At Riverside Park, Looking to More Bike Lanes to Soothe Bike/Ped Conflict

Though this path was signed as part of the greenway system, the Parks Department slapped a dismount sign on top of it. The community board is currently looking for a less drastic solution to bike/ped conflict.
Though this Riverside Park path was signed as part of the greenway system and provides a crucial link to the Hudson River Greenway, the Parks Department slapped a dismount sign on top of it. The community board is currently looking for a less drastic solution to bike/ped conflict.

The Hudson River Greenway is the busiest bike route in the city, with around 5,000 cyclists riding it during the peak 12-hour period each day. This June, the Parks Department abruptly put up dismount signs at the 72nd Street entrance to Riverside Park, interrupting a popular access route to a major corridor within Manhattan’s green transportation network.

Cyclists, pedestrians, and dog walkers all use the 72nd Street entrance heavily, and while no resolution has yet been reached, many now see adding bike lanes at other greenway access points as the best way to reduce conflict. But even if those plans are pursued, cyclists won’t be able to ride this critical link without fear of getting fined unless the Parks Department changes the dismount policy.

At a meeting of the Manhattan Community Board 7 Parks Committee last night, CB members, the city, and local activists seemed to coalesce around a plan to improve bike access to the greenway at 79th Street, taking some pressure off 72nd and thereby mitigating the rationale for dismount signs. Both committee co-chairs saw the 79th Street plan as a partial solution worth pursuing and steered the conversation toward the more controversial question of what to do on the 72nd Street path.

Parks Department Greenway Coordinator John Mattera explained the 79th Street idea using an electricity analogy. “Bicycles follow the path of least resistance,” he said. If you want to reduce conflict on the 72nd Street path, he added, “the way to do that is to make a lightning rod out of 79th Street.” With fewer cyclists at 72nd, he said, the dismount policy could be swapped for something a little less heavy-handed. Mattera said that he’d spoken with the NYC DOT and that “as sure as anything can be at City DOT,” striping a new bike lane along 79th and leading into the park was part of their plan for 2011.

The plan got a generally positive response as a way of reducing conflicts between park users, though not everyone agreed with Mattera’s proposal. “Another way you guide electricity is by adding resistance, and there should be resistance at 72nd Street,” said committee member Tom Vitullo-Martin.

Though the lightning rod idea was popular in theory, implementing a safe access route from 79th Street could prove difficult in practice. “It’s a great idea, but it’s going to take a whole lot more than paint to make it safe for cyclists,” said Upper East Side resident Steve Vaccaro, who noted that cyclists would be riding by a highway off-ramp.

While everyone agreed that siphoning off some bike traffic from 72nd Street would help, waiting until those changes are in place would leave the dismount policy intact at least until next year.

Momentum on the community board seemed to be in the direction of walking back or replacing the dismount policy. “A 24/7 dismount is way overkill for the degree of congestion at that path,” said committee co-chair Klari Neuwelt, suggesting that it could be in effect only at the hours of peak use. “It has led to a lot of potentially unnecessary antagonism between user groups.”

The city's bike map, co-published by the Parks Department, clearly shows the 72nd Street path as part of the bike system.
The city's bike map, co-published by the Parks Department, clearly shows the 72nd Street path as part of the bike system.

Similarly, co-chair Elizabeth Starkey wanted to see a solution that enabled all park users to coexist, rather than putting the entire burden on cyclists. Ideas proposed over the course of the evening ranged from more creative signage urging slow speeds, to placing volunteer cyclists at the path to send the slow-down message, to building some sort of speed bump that only affects fast-moving bikes.

In the background of the whole discussion was the question of whether bikes are even allowed on the 72nd Street path in the first place. Riverside Park Administrator John Herrold claimed they are not. “Cycling is in fact illegal on any park path,” he explained, adding that until recently, the department had chosen not to enforce that rule in Riverside Park.

However, as many in the audience pointed out, the 72nd Street path to the Greenway is clearly marked on the city’s official bike map, which bears the Parks Department seal and Commissioner Adrian Benepe’s name. The inclusion of the 72nd Street path on that map for many years, said Herrold, has been “a mistake.”

Of course, it’s not just the maps. Directly above the “cyclists dismount” signs, markers on the path indicate that it’s part of the Hudson River Greenway.

  • Pete

    As a regular rider through the 79th street access point, there is no way in hell I would ride that if I wasn’t an experienced rider – in it’s current form, it’s a nightmare. And that’s even before you acknowledge the fact that the pavement there is a complete and total disaster – I’d hate to ride it with road-bike tires.

    If you’re exiting the park, your experience is:

    * up a very steep hill to the traffic circle.
    * merge into traffic that contains:
    * cars exiting the southbound Henry Hudson
    * cars entering the circle to get on the southbound HH.
    * M79 buses parked prior to departure
    * cars exiting the northbound HH.

    That’s all in 100 yards leading to Riverside Drive. It’s an extremely dangerous experience, and should really not be undertaken by an inexperienced or timid rider. Absolutely not appropriate for a family with children.

    Heading into the park is no better, really.

    The only comparable experience I can think of would have to be the process of getting on the Manhattan bridge from Jay Street. It’s *that* dangerous.

    It’s a shame to see that the Parks Department is still populated by people who share Robert Moses’s mindset.

  • Ed Ravin

    I don’t remember the chapter and verse but the last time I checked the NYC rules on this, bicycling on Parks Department paths was prohibited unless “approved by the Commissioner”. The Greenway sign and the city map suggest that such approval has been given.

  • BicyclesOnly

    Herrold sort of mispoke when he said cycling is illegal everywhere in Riverside Park. The Hudson River Bike Path is in Riverside Park, and it is most certainly legal to bicycle there. What he meant was that there is a regulation stating that it is illegal to bike in the park, except to the extent allowed by the Commissioner of Parks. And for years, the clearest evidence of where the Commissioner allowed biking in the Park was found in the NYC Cycling Map, which is published jointly by DoT, Dep’t of Parks and other City agencies. The astonishing thing was Herrold’s revelation that the little green line on the 72nd St. Path–which appears on each of the annual Cycling Maps issued by the Parks Department since at least 2003–was a “mistake,” along with the Greenway signage on the path.
    So the Commissioner (or his designee, Herrold) can decide that biking should not be allowed on the 72nd St. path. But given the history, how can such a decision be made with no consultation whatsoever with the cuycling community that has come to rely on this critica route? The Commissioner could also decide to eliminate the dog run at 72nd St. Would the Commissioner do so without advance notice to the dog owners, and without giving them any opportunity to comment or work out a compromise? I doubt it. That’s why Peter Frishauf’s characterization of the dismount policy as “ham-fisted” and “contemptuous of cyclists was so apt.

  • BicyclesOnly, thanks for the excellent post at #3, above. The comparison with dog owners and dog runs is apt; how is it that canine advocacy has progressed to the point where the taking-dogs-in-stores law is widely flouted, where dogs are out in the parks unleashed and unmuzzled throughout morning hours, and where dog shows are covered unquestioningly on local TV? Bicyclists should examine this trend and see what they’ve done.

    Pete, I have been using the 79th St circle frequently to enter and leave the park since 2005 and don’t think it’s so bad. The worst part is the poor quality pavement. The tight circle slows the motor vehicles down considerably. The hill from the park to the circle is much less steep than the corresponding hill at 72nd St. Coming from uptown, 79th St avoids the climb up Riverside Drive and corresponding descent through the park.

  • BicyclesOnly

    Jonathan, thanks for the compliment!

    I do think Peter’s point about families and children using 79th street to access the Greenway is correct. The only traffic control regulating the flow of highway traffic into the rotunda is a stop sign, which is observed only in stop-and-go traffic. In addition to repaving (which Mattera raised at the meeting as an important issue), you would need dedicated signal phases for MV and bike traffic to make 79th a safe access point for less experienced cyclists. Something like the set-up at Dyckman and the Harlem River Drive could work. But I would expect huge opposition from motorists to a signal controlling the 79th St. offramp traffic.

  • Michael Steiner

    Following up #3 and 72nd being on the official bike maps: Ironically, in the same CB7 meeting some 30 minutes earlier, Herrold defended their sub-optimal sign on dog-leash rules based some existing maps they have on their website and pointed to historical reasons. Shouldn’t they for the same accept the bike lane, even if it was indeed (as many dispute) a mistake .. ;-?

  • Khon

    Sadly cyclists seem to not for the most part look out for pedestrians. Some folks on bikes seem to share much of the mentality that car drivers share. They own the road, or in this case the path. Asking a rider to slow down would most likely get you the same response that I get daily when notifying riders they are going the wrong way or not to ride on the side walk. Mostly a wear word mixed with anger.

    It is not just youngsters on bikes that get angry but older folk too. For some reason or another a few bikers don’t seem to like the law. Are they too good for it?

    Slow down. I do.

  • Matt H

    I’m a bit nonplussed that the default setting for riding on a park pathway is deny rather than allow. The paths in Riverside Park between 97th and 120th — above the highway, not the Cherry Walk — are essentially my backyard routes. I don’t see that I have much choice but to flout this particular rule, alas, especially when out with the trailer.

    Perhaps I’ll modulate my annoyance at dogwalkers who leave their dogs off-leash in the leash-only areas, between 9 AM and 9 PM, or (often) both.

  • I don’t use the traffic circle at 79th St to enter the Greenway. Rather, I enter the park at the corner of Riverside and 79th, travel the length of the promenade that used to be part of the official Greenway route before the cantilevered waterfront path was opened, and then descend to the path. I think that’s a safer route.

  • flp

    this does not make sense to me: “Similarly, co-chair Elizabeth Starkey wanted to see a solution that enabled all park users to coexist, rather than putting the entire burden on cyclists. Ideas proposed over the course of the evening ranged from more creative signage urging slow speeds, to placing volunteer cyclists at the path to send the slow-down message, to building some sort of speed bump that only affects fast-moving bikes.”

    if the approach is to not place the entire burden on cyclists, why then those signs and strategies still targeting cyclists? why not signs telling pedestrians to keep to their far right or be more respectful when hearing a bike-bell or other audible signal, dog-walkers to reign in the leashes, and parents to control their unruly brood, etc. etc. then, keeping in line with the dismount policy, those folks who flaunt the rules should be ticketed.

    now THAT is distributing the burden of responsibility.

  • Urbanis, that’s not a bad work-around, but as I recall it involves descending a staircase. Am I right about that?

    I took a spin through the 79th St. rotunda this morning to refresh myself on what it’s like. It was just re-paved, which makes for a smoother, safer ride. But the problem for cyclists heading to the Greenway remains the need to dodge the layover buses, cross the mouth of an on-ramp to 9A northbound with no traffic control, and cross the mouth of an off-ramp from 9A southbound traffic with only a stop sign for control. While it’s true that the off-ramp traffic slows down as it enters the circle, the cars don’t actually stop–they treat the stop sign as a yield sign. More is needed to accommodate less experienced/confident cyclists. I’ll get some video of this and post it the next time I have the chance.

  • Sorry for the serial posts. I just did a little reading on the Grayson v. Parks Department suit, a 2003 class action brought by dog owners alleging, among other things, that they were not given sufficient notice of when, where and how the rules against unleashed dogs would be enforced in Riverside Park. Although the suit was ultimately dismissed, the court did rule that the Riverside Park needed to the dog owners the notice they wanted. As folks who attended this meeting on Monday can attest, Mr. Herrold is now finalizing the signs to be used to give that notice.

    I can’t understand how Mr. Herrold could have gone through this process with the dog walkers and been found to have failed to give them proper notice of their rights, and then gone ahead and done something very similar to cyclists: after 8+ years of “mistaken” publication notice and signage by the Parks Department clearly stating that cycling is allowed on the 72nd Street path, instituting a mandatory dismount policy and stationed PEP officers to issues summonses to cyclists without any notice.

    What does it take to convince Mr. Herrold that he shouldn’t take park facilities away from constituencies who have enjoyed them for years, without notice and an opportunity to comment? Is that any way to build the visitor and philanthropic base for the park?

  • BicyclesOnly, there is no staircase you need to descend to access the Greenway at 79th and Riverside. You simply ride along the park path, which has a short dip and rise, and then you’re at the promenade–the old Greenway route.

  • Ken

    BicyclesOnly, At the very least one would have expected Mr. Herrold to present for CB7’s approval the designs for the “Cyclists Must Dismount” signs before installing them, just as he did for the dog-walking signs! Cyclist safety is one thing, but we’re talking aesthetics here! Seriously, proper notice and opportunity for comment seem only to follow a successful lawsuit.

  • BicyclesOnly, thank you for mentioning the philanthropic base for the park. The same problem exists with Hudson River Park, where cyclists make up probably 30-40% of total users, but are denied any conveniences (Can’t bring your bike into the restroom? Has this been a problem in any other NYC park, ever?) by management who thinks that the parks are only for stationary recreation.

    How about a campaign that encouraged greenway riders to donate $2.25 to both the Riverside Park nonprofit and the Hudson River Park nonprofit. It could be packaged through a website, maybe with TA’s help. If the organizations got several hundred low-level contributions through such a third-party campaign, it might show them that there are many park users out there whose needs are not currently being met.

  • Jonathan,

    What an excellent idea–to bundle small contributions from cyclists to enhance the consideration they receive for giving. T.A. could create trust fund to hold small contributions in trust for specific parks, and then donate the entire pot at the end of the year. If the terms of the trusts allowed T.A. in certain defined circumstances to shift the money away from one park and towards another, it would create an incentive for parks to be bike-friendly.

  • Here’s some video of what it’s like to ride the 79th Street rotunda. Key issues are the bus layovers and the lack of adequate controls on the southbound and northbound off-ramps. Traffic lights are needed to control traffic adequately.

  • Recap and Update:

    Last spring, Riverside Park erected signs requiring cyclists to dismount on a 72nd Street park pathway that for about a decade had been used as, and depicted on the NYC cycling Map as, a Greenway route. Park Manager John Herrold instituted the policy without any notice or opportunity to comment for cyclists. At a subsequent Community Board 7 parks committee meeting, Herrold claimed that this prior designation as a Greenway route was a “mistake,” and refused to implement other less restrictive measures to manage cyclist-pedestrian conflicts on the path that have proven successful on other parts of the Greenway (such as signage, painted dividing lines, etc.).

    This Monday, January 24, at 7 pm, the CB7 Parks Committee will take up the issue again. Please some and demonstrate your concern that his decade-old and heavily used part of the Hudson River Greenway was eliminated without any notice or opportunity to comment for cyclists. Location: 250 West 87th Street, Second Floor.

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