner.

  • lol for the title, but IIRC they don’t plow much of anything in Boulder.

  • I biked Friday and today, through the Upper East and Upper West Sides and the Midtown CBD. Where the parked cars prevent clearance of the snow in the parking lane and the margin of the curb side traffic lane, one has no choice but to take the middle of a clear traffic lane. I did so consistently, kept safe but had to deal with aggression from motorists hoping to force me to the icy margin. I also encountered a number of out-of-towners apparently doing their holiday shopping by car, who didn’t understand that bikes are entitled to occupy the entire lane.

  • I cycled home Friday night/Saturday morning at 1am along my normal route that includes the Manny B. I had to walk over because of the snow. While I was walking I called 311 to file a complaint. They say the DOT has 10 days to respond to this kind of complaint. Ha!

    This morning I took my usual route and, lo and behold, the Manny B was covered in ice. Had to walk it again. When I got to work, I filed another complaint with 311 and was told again that DOT has 10 days to respond.

    I decided to try and talk to someone at DOT about it. After calling many numbers, I got in touch with a guy named Paul Schwartz who is a manager at the East River Bridges maintenance division and explained the situation. He said that the pedestrian path has priority over the bicycle path (it might be worth it to check what’s doing on the pedestrian side in this sort of weather). He said that his crew would be “salting” today and that they had a “gator” out there yesterday, but I told him it didn’t look like it. He said he was thinking about having a look for himself to see if there was a “breakdown” and I encouraged him to do so.

    Ultimately, there needs to be a policy change, but it may be easy for Mr. Schwartz to make the changes himself. He seemed a nice guy on the phone, so if you’d like to give him a call and have a chat, he’s at 212 788 1700.

  • In USSR, bike paths plow YOU!

    (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.)

  • Brooklyn

    About 7:45am, I rode through an unexpectedly closed Prospect Park. The reason it was closed — a field of ice at Grand Army Plaza.

    I portaged and rode down Flatbush, figuring the main drags would be clearest. Flatbush was entirely clear and dry.

    Manhattan Bridge bike path was iced over, glittering in the sun — not doable for me on 700×23’s. I backtracked to Jay Street and took the F to 2nd Avenue. I called 311 when I finally made it to the office.

    I don’t think I’m riding home tonight – in the dark, I imagine the melt that reforms as black ice will be very difficult to see.

  • Brooklyn

    Further to Zink above, the pedestrian plaza on the south side of the Manhattan Bridge was an ice field this morning as well — there was no salting of that area that I could see.

  • The streets were fine but the WBB was completely iced over. The DOT was there at 9am sitting on their asses. When I asked if they had salted the path, they said “yeah, we did”. I asked if they had salted the whole thing and they said “enough for now”.

    Walking behind a group of messengers, the path looked ok going into Manhattan. It was once we reached the cantilevered portion that I realized it was completely frozen. They had stopped salting the bridge about 100 feet up.

    There was a work crew who had salted the 25′ stretch where their crane was parked and that was it. Solid 2″ – 3″ black ice followed and once again, it was salted on the Manhattan side once we got to the solid base, about 100′ from the base. The base of the the bridge on both sides hadn’t been cleared at all and is a major hazard. All it takes is one nasty accident and a lawsuit on the City…

    It seems like they’re not salting anything past the solid bases of the bridges, which doesn’t make sense. The solid bases melt quicker, It’s concrete with thermal mass. The sun heats it and it melts. The proper bridge needs to be salted first because of the exposure. Cold wind on 4 faces, not just 3. Lazy basts. I called 311, they told me to call 911, I then called 911 and they told me to call the DOT. I called the DOT and was told to call 311.

    If the traffic is as backed up as it was this morning, I’ll be riding my bike on the freshly salted / plowed car path.

  • to add:

    I got the same greeting in the office this morning that most did who also rode in; “why did you ride today?”.

    Proper gear is everything. I ride everyday I can. It’s the City’s responsibility to ensure that the bike lanes are cleared just like the car lanes. After you get passed that point, proper gear is everything. Gore Tex is a wonderful material that makes cycling bearable year round, in all weather. $200 on a rain / wind suit is the best money I’ve ever spent. Good gloves and wool socks are also a staple. The 30 minute walk up the bridge was actually quite nice considering the circumstances. I never walk the bridge, but still, it would have be great to have had the option to ride.

  • Sean

    Queensboro / 59th St bridge, as of Saturday evening: The very-steep initial incline on the Manhattan side has been plowed. The rest of the Queensboro bridge is still covered in ice, and clearly never had been plowed. 🙁 There’s a rut worn down by other cyclists, but it’s not very well defined.

    Anyone know which is safer… riding in a plowed vehicle lane or an unplowed bicycle lane? I considered using the vehicle lanes… but I’m not even sure if we’re allowed?

  • Not allowed by any means, but when traffic is at a stand-still, I’d say it’s a lot safer than an iced-over bike lane. Don’t take that as clearance though, since it could most likely land you in jail.

  • all your plow are belong to us!

  • vnm

    I did my usual short ride to my nearby Bronx Metro-North station today. Some idiot honks at me for no reason, rushes past me, then swerves to the right (right into my line of travel) and slams on the brakes for a red light. Why not just stop in the middle of the lane? Why veer all the way over when there’s no reason to?

    Oh, you were asking about the weather and road conditions? That was fine.

  • I don’t know if they plow the bike paths *first* in Madison, but they plow them pretty promptly — not as soon as the big arterial streets, which get 24-hour service during a storm, but sooner than minor residential streets. So far, the only day this year I haven’t biked to work was DURING a 10-inch snowstorm, and I saw other bikers on the street while I rode the bus.

    A few years ago, on a snowy day, I decided to take the bus. But I was told the buses weren’t running on my route, because they couldn’t make it up a hill along the way. So I went home, got my bike, and rode to work. I had to go a little slower than usual, but it wasn’t too bad.

  • Geoff Zink – Thanks for doing the extra research.

    Broadway between 42nd street and 59th was pretty horrible to ride in today, and the bike lane on 1st avenue up until about 99th street is almost impassable in many places.

  • Grinner

    Re: why ride on days like Friday and today:

    Because if you do, there is always a change that BikesOnly will be out with his camera. 🙂

    Truthfully, though, riding on snow days is bad, because it ruins the other days. It’s like riding the free-flowing Manhattan Bridge all summer, and then having to fight the Brooklyn Bridge mob; or like riding Grand Street and then having to ride Canal. On snow days, the relative difference between my speed and that of the cars is much lower. Even the 4WD drivers are moving with more caution, and giving me more space, than on normal days. Sure, there are exceptions, but, in general, towncar drivers are less willing to try to make that tire-spinning left turn in front of me.

    Plus, being out in nasty weather makes me grin.

  • My favorite time to year to ride a bike is during the winter. Where the cold winter air exhilarates me & there’s no humidity. Unfortunately (as I looked from my B train on the Manhattan Bridge) the bridge path was iced over. There was one man riding up the Bridge (GODSPEED!) & he was having the hardest time of his life.

  • Car Free Nation

    Didn’t ride this morning, but the bridge still looked nasty from the train. Please call 311!

  • Larry Littlefield

    I rode over the Brooklyn today, and guess I’ll take it home from the comments above on the Manhattan. It is pretty much sanded over ice ruts — the temperature was apparently not warm enough for the ice to melt.

    Ice is the problem, not snow. Once they let ice form, it’s all over. We have a good neighborhood, so everyone got out and got the slush off the sidewalk before it froze, but I’ll bet there are some bad sidewalks out there somewhere.

    Why ride this time of year? To deal with all those extra calories!

  • Alfred Kroeber

    Check out my craigslist post.

  • Alfred Kroeber

    hmmm.. tags stripped. That would be http://newyork.craigslist.org/mnh/mis/965702123.html

  • J

    The Manhattan Bridge path is still covered in ice as of this morning. I’m pissed off. Anyone want to organize a ride in the vehicle lanes in to protest? Even if you ride really slowly as a pack over the bridge, it’d still be faster and safer than walking the bike over an ice rink.

  • maxmoney

    biked to work over brooklyn bridge today. Pretty bad but i made it. not good conditions at all though. iced over with patches of salty slush. I saw one other rider heading into BK

  • For anyone stuck dealing with this mess, the best thing going is the pedestrian side of the Manhattan bridge, which I walked/rode in yesterday morning on the advice of a worker who was just starting on the winter wonderhell that was the bicycle side. Tonight I brought home my salty bicycle over Brooklyn Bridge, which boasted inches of solid ice and narrow crunchy pathways crowded with tourists—bless their hearts—bearing an incredible number of camera tripods. I have never seen so many tripods in my life.

    I am not sure what is the most infuriating aspect. Is it that the cold and the wind that I feared Monday morning were a trifle compared to iced over bridges? That there are no alternatives to bridges, that we are cut off by bicycle from Manhattan right now? That bridge toll opponents think that having a charge for autos is what being cut off is? That even with their bone-dry streets, motorists were typically dysfunctional tonight, blocking each other’s boxes, blocking crosswalks, honking ineffectually, and generally going nowhere while managing to ruin things for everyone in open air as well? That I probably still beat anyone stupidly driving from soho to downtown Brooklyn, even though I had to walk the bridge and get around a hundred camera tripods? That the headlights on the BQE were moving more slowly than I was walking? That the first non-auto bridge path the city bothered to clear (and the only one that isn’t encased in ice as a result) is probably the least used one, the pedestrian side of the Manhattan Bridge?

    Next time it snows, how about we save a million dollars and take care of bike and bus lanes only, and tell car commuters to go to hell the same as the city did cyclists this holiday week.

  • This is slightly off-topic, but with all the talk of ice-encrusted paths, I have to ask if anyone in NYC uses studded tires.

    I don’t have any, since they don’t make them in a size that fits my old 3-speed (and anyway they’re kind of pricey), but the people around here who have them say they make big difference in terms of safety and confidence for winter bikers. Of course, they may be more cost-effective in our climate than in New York’s; when the snow turns into rutted ice in the Upper Midwest, it stays like that for a long time.

  • Fendergal

    I didn’t see a mention of the condition of the west side greenway?

  • paulb

    Today, Tuesday early, same experience crossing MB. Walked the bike, carefully! Not even so easy to walk. But saw two other cyclists riding; I just don’t have that confidence in my bike handling ability. Rode home only to Grand St, then got on subway.

    Mitch–I know bike commuters in the Chicago area who ride all winter thanks to the studded tires. I have exactly the same misgivings about buying them as Larry Littlefield mentions for cold weather gear: I don’t know how many days I’d actually need them. Also, right now money is tight. But I’m pretty sure they work as promised, within reasonable expectations, and would have made the bridge ride pretty safe.

  • Grinner

    Mitch:

    no studded tire (or chains) for me here in NYC. They don’t seem cost effective for the three weeks per year that might warrant them. When i lived in Minneapolis, well, that was a different story.

    Fendergal:

    they were plowing the West Side path when i was riding home Friday. Yesterday, it had clear conditions from Warren to 34th, and my experience in years past has been that the West Side path is generally cleared from Warren to at least 59th as the snow is falling. In the past, the path has been sketchy downtown of Warren, but the area that is under the auspices of the Hudson River Park people has always been good.

    Re: the priority of clearing:

    As much as i’d love to wave my pitchfork, heat the tar, and cut open some down pillows, i think that i have to side with the DOT’s bridge-clearing priorities — even though it did mean walking my bike over the MB. Call me a stooge of the car culture if you’d like, but years of living in Montana and Minnesota have me convinced of the greater good of clearing major throroughfares of snow first. Yes, gridlock happens, and cars backup, but it is still a heck of a lot easier to get a line of cars to move out of the way of fire engines than it is to get miles of foot-deep snow to move. Even if the order was set in place to let the Larrabees get to their LI estate, the net result is that emergency vehicles have a chance to get around to where they are needed.

    Clearing the pedestrian ways next also makes sense to me. In the first place, that’s all of us. In the second place, as most of us who crossed with our bikes on Monday can attest, cyclists can pretty easily become pedestrians. Sure, it means that we have to allot some extra travel time, but it isn’t like we are suddenly stranded. Third, if the bike paths on the bridges are cleared before the pedestrian paths, the bike paths will *become* pedestrian paths. Anyone who doubts this just needs to cross the Brooklyn Bridge on days like Monday.

    I am opposed to *never* clearing the bike paths on the bridges. I’m opposed to salting 100 feet up either end, whether claiming to have done the entire path or not. But, in the grand scheme of things, this isn’t like using the bike lane next to City Hall as squad car parking, the Grand Street lane as limo parking, or the 2nd Avenue lanes as turn lanes: this is not a case of actively trying to generate Ghost Bikes, but, instead, an application of a cost-benefit analysis in a sort-term crisis.

    That said, i think putting up a warning sign at the entrances to the Manhattan Bridge would not have been an excessive burden for the DOT. Knowing in advance that the bike path was untended would at least have give cyclists a chance to investigate an alternative, such as walking the pedestrian side.

    Just my $0.02, and probably not even worth that.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Took the subway today over the Manhattan Bridge, and the bike path was clear. I think once it froze solid, it took warmer temperatures for DOT to have a chance.

    Rode over the Brooklyn Bridge last night. It was still rutted ice over most of the span, but the bridge was absolutely loaded with pedestrians, including tourists, from end to end anyway. I was amazed.

    In the middle of the span there was an ice free lane on the bike side, which I rode down ringing my bell as pedestrians moved aside. A couple yelled that it was unfair that the bike side was plowed and not the pedestrian side. But having ridden over in the storm on Friday, I know that the ice-free lane was created by the bridge structure, which blocked the sleet blowing down from the north.

  • Grinner – I think your post is definitely 2 cents worth, and well worth the time reading it. Thanks for the intel on the west side path – I didn’t get a chance to check it out.

  • “Even if the order was set in place to let the Larrabees get to their LI estate, the net result is that emergency vehicles have a chance to get around to where they are needed.”

    Those poor emergency vehicles are always conscripted into battle against livable streets! What I causally propose, as we judiciously slim down the personal vehicle transportation system over the next few decades, is that we let snow and ice do a little fast-forward a few days of the year. We know that snow clearing operations are massively expensive. In a fiscal crisis the city could decide to clear just enough lanes for buses and bikes, saving—who knows?—50% of the cost. In such conditions it would be unsafe to operate personal vehicles, and so they would be forbidden in affected areas until the snow could be more easily cleared at above freezing temperatures. Emergency vehicles would do much better under that scheme than last week’s disorganized mess. I realize it isn’t going to happen this winter, but that’s no reason to release the emergency vehicle road-widening bugaboo from its cage. If cycling participation increases and sticks this summer as much as last, and if the financial crisis worsens, I don’t think that a strategy of people-first traffic triage so unfeasible for next winter.

    “Clearing the pedestrian ways next also makes sense to me.”

    Ah, but which one? I would say the Brooklyn Bridge shared path, given everything reported here. The criticism is not that the MB southern path is a pedestrian path, but that it’s the least used of any traversal and that no one knew to take it. Yes, signs would not be amiss. A web site with all street and path conditions, too? (I was going to mention these practical things, but was having too much fun waving the pitchfork.) Broadcasting all transport conditions goes hand in hand with the idea that the city is not going to clear all lanes for personal bicycles or cars, but that it’s going to clear what it can afford to clear and let people know the deal, precisely, before they set out. And if everyone has to take buses and subways some days, I’m fine with that as long as I know when I’m leaving.

    “… but, instead, an application of a cost-benefit analysis in a sort-term crisis.”

    Ha. I’d love to see that spreadsheet. Yes it’s more offensive when official vehicles park in bicycle lanes with impunity, but I wouldn’t elevate to cost-benefit analysis what can be explained by habit and unpreparedness. The city’s cycling constituency is growing and changing quickly; in years past marginalized cyclists seemed almost glad to prove they could survive government neglect and outright hostility. But in 2008 the DOT let the genie out of the bottle by facilitating mainstream cycling, and over the next few years other departments—or sub-depts of the DOT, whoever failed to keep any east-river-bridging bicycle routes open last week—are going to have to treat these noisy, organized voters fairly whether they like it or not.

  • FrigginLimey

    12.23 Manhattan Bri on the north (bike path) side was well de-iced/de-snowed with salt. Made my ride quite enjoyable.

    Canal Street from Essex to the bridge had some slushy parts tho 🙁 as did parts of Jay Street in Brooklyn by all the courts and annoying bastards who insist on paking/waiting in the bike lane.

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