Extreme Weather Wreaks Havoc on Palisades Bike Mecca

Recent storms have uprooted hundreds of mature trees on New Jersey's "River Road." Photo: Charles Komanoff
Recent storms have uprooted hundreds of mature trees on New Jersey's "River Road." Photo: Charles Komanoff

Work crews will soon start clearing dozens of downed trees from Henry Hudson Drive, the New Jersey road whose spectacular vistas and challenging hills have made it a prime destination for New York-area cyclists. If all goes well, it may re-open as early as next month. But the scale of the devastation along the eight-mile route from Edgewater to Alpine, just across the George Washington Bridge, is adding weight to concerns over the impact of climate change on landscape and infrastructure.

The drive, known colloquially as River Road, was constructed in the 1920s and 1930s but was only opened officially to full-time cycling in 1989, after a two-year advocacy campaign led by Transportation Alternatives. Winter or early-spring rockslides have closed the road a handful of times since then, but in specific locations that were repaired within weeks.

The situation this year is far different. According to Chris Szeglin, a spokesperson for the Palisades Interstate Park Commission, “two big storms, back to back, a huge snowstorm in late February and the ‘silent hurricane’ in March,” weakened and ultimately uprooted hundreds of trees. One cyclist who skirted a barrier at the Englewood Cliffs entrance on Sunday and made it to the north exit at Alpine reported having to carry his bike over fallen trees “20 to 30 times.”

The rugged topography that makes River Road so spectacular obviously leaves it vulnerable to erosion and rockslides. Here is where global climate change may be coming into play.

Climate models predict that the increased thermal energy in a warming atmosphere and warmer oceans should produce more violent storms. And sure enough, “extreme weather events” — defined as an inch or more of rainfall (or equivalent snow) within a 24-hour period — are growing more common.

A University of New Hampshire study released last week [PDF] found that over the past 60 years such events have become more frequent at 92 percent of Northeast U.S. weather stations. With runoff rates also rising as natural areas are paved over, trees are being inundated with more water than they have evolved to withstand.

Just as most individual instances of cancer can’t be tied directly to exposure to a particular air toxin or water pollutant, the current devastation on River Road can’t be definitively linked to global warming. Nevertheless, at least in statistical terms, the closure of the road and the loss of so many beautiful trees can probably be taken as yet another consequence of the unchecked buildup of heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere, primarily from the burning of fossil fuels.

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

The Bicycle Uprising, Part 4

|
This is the fourth installment in a multi-part series looking back at the victory over the Midtown bike ban, 25 years ago. Read parts one, two, and three for an overview of the bike ban, the advocacy of the 1970s and 80s, and the aftermath of the ban. Activists are planning a September 28 bike ride and forum […]

Mapping Out a Route for the Hudson River Greenway in the Bronx

|
In 1991, Governor Mario Cuomo signed the Hudson River Valley Greenway Act, setting in motion the design and construction of a continuous walking and biking route along the river, from Manhattan to Saratoga County. More than two decades later, the New York Metropolitan Transportation Council — the NYC-area regional planning agency — has come up with […]

DOT Weakened Riverside Drive Plan to Appease Manhattan CB 9 [Updated]

|
DOT watered down and delayed an already half-hearted plan to make Riverside Drive safer for walking in deference to opposition from Manhattan Community Board 9. Riverside is a neighborhood street, lined by apartment buildings and parks. It also ranks in the top third of Manhattan streets in terms of the number of collisions, which is supposed to mean […]

The NYPD’s Holiday Gift to Motorists: Central Park

|
After introducing some yuletide sanity two winters ago, the city is back to sending a schizophrenic message to New Yorkers this holiday season: Please use mass transit, but if you choose to drive, we’ve made it easier by increasing the hours when cars are permitted on a section of Central Park’s loop road. Only this […]