The Problem With Managing the West Side Greenway as a Park, Not a Street

The entrance to the Hudson River Greenway at 60th Street was closed from Wednesday afternoon until this morning.

New Yorkers looking to get somewhere on the city-owned portion of the Hudson River Greenway yesterday were blocked by barricades like this one. Along with the rest of the city park system, the greenway was officially closed from noon Wednesday until Friday morning, a precaution the Parks Department took to guard against the risk of falling trees caused by this week’s Nor’easter.

Parks Department spokesperson Philip Abramson confirmed that whenever city parks are closed, the greenway path closes too. “The greenway is part of the park and has trees along it,” he said in an email. “Also, one has to pass through the park to get to the greenway, in most cases.”

The risk of falling tree limbs due to winds or heavy snowfall is real, but the same risk affects other parts of the city’s transportation network that don’t get shut down during storms. Any sidewalk or roadway with mature street trees, for instance, is basically in the same situation as the sections of the greenway next to mature trees. Closing down the greenway also creates new risks, as cyclists are forced to ride with motor traffic on Manhattan’s wide avenues — which were slushy and slippery after this week’s storm — instead of a dedicated bike path.

In Sandy’s aftermath, when the number of New Yorkers riding bikes skyrocketed, there seemed to be a tacit acknowledgment by the city that the Hudson River Greenway is an important transportation artery. Streetsblog received reports from readers that the greenway remained open to bike traffic and foot traffic even though it was officially closed like other city parks. That made sense because when you get down to it, the greenway is not a park; it’s the trunk line in Manhattan’s bike transportation network. And many thousands of people needed to use the bike network to get where they had to go after the storm. The city should work on creating an official protocol to manage the greenway accordingly and keep it open to bike traffic to the greatest extent possible.

Separately, Abramson said the city is working to restore power to the electrical equipment that keeps the lights on along the greenway, which in some locations was flooded during Sandy. Readers report that the greenway has been pitch black and hard to navigate at night, north of 60th Street. “We are aware of the light outages and working on them,” said Abramson. “We do not yet have an estimated repair schedule.”

  • I couldn’t agree more with this. I ride from Chambers Street to W54th street and back daily on the Greenway and it’s vital to me. I was, however, able to use it on Thursday evening, when the park was shut off, so I think it is being treated partly as a transport artery. It was also fairly clear of snow and ice. City Hall Park was closed, however, which was a nuisance for reaching the Brooklyn Bridge – and would have sent me past far fewer trees than I passed on the (open) Henry Street in Brooklyn, where several trees came down.

  • @twitter-915537378:disqus The portion of the greenway below 59th Street is state-run, and never closed during the Nor’easter.

  • Agreed. Note that part of the greenway was closed in the days after Sandy. Last Thursday the Parks Department had a number of employees and truck manning the gate at 60th street turning away cyclists coming from either direction. They refused to provide any information about why the gate was there or what the recommended detour was. Until then, it had never even occurred to me that the portion of the greenway which runs under the elevated highway is part of a park.

  • J

    This is so true. The 72nd Street path through Central Park was also closed, making it nearly impossible to cross Central Park without being in a car or bus. It’s a crappy policy that discriminates against walkers and cyclists in the name of safety, while blatantly ignoring similar safety issues elsewhere.

  • moocow

    This is a great point, thanks for bringing it up SB.
    On a sort of related note, this reminds me of a sign I saw in Seattle, under the Space Needle. In effect it said biking and skateboarding were not allowed except in when being used as transportation. I wish park police could differentiate and use signs like these, in cases like this.

  • fj

    We are now on a steep learning curve making cities resilient to climate change.

    Cynthia Rosensweig on improving climate resilience of cities

    http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=improve-new-york-climate-resilience&page=1

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for this post.  It is a great lesson that those of us building new paths need to keep in mind.  As I’m constantly saying in presentations, its about “transportation, not just recreation.”

  • Jesse Greene

    The fact that the greenway is the “trunk” of the bike transportation network is the real problem. If you were going to build a bike highway that made it convenient for people to ride it would run straight down the island, equidistant from everyone, shielded from wind by the buildings, and a straight shot from point A to point B. On the other hand if you wanted to keep bikes out of the way of cars so as not to cause any inconvenience to motorists you’d put it along a winding and windy coastline on the other side of a highway.

  • Hilda

    All of the pedestrian paths off the Hudson River Greenway (west of the path) were still closed on Friday, although the bike path was open. This was above Chelsea piers to just above Chambers. Each crossing had a metal barricade. 
    Does this mean that the Prospect Park and Central Park loops were closed to traffic for part of Thursday? If the park was closed at the time, it would be good to check if there was carmageddon on the adjacent streets, as everyone always promises…

  • Jed

    J below points out the difficulty of crossing the park when the 72nd street transverse is closed.  For those of us 

  • Ben, there is no such special animal as the “Hudson River Greenway.” It’s a path that runs through Riverside Park and Fort Washington Park. The Parks Department is responsible for the safety of all park users, whether they are there for recreation or for transportation.

    Since there aren’t many entrances and exits, it makes sense to close the whole thing during storms to keep people from being trapped by fallen trees.

  • Guest

    The Greenways are an interesting sort of things.

    They are jointly planned by DOT, Parks, and DCP.  So in at least one very clear way, they are more than just a path in the park.

    We might also consider other transportation corridors that traverse parks.  The park drives are not treated as just another area of the park.  Parkways and expressways (think Van Cortlandt Park) certainly are not closed just because the rest of the park is closed.

    I don’t think I’d advocate for either of the DOTs to have some carved-out area of responsibility for the Greenways… but a little more recognition of their transportation role should be possible.

  • “Since there aren’t many entrances and exits, it makes sense to close the whole thing during storms to keep people from being trapped by fallen trees.”

    It might make bureaucratic sense, but it’s not rational. Compare how often NYC cyclists in are being injured by fallen trees to how often we are being struck and injured or killed by automobiles. It’s something like zero to thousands a year, right? The effect of closing sections of the normally contiguous west side greenway (as mere mortals think of it) is that cyclists will take routes that are historically far more dangerous.

    If it makes sense for the parks department to cover its ass instead of acting rationally in our best interest, then it makes sense for us to call them out on it and strive to change their incentives.

  • Guest

    @14a8960ffa19c6b0ffff4264aba1f641:disqus the Greenway allows cyclists to avoid almost all cross traffic.  Anything through the center of the island is going to have to deal with intersections.  Yeah, in some weather conditions, the waterfront sucks.  Sometimes the breeze off the water is better than sucking fumes, too, though.  Mixed bag, I think.

  • Redbike

    Sunday 11 Nov: between 125th St and 59th St, there was one damaged tree partly obstructing the western (pedestrians / southbound bicyclists) lanes of the West Side Pedpath. It was in the Cherry Walk (125th St – 100th St) segment and no, I didn’t note the cross street more precisely.

    Worth adding related to pigeon-holing this pedpath: unlike the parks it passes through, the pedpath is open 24 / 7; just sayin’.

    Concerning how dark the pedpath is after sundown, the segment between 59th St and 70th St (under the highway) is temporary. Pave the final version (and, when it’s necessary, repave the balance) with glassphalt. No, of course glassphalt isn’t illuminated, but unless you’re a ninja, your headlight will reflect marvelously off the crushed glass.

  • Thank you for covering this. As a frequent commuter on this path, the other thing I would add is that signage and timely communication with users here is poor. We need ubiquitous signage will in advance of planned closures and detour signage that doesn’t start at the point of detour. And while these recent closures couldn’t have been planned, obviously, the city could have a much better protocol for when and where signage about these things gets posted when it is needed. 

  • But BornAgainBicyclist, the utter lack of any wayfinding signs, even in good weather, is part and parcel of the Greenway’s charm! Or at least I assume that’s why, because I can’t think of any other reason for it.

    As a thought experiment, just imagine giving someone directions orally to anywhere using the Greenway. It’s useless.

  • Parks has a systemic problem with their failure to define bike paths as 24/7 critical transportation.  Parks official policy is that parks are closed at night.  Parks states that under city law, all parks are closed by 1:00 AM until dawn, and that includes designated bike paths, even if they are the non-motorized parallel to adjacent motor parkways that are open 24/7.  Under this definition, bicycling is not transportation, but recreation, and can therefore be turned on and off without at any time.

    The fact that the Hudson River Greenway has not been closed to late night bicycling is only a result of Parks not aggressively enforcing their night-time closure law.  They are doing us a “favor” by not enforcing their rules.

    Houston, we have a problem.

    Some years back, at a planning meeting for a bike path paralleling the Cross Island Parkway in Queens, Parks was touting the benefits of the path, how it would carry work trips from the hospitals and schools adjacent to the parkway and path.  But then in the next sentence, they noted that the path would have to be closed after dark.  When asked how that closure squared with workers returning home at 5 PM in December, when it is distinctly dark already, the Parks planners had that deer in the headlights look.
    It was strongly suggested that either the path be open at night, with a bicycle headlight requirement, if needed, or that a suitable direct and safe route be found and marked on parallel local streets that would remain open 24 hours a day. 

    The Putnam Rail Trail which starts in Van Cortlandt Park and runs 55 miles unbroken across Westchester (North & South County Trails) to Brewster in Putnam County, shares the same conflict.  The Putnam Line Rail Trail parallels the Henry Hudson Parkway in the Bronx, which becomes the Saw Mill River Parkway in Westchester; it is a regional class limited access bicycle parkway. 

    Technically, the path is closed after dark in the Bronx and in Westchester, but is already heavily used by commuter and utility cyclists at all hours, even though the Van Cortlandt section still runs along the edge of the old RR ties.  It’s programmed for hard paving next year.  Look at the map of The Bronx and Westchester; there is no viable safe alternative via local streets to the Putnam Line.  The alternate streets have heavy traffic and various very steep hills, making riding the streets far more dangerous than using the Putnam Path at night.

    As others have noted, the region has a series of motor parkways dating back to the beginning of the 20th Century.  These originally carried bikes on the roadways, then in the 1930’s, parkways were built with parallel walkways and separate dedicated bike paths (eg: Belt Parkway in Brooklyn and Queens.)  The motor lanes of the parkways are open 24/7 for “transportation”; but the adjacent non-motorized paths are not considered “transportation”, despite being used for the same trip purposes as the motorists a few feet away, and are therefore subject to closure under a city law that arbitrary defines bicycle trips as not worthy of being transportation.

    Parks and DOT have to work out a new and separate set of rules for designated bicycle routes running through NYC parks, and for the feeder and connector ramps to these paths.  It makes no more sense to close the access paths to the Hudson River Greenway than to close the on-off ramps to the Henry Hudson Parkway.

    If the city law needs to be changed, then would our City Councilpersons please start this change immediately.

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