NYPD Forced Cyclists Off Greenway and Onto West Side Highway at Rush Hour

Forced off the greenway, these brave cyclists took to the West Side Highway. Photo: David Meyer
NYPD diverted cyclists off the Hudson River Greenway yesterday, so people biked in car traffic on the adjacent West Side Highway, which remained open. Photo: David Meyer

For four and a half hours last night, NYPD shut off bike access to the Hudson River Greenway between 44th Street and 55th Street, a major bike transportation artery used by several thousand people each day.

The greenway closure was billed as a “safety/security measure” for the televised Clinton/Trump Q & A with Matt Lauer held on the USS Intrepid. But there was no NYPD detour imposed on motorists using the adjacent West Side Highway, where people remained free to pilot large vehicles with substantial carrying capacity at high speeds.

Large numbers of cyclists returning home for the evening commute chose to bike on the West Side Highway for those 11 blocks. In the name of safety and security, NYPD created a more dangerous traffic condition, depriving cyclists of the protection of the greenway.

IMG_0688
Riders lining up to exit the greenway at 44th Street last night. Photo: Mark Gorton

Dismount signs and fences were posted at the 44th Street crossing where police officers blocked the greenway. Officers were also stationed along metal barricades lining the sidewalk on the east side of the road. A traffic control agent at the 44th Street intersection was on hand, but to direct southbound drivers turning left — not to assist cyclists (who either continued along the West Side Highway in car traffic, took to the sidewalks, or headed east along 44th Street).

Had an equivalent number of motorists been inconvenienced by the event on the Intrepid, there would have at least been some official alert from public officials, if not blanket coverage on the 5 o’clock news. The only alert we could find was a tweet posted by the Hudson River Park Trust the day before the closure.

Biking on the West Side Highway sidewalk at 46th Street. Photo: David Meyer
Pedestrians and cyclists share a cramped West Side Highway sidewalk at 46th Street. Photo: David Meyer
  • If we cannot get something like this right (with plenty of lead time and knowledge that there will be a disruption and be able to take a lane or two of the highway back for a few hours) we will never meet Vision Zero. Never.

    What’s even more ridiculous is that the inbound side of the highway is certainly less crowded at PM rush hour than outbound. Logic would say keep the cyclists on that side, take the lane or two, create less havoc for cyclists AND drivers.

  • Reader

    If this many motorists were inconvenienced without warning, Mayor de Blasio would drive to their homes and apologize to each one of them in person as Marcia Kramer followed him a CBS2 News van.

  • Vooch

    agreed – Solution Is reallocate One Lane of West Street to cyclists for The 4 Hours. Sade and effective

  • JudenChino

    How do you figure which is inbound v. outbound? Drivers could be going south to the Midtown Tunnel, BK Battery or around to the BK Bridge, or head North to the GWB or Henry Hudson Parkway?

  • Southhbound is less heavy than norhbound. Should have written that.

  • Joseph Cutrufo

    I witnessed a couple of close calls during the my ride between 44th and 55th last night. Bikes + unsuspecting drivers + a police department who really doesn’t seem to care = recipe for disaster.

  • Jesse

    They actually took the time to line the blocks with barricades. All they had to do was place them 10 feet from the curb. Were they worried about endangering the barricades?

  • notsurprised

    Then you would have had TV new coverage, interviews with outraged motorists, etc

  • notsurprised

    One night there was an event at the UN, which 1st ave runs by. NYPD narrowed the bike lane by parking a patrol car on half of it at 1st ave and 42nd st and posted an officer who personally stared down each cyclist riding by. Meanwhile, turning drivers, merging traffic after the tunnel entrance, and cars dropping off at the UN honked, blocked the box, and created a clusterf*ck outside the UN completely unchecked. NYPD hates cyclists and wants them out of the city.

  • Vooch

    Even better

  • MatthewEH

    Seriously.

  • MatthewEH

    I happened to just miss this mishegos — I had a dentist appointment on 71st Street at 5 PM, so I rolled through more like 4:40.

    I almost sniggered at the suggestion that cyclists use an alternate route instead. Yeah, tons of those in far west midtown.

    If they didn’t want to close off the westernmost lane of the road, at least they could have marked a detour to 11th Avenue. At least 11th Ave is two-way from 44th Street on north; it doesn’t become southbound-only until after 44th Street. This route is not for the faint of heart under ordinary circumstances, but maybe some critical-mass-like-effects would apply.

    Or, hell, how about redesignating the east-side sidewalk on West Street as a temporary bikeway, and set up barricades barring drivers from making any right turns on that 11 block stretch?

  • JudenChino

    We need a fucking bike czar.

  • Joe R.

    This is all about humiliating cyclists and nothing more.

  • J

    Sadly, it will likely take someone getting killed during one of these closures in order to prevent them from happening. That will be press free-for-all with the city promoting bicycling and Vision Zero and actively putting cyclists in harm way and getting them killed.

    Since De Blasio has absolutely no control over his NYPD, change seems unlikely.

  • AMH

    Incredible. Thanks for covering this. “Use alternate routes” when none are provided is utter nonsense, but then so is the closure in the first place. I was happy to see @HudsonRiverPark getting slammed on Twitter.

  • Aliya Tyus-Barnwell

    There’s a protest planned for the 15th to highlight the high number of bike riders killed in NYC this year. This closing was, as some have already said, a recipe for disaster and a sign of disrespect (like ticketing cyclists on the lane where one was killed in a hit and run the night before, while ignoring drivers). If this pissed you off please show up and show your support. 9/15, 59 street and 5thav https://www.facebook.com/events/1817898551778094/?ti=cl

  • jeremy

    Exactly my thought

  • jeremy

    NYPD: “Use alternate routes” = Go F*** yourselves cyclists, you worthless pieces of s*** we don’t give a f*** about your safety. And if anyone of you gets hit by a car it will be well deserved and we will cover the car driver and hope you die. Sincerely, NYPD

  • Eric McClure

    But “what would happen if a man on a bike were a terrorist?”
    http://www.streetsblog.org/2011/07/08/bin-laden-is-dead-but-the-second-avenue-bike-lane-lives-on/

  • JamesR

    They, as an institution, literally hate us, and because they are a semi-autonomous state within the state and aren’t accountable, I don’t expect meaningful change. I’ve adjusted by just riding less (sad) to reduce my risk factor and making long term plans to get out of the city once my ducks are in a row. No way am I ending up on Streetsblog the way the TA volunteer killed in Queens recently did.

  • KeNYC2030

    In addition to being another example of the NYPD’s ongoing contempt for cyclists, it’s a reminder of how much we need Streetsblog. Without its vital coverage, this would have happened in a vacuum and the throngs of imperiled bike commuters would be the nonentities officialdom in our city apparently takes them for.

  • Andrew

    I doubt there’s a deliberate attempt here to humiliate anyone.

    Almost all police officers drive to work, because they all get free parking at work (even if it’s ppb the sidewalk). Consequently, they see driving as the normal way that normal people normally get around, and therefore to them it’s important to maintain driving infrastructure as much as possible.
    Everybody else is doing something weird. There are enough pedestrians and transit riders in much of the city that the police can’t completely ignore their needs. But cyclists are fewer in number citywide, so much of the NYPD doesn’t even perceive the bicycle as a serious transportation mode – even on corridors like this one where it is a serious transportation mode for large volumes of cyclists.

    As long as the police are given free reign to park wherever they please, this isn’t going to change. Take away the unlimited free parking and police officers will face the same choices as everybody else in getting to work. Some will continue to drive, but many will use other modes, and the NYPD will begin to see that real people actually ride bicycles as serious transportation.

  • (“free rein”)

    Exactly right. Driving is treated by the authorities (by which I mean the police, as New York City does not have a civilian government) as the only legitimate street use.

    Drivers as compared to bicyclists is an example of the difference between the hegemonic group and a marginalised group.

  • Andrew

    Gah, I made one of the spelling mistakes that drives me batty. Thanks for the correction.

    Bear in mind that I don’t personally ride a bicycle – but I have plenty of coworkers and friends who regularly do, so it’s plainly obvious that cycling is serious transportation, no less so than walking or riding the bus/subway or driving.

    Police officers have few colleagues who get to work by any means other than driving. They see driving, and only driving, as serious transportation.

  • Back when there used to be cops on bikes, I hated seeing them. I felt like they were there to target bicyclists.

    But now I think that we should have more cops on bikes. This would help combat the constant incursions into bike lanes. And, on a more long-term level, it would allow the experience of riding to become part of the police’s collective knowledge base.

  • Joe R.

    Perhaps you’re right but between stuff like this and the ticket blitzes it sure feels that way. The NYPD should include bike training and bike patrols as part of their regular operations. A cop on a bike can see as much as one on foot, but can respond to threats five times as rapidly. They can also rapidly go places a patrol car just can’t.

    And yes, the unlimited free parking for cops, and to a lesser extent teachers, has got to go. As does the entire corrupt placard system.

  • SSkate

    There are still a few cops on bikes, e.g., this from the 20 a couple weeks ago. https://twitter.com/JuliaManhattan/status/766457209182097408

    https://twitter.com/JuliaManhattan/status/766457209182097408

  • Right, I do see one of them once in a great while. But far less than I used to a few decades ago.

    I think that there is some kind of special conditioning test involved for bike cops. During the spring and summer I had several converstations with a police officer from the 104th Precinct who took seriously the constant parking in the bike lane on Onderdonk Avenue in front of one particular business, and I mentioned to him during one of those conversations that I wish we had more cops on bikes. In his response he mentioned a test that few cops can pass. I didn’t want to take up too much of this officer’s time, and I didn’t want to risk diverting his attention from the main issue about which we had been talking; for that reason I didn’t follow up on this, so I don’t know the details.

  • Joe R.

    Sad it has to come to that but I understand where you’re coming from. I’ve long given up riding during the day on account of the risk and the aggravation. I’m not sure if I would ever leave the city but there are times when I can see the appeal.

  • Andrew

    If you get around exclusively by car, and virtually everybody you know gets around exclusively by car, then you’re not going to take any other modes seriously. In particular, you’ll perceive cyclists as weirdos playing with toys in traffic.

    This also explains why the police are so quick to blame the cyclist or pedestrian who is struck by a motorist. The motorist is a normal person getting around the way normal people get around; the cyclist or pedestrian must have gotten in the motorist’s way.

    If police officers shared the modal diversity of other New Yorkers, they wouldn’t be inclined to marginalize everybody who doesn’t always drive everywhere.

  • Thanks Ken

  • cjstephens

    I think of this as a good example of “whose ox is getting gored”. A few years ago Obama was in town fundraising, and the NYPD closed off all of Park Avenue from 60th to 96th for more than an hour, stopping all cross-town traffic for over 600,000 residents. Yes, cars were inconvenienced, but so were pedestrians and people who relied on buses (in my case, waiting in the cold for an M86 bus that took forever to arrive and then waited and waited and waited). When I complained online I was dismissed as a sour Obama-hater. But when you inconvenience _cyclists_….

    The real problem here is not (for once) the NYPD but the Secret Service, who impose overly dramatic security plans without the least bit of consideration for anyone who isn’t important to them. It doesn’t help that the NYPD does everything the Secret Service asks for (with visions of overtime dancing in their heads, naturally), but until the Secret Service is forced to acknowledge us peasants, this sort of situation will keep happening. Is securing the next president of the US important? Sure. But other countries guard their “high-value targets” with much less impact on ordinary people; for comparison’s sake, ask Londoners how often they get inconvenienced because HMQ is cutting a ribbon/travelling to Balmoral, etc.

  • Elizabeth F
  • Joe R.

    I hate to say this, but these are two supposed “high-value targets” the country might well be better off without. It would have been a shame if any cyclists had been killed under the pretense of protecting them.

  • JI’m H.
  • Brad Aaron

    I talked with two Secret Service people, separately, and both said it was NYPD’s call.

    One of them said he would be calling DCPI himself to ask NYPD to stop telling the media that the traffic plan was dictated by the Secret Service.

    For what that’s worth.

  • Guest

    The Secret Service will set broad parameters to maintain safe distances. Decisions about how streets are managed outside those areas are 100% the NYPD. They pride themselves on how little they inconvenience motorists, with zero concern about the impact to convenience or basic safety of anyone who isn’t driving.

  • cjstephens

    I believe you when you say that’s what they told you, but every time I’ve asked cops about this, they shrug their shoulders and say they’re only doing what the Secret Service tells them to do. Great, right?

  • ItsEasyBeingGreen

    When I complained online I was dismissed as a sour Obama-hater. But when you inconvenience _cyclists_…

    There’s also a huge difference between closing off a crosstown street, of which there are hundreds (I’m aware of the effect on bus service) and closing off the Hudson River Greenway, which which there is no real alternative. The 8th Ave protected lane is many blocks further east, is much, much lower quality, is discontinuous, and ends at Columbus Circle.

  • cjstephens

    To be clear, in my example they didn’t close a crosstown street; they closed Park Avenue, making it impossible to get from one half of Manhattan to another. There are no alternatives at all (no crosstown subways). What was even more annoying was that the cops had no idea how long they planned to block access. We just had to wait until the president felt like moving on to his next fundraiser.

  • Critical critic

    There actually was an electronic sign announcing the closure several days before, but the sign said it would be Thursday. I had planned to alter my route accordingly, but got screwed by the NYPD nonetheless.

  • Vooch

    Secret Service does the same when Dear Leader visits other countries.

    they take over

  • Ollie Oliver
  • cjstephens

    Don’t get me wrong – I’m just as outraged as everyone else is here about how cyclists were treated. I’m just saying that over-the-top security efforts are nothing new. Does anyone have any constructive ideas about how we can stand up to these bullies?

  • Miles Bader

    It’s like somebody asking you to feed their dog… so you kill and skin their cat and give the dog a nice meat dinner…. “Just did what you told me to do!”

  • Miles Bader

    Large numbers of cities have bicycles for police use (though the degree to which they’re integrated with normal operation varies) … does NYC not have them all?

  • Owen Iverson

    oh man… i would have been hard pressed to not try to rally a bunch of cyclists to walk our bike down the highway…

  • ycplum

    The cops on the street really don’t know. It is above their pay grade. It is probably a matter above the precinct captain since the routes may cross several precincts.
    .
    It makes more sense for the local agency to deal with these details. In theory, they should know the local environment better.

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