Will Roosevelt Island Reach Its Potential as a Bikeable Neighborhood?

Photo: Stephen Miller
While it doesn’t quite live up to the original vision as a car-free oasis, Roosevelt Island should be an easy place to foster low-stress bicycling. Photo: Stephen Miller

By now, it seems almost all of Roosevelt Island’s 12,300 residents have heard about Anna Maria Moström, the cyclist left brain dead last week after a bus driver struck her while failing to yield during a turn. The quiet island, shaped into a mostly residential neighborhood by a 1970s redevelopment effort, has long fostered the feeling of an urban village. Despite its natural advantages and a decent number of bike riders, cycling has never really boomed on Roosevelt Island. For the past year, a joint effort from Bike New York and the state authority overseeing the island has sought to change that. Even before last week’s crash rattled islanders, many residents here didn’t feel comfortable on two wheels.

Two miles long and no wider than the distance between two Manhattan avenues, Roosevelt Island today is  connected to the rest of New York by an aerial tram, a subway stop, and a bridge to Queens (the Queensboro Bridge passes over the island but does not connect to it). Because it is effectively a big cul-de-sac, traffic volumes are low and drivers travel slowly. While there are more cars than envisioned in the 1970s master plan, which called for a mostly car-free island, Roosevelt Island remains a contrast with the rest of the car-clogged city. The speed limit on the island is just 15 mph.

Despite these advantages, bicycling has struggled to blossom under the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation, the state body overseeing the neighborhood’s day-to-day services. But in recent years, RIOC has become more interested in bicycling. A few years ago, the corporation inventoried bike racks on the island, and despite occasional missteps like an overzealous program that resulted in wholesale removal of parked bikes, continues to show interest. “This is a family-friendly place, and we have a lot of cyclists,” said Erica Spencer-El, a community relations specialist at RIOC.

RIOC hosted a temporary demonstration from bike-share provider B-Cycle in 2010, before the advent of Citi Bike. It was popular, but RIOC’s board has put future discussion of bike-share on hold. “We were putting the carriage before the horse. Our infrastructure is not ready,” Spencer-El said. She pointed around the island’s streets, which have a hodge-podge of signs and markings. Some crosswalks include stop signs; others only tell drivers and cyclists to yield. There is no consistent street design.

That’s where Bike New York comes in. “The signage here is a little bit confusing,” said Rich Conroy, the group’s education programs director. “Either it’s a hard stop or it’s not.”

Staff from the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation and Bike New York tour the island yesterday. Photo: Stephen Miller
Staff from the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation and Bike New York tour the island. Photo: Stephen Miller

While Bike New York will ultimately tackle some of these issues with recommendations for RIOC, it’s starting with what it does best: Offering free bike education classes. Bike New York started working on the island last November, first at the Sportspark recreation center, then expanding to a storage container parked beneath the Motorgate parking garage. The group stores 70 bikes in the two locations for its classes. Bike New York is working with The Child School to integrate bicycling into its curriculum with a six-week program, and hopes to work with PS/IS 217 next.

Caitlin Goodspeed was hired by Bike New York a year ago and is the group’s only staffer devoted to a specific neighborhood, spending all of her time focused on Roosevelt Island. Goosdpeed has started counting cyclists at key locations like the Roosevelt Island Bridge, the tram, and the subway station. She’s created a listserv of nearly 350 island residents interested in cycling, and has forged relationships with residents, schools, RIOC staff, and elected officials like Council Member Ben Kallos.

Tuesday morning, staff from Bike New York and RIOC held a walking meeting to assess on-the-ground changes that could make cycling safer and easier. While the meeting had been scheduled before Moström’s crash, it was opened to the press in the wake of the collision. Throughout the walk, RIOC staff refused to talk about the case, citing NYPD’s ongoing investigation. RIOC Director of Operations Cy Opperman oversees “red bus” drivers, one of whom struck Moström last week. Opperman said he has not been in touch with NYPD about its investigation and would not say whether or not the driver who struck Moström is still behind the wheel this week. “I have no comment,” he said.

Opperman said all RIOC drivers receive DMV-approved defensive driving classes. For “red bus” drivers, he administers annual road tests and observational rides, but they do not go to the safety training classes the MTA requires for its operators. (Opperman worked at the MTA for 32 years before starting at RIOC four years ago.)

During the walking tour, Opperman spotted a woman cycling with her two children in a cargo carrier. To avoid cars, she pedaled onto the sidewalk. Opperman grumbled about the bad behavior.

I interviewed the woman later when she circled by a second time. “There’s not room enough for biking on the street. I’m not supposed to be on the sidewalk,” said Birgitte Noël, a Roosevelt Island resident originally from Denmark who was bicycling with her son and nephew. “I take him to daycare and grocery shopping,” she said of her son. Noël had heard about Moström’s crash, because the two live in the same building and have a mutual friend. While Noël takes her bike off-island, she doesn’t take her son on those trips, citing the steep ramp to the bridge and busy city streets as barriers.

The bridge is the city’s responsibility, and improvements may be in the works. As part of its Western Queens transportation study, the Department of City Planning last week suggested a two-way protected bike path on the Roosevelt Island Bridge with easier, more direct connections to greenways on the island. DCP also recommended a protected bikeway along 36th Avenue from the bridge to the subway.

Another possible improvement: The bridge has open metal grates across its central span, creating dangerous grooves for cyclists. During the walk yesterday, Bike New York’s Goodspeed pointed to panels Chicago has installed on its bridges that offer a smoother, safer ride as a potential solution for the Roosevelt Island Bridge.

DCP’s draft report recommends a new bike path from the bridge to the Cornell Technion campus, under construction on the island’s southern end. I asked Opperman if RIOC has been in discussions with the city or the university about planning for transportation to the new campus, and he shook his head. The project is beyond RIOC’s boundaries, he said.

Birgitte Noël is a Roosevelt Island resident who uses her bike to run errands with her son. Photo: Stephen Miller
Birgitte Noël is a Roosevelt Island resident who uses her bike to run errands with her son. Photo: Stephen Miller

While the Cornell Technion campus is years away from completion, there are more immediate changes that could improve cycling on the island that are under RIOC’s direct control. In 2010, the corporation installed sensors in parking spots to monitor occupancy. The project converted a section of West Road from two-way to one-way flow and added 16 new parking spaces, Spencer-El said. Now, many cyclists on the island go the wrong way on West Road, instead of detouring to the busier and less direct Main Street.

The street has “do not enter signs” and Opperman added “bikes prohibited” signs to reinforce the rules against wrong-way riding. Conroy suggested signage that directed cyclists instead of admonishing them. “I’m not taking the sign down. I had enough trouble putting it up there,” Opperman said. “They just go the wrong way. They’re not wearing helmets.” Later, Opperman and Spencer-El both said they thought the city ought to have a mandatory helmet law for adult cyclists.

Spencer-El said the parking sensor pilot on West Road, which covered only 29 spaces, had run its course. Perhaps a two-way route for cyclists was important, she said, and the parking could be removed.  “Some parts of the island are fine for parking. Other parts, we could do without it,” Spencer-El said.

Given the island’s low traffic volumes and slow speeds, I asked if RIOC or Bike New York were considering shared space, which removes signs, striping, and curbs to mix pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists in low-speed environments. NYC DOT is studying the concept for three blocks in Downtown Brooklyn. Oppermann favored separating road users into separate zones. A lifelong Upper East Side resident, he looked to First Avenue as a model. “Everybody’s in their own lane,” he said. “It’s beautiful.”

While a comprehensive street redesign is unlikely anytime soon, Bike New York will start to make recommendations to RIOC about signage, road markings, and other changes to the island’s streets. Spencer-El said RIOC has yet to determine if it will produce a master plan for bicycling on the island or continue its relationship with Bike New York on a more informal basis.

“We’ll make some recommendations,” said Bike New York’s Conroy. “All you can do is make the suggestion and see what someone else is going to do.”

  • YetAnotherRIer

    Am I missing something? Roosevelt Island is way too small to be really interesting for bicyclists. 15-20 minutes and you completed one loop and looked at the handful of things that are of interest. For us residents it is a handicap that we are not directly connected with Manhattan. Taking a crowded tram/subway with a bike sucks and taking the Queensboro bridge and having to either ride over the grate or walking on the sidewalk across the Roosevelt Island bridge adds quite a bit to your commute. It’s really not the best place to enjoy bicycling, IMHO.

  • Joe R.

    I don’t live on Roosevelt Island but I was about to say the same thing. At ~4 miles to loop around the island any serious cyclist will need 5 loops or more to get a good ride in. I would imagine doing that day in and day out would get old quickly. In the other boroughs you have a myriad of options. Some of my regular rides cover 25 miles without going over the same street twice.

  • ladyfleur

    I think you’re missing the goal here, which is to make it easy for people to do local errands by bike, not get a workout in or do a long scenic ride.

  • Joe R.

    Honestly, given the size of Roosevelt Island, it seems like most errands can easily be done on foot. I personally like the idea of making utility cycling more useful everywhere, but in general to me it’s not worth the bother of taking a bike if the trip is less than maybe 1.5 miles each way. Looking at satellite maps of Roosevelt Island, it appears most things of interest are within 1 mile or less of each other-hardly a distance worth biking. I can say the same thing about my immediate neighborhood as well. I have major shopping areas about 0.15 mile, 0.3 mile, and 0.65 mile away. You just don’t save much time biking when things are that close. Walking avoids having to chain up the bike. If I’m carrying more than maybe 30 pounds I’ll take the shopping cart.

  • ladyfleur

    My grocery store is 1/2 mile away and you can sure bet I ride my bike there. I can carry 40 pounds on my bike much easier than I can walk with it. And if I had to take kids to school a mile away we certainly would ride, not walk there.

    You may choose to walk instead of bike for distances up to 1.5 miles, but most people start looking for other options around the 1/4 mile mark.

  • Joe R.

    I think in terms of time. In the most extreme case where I live (0.65 miles), the round trip walking takes me about 18 minutes. Biking would take about 5 to 7 minutes round trip, depending upon whether or not I get stuck at one or both traffic signals along the way. Add about a minute to chain/unchain my bike. As I would have to chain it to the fence in the parking lot, I would need to walk a minute or so each way to the store. Overall then biking would take me 8 to 11 minutes, compared to 18 minutes walking. My schedule isn’t so packed that saving 7 to 10 minutes matters. Besides that, walking is a good complementary exercise to riding. Most health professionals recommend walking 6 miles a day. I rarely walk that much, but typically I walk at least 2 miles. An advantage of walking over biking is that it’s much easier to stop in multiple stores when running errands. No need to chain/unchain a bike a bunch of times.

    There’s also the issue of what happens if my bike gets stolen (a very real possibility here but maybe not where you live). If it does, then the number of hours I need to work to pay for a new one eats up whatever time I’ve saved.

    I really think with better connections to places off the island cycling on Roosevelt Island could increase dramatically.

    You may choose to walk instead of bike for distances up to 1.5 miles, but most people start looking for other options around the 1/4 mile mark.

    A lot of that depends upon age and general fitness level. In general, I think most people will look at other modes if they can’t walk somewhere in 10-15 minutes. A really slow walker might only be able to cover 1/4 mile in 15 minutes. An average walker can cover maybe 3/4 mile. Faster walkers can cover well over a mile.

  • ladyfleur

    Why are you so quick to dismiss why someone might want to take a bike instead of walk? Your choices are not everyone’s choices. What’s your concern with making the streets more comfortable for people who want to ride a bike?

  • CheshireKitty

    I agree. There are real problems/obstacles to bicycling. Better/safer bike paths need to be installed on the bridge for one thing – and maybe a dedicated ramp to the bridge deck so that bikes do not have to use the helix ramp. The ride around the island is brief – although scenic. The problem is getting on/off the island: You could use the train to get to the City – that’s a hassle as well, considering the multiple escalators, on which, if I am not mistaken, bikes are not allowed. Thus, you might be faced with the daunting prospect of about 3 flights of stairs (including some long flights) with the bike if the elevator – which is rather small – is down. Plus, the vast majority of cyclists do not use the trains since they have their own transportation (bikes). The tram is an option to get to Manhattan quickly – but that too is invariably crowded, and if I’m not mistaken, non-cycling passengers are prioritized ahead of cyclists (although if there is such a “rule” I’m not sure it’s “enforced” or even followed) given the space constraints. The City should focus on improving bike paths to the 59 St Bridge, or possibly implementing a ferry stop at RI.

  • Joe R.

    I’m fine making streets more comfortable to bike on as that helps people riding over any distance, be it 1/2 mile or 25 miles. I’m simply giving a logical reason for why not all that many people choose to bike on Roosevelt Island-namely that most trips seem quite amenable to walking.

    You might want to read this and rethink your “most people start looking for other options around the 1/4 mile mark” asumption:

    http://www.city-data.com/forum/new-york-city/1931867-what-do-you-consider-walking-distance.html

    http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/kbenfield/how_far_will_we_walk_to_someth.html

    People used to walk up to 3 miles each way to their jobs before mechanized transportation became common. Human physiology hasn’t changed much in 100 years. Basic fitness levels certainly have though.

    Interestingly, the plans to expand the subway system pre-WWII would have put most of NYC within 1 mile of a subway stop precisely because that distance was considered the upper bounds of what most people could easily walk.

  • CheshireKitty

    Joe: You are so right. The problem is the impediments to cycling on/off the island, such as the helix ramp which has limited sight distance the entire way and is therefore hazardous to driver/cyclist alike, the smallish elevators to the bridge deck level at Motorgate, which make it impossible to load a cyclist/bike + even 1 passenger + shopping cart, as the bike has to fit in diagonally (yes, the elevators are that small) or vertically maybe, or the cyclist must carry their bike up the stairs at Motorgate to the bridge level. No – I would not want to be a cyclist on RI under the circumstances, since it is either dangerous to use the helix ramp, or you have to be a body-builder to carry your bike up and down stairs, or constantly inconvenience other passengers on the Motorgate elevator if you want to use that means of reaching the bridge deck level. You will then need to traverse the bridge and in so doing put your life in danger as the metal grating of the bike path is unsafe, unless you walk your bike along the pedestrian foot-path. Note: The only safe way for cyclists to leave RI is to (a) carry their bikes up the stairs at Motorgate or squeeze into the elevator (b) walk over the bridge on the pedestrian footpath. Note that the entire safe means off the island – does not involve cycling! This is why RI is not a bike-friendly locality.

    Obviously, Motorgate/ramp/bridge was not planned to accommodate the cycling public: Not only am I categorically opposed to the metal grating of the bike path on the bridge – because it’s absolutely unsafe for bikes especially when slick, it’s also unsafe for 2-wheel motorized vehicles in the rain/inclement weather. Even cars slip a bit on the metal bridge deck in the rain. Why should any of these users of the road have to risk their lives getting off RI?

  • Joe R.

    I think better connections to RI for bikes will also benefit those who don’t live on the island. RI seems like a nice occasional place to ride to, but with the impediments you mention it’s not on my agenda. With better connections we all win. People who live on the island have easy access to points of interest or shopping off the island. Those who live elsewhere can visit-either for recreation, or to see friends who live there.

    Interestingly, back in the 1970s when it was being developed my parents looked at some apartments on Roosevelt Island. In the end they decided to stay in Queens precisely because the connections to the rest of the city weren’t all that great. As you probably recall, there wasn’t even a subway stop at the time.

  • YetAnotherRIer

    But for that the island is already perfect enough. You can ride the bike safely right by the water, avoiding all car traffic on Main Street. The point is that there is not enough reason to actually do so.

  • RooseveltIslander

    Are you sure it has been confirmed that the bus driver failed to yield to the bicyclist as stated in your article?

    My understanding is that vital fact is still being investigated by NYPD.

    More info for those interested

    http://rooseveltislander.blogspot.com/2014/10/update-on-roosevelt-island-resident.html

  • qrt145

    Left-turning vehicles never have the right of way over oncoming traffic unless they have a green arrow, and there isn’t one where the crash occurred.

  • CheshireKitty

    I have lived on RI for many years, and gave up riding since then. Probably the lack of exercise will cost me my life one day. I used to live in Brooklyn, which, although it had its own hazards to cyclists, didn’t pose the problems RI poses. Not at all. Yes – better connections to Queens are definitely needed, both for RI residents and visitors.

    The island was very convenient for me as I was employed at an UES hospital – by the time I was living here, the train was in place, in addition to the tram. You are correct that initially there was only the bus to Queens Plaza available to convey residents to mass transit. As I was living in Boro Park prior to living on RI, I could easily spend well over an hour commuting each way on 3 trains plus extended walks to and from train stations. Trains would regularly break down or be delayed back then. A good part of my life was spent on my commute – but I had to keep the job as jobs were scarce then (just after the ’87 crash http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Monday_(1987)). Thus, even with the drawbacks RI was a good deal. I really missed tooling around Brooklyn on my bike, though. The area near RI in Queens is rather industrial/desolate – that was another reason I wasn’t anxious to start riding around in it. Also, I’m not from Queens and the first few years, everything seemed “alien” – I didn’t understand these neighborhoods as I knew Brooklyn. And so, my life was mostly about hopping back and forth to work in the UES, and activities mostly in Manhattan.

  • RooseveltIslander

    It’s possible that the Driver yielded but did not see the bicyclist in the dark. I am not saying that happened just asking if NYPD has reached any conclusions. My understanding is they have not.

  • qrt145

    Maybe the driver didn’t mean not to yield, and maybe the driver didn’t see her, but the driver failed to yield nevertheless. The proof is the fact that they crashed. Mental state is not part of the question, because failure to yield is a traffic rule.

  • lop

    http://www.streetsblog.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/2014_10_western_queens_transportation_study.pdf

    Start page 44. Not sure exactly what the multipurpose escalator will look like, but the new design might be better. Looks from the drawing like the bridge bike path is paved. Is that feasible to add to the metal grating? Some parts of other grated bridges have some concrete. Thinking specifically of the metropolitan avenue bridge.

    Not the speedway you would want, but if you see this more as a last mile solution it seems adequate. Biking the helix down hill is fine, hopefully there will be a sharrow indicating to all that bikes are allowed there. Uphill is bad because the grade and turn keeps bikes very slow. So at least having a better car free route as an option will make it more inviting to cyclists

    It is a nice place to bike to. There’s a little lighthouse at the north end, good views all over. If you go at a bit of an off hour there are some places to eat outside where you can watch your bike. I like nonno’s pizza. I said off hour because the corral isn’t right there, but if it’s mostly empty they’ve never complained when I roll my bike to a table outside.

  • Joe R.

    You can certainly pave or concrete over metal gratings. They did it on the Queensboro Bridge. I think the original reason for the metal gratings, as opposed to concrete, was weight. The designers may have been ultraconservative keeping weight down.

    Off hours are when I make bike trips anyway. It’s much easier for me to make the journey down that way on a late Sunday afternoon or evening than during a weekday.

    I don’t care about speedways if we’re talking last mile solutions. Access and safety is more important in that case than designing so people in velomobiles can max out their speeds.

    For the multipurpose escalators, it’s probably something like this:

    http://chrispolleysfollies.files.wordpress.com/2011/05/random-jeju-011.jpg

    You also have these to help cyclists up very steep grades:

    http://www.supercompressor.com/gear/norway-has-invented-the-trampe-cyclocable-bike-escalator

  • CheshireKitty

    Excuse me – I don’t want to be the “devil’s advocate” here. But, there are plenty of times when driving down the street, some (jerk) is not going to yield (or not yield enough, allow oncoming traffic to become light enough) and makes a left, causing me, who has the right of way, to either slow down or stop to avoid hitting him. I do have the right of way, but I don’t want to crash into him, even if he is being a jerk and acting like he owns the road and doesn’t need to observe the right-of-way rule. This unfortunately happens all the time. There are not always dedicated left turn lanes/signals and the motorist turning left has to use judgment, assess the speed /distance of oncoming traffic, and also not crash into pedestrians crossing the street. In other words, he has to speed up to avoid oncoming traffic but then slow down to avoid hitting the pedestrians in the cross-walk and hope that the oncoming traffic then doesn’t hit him as he yields to the pedestrians crossing the street. The main thing is to avoid (a) getting hit by oncoming traffic (b) oncoming traffic must also – out of common sense – accommodate the driver making the left, even if he is violating (possibly only somewhat – since the judgment of when to turn can be variable) the right-of-way rule (c) hitting the pedestrians at all costs. Judgment and common sense dictate that drivers slow down or stop to avoid hitting other cars/pedestrians/cyclists – but also, cyclists use common sense to avoid hitting other cyclists/cars/pedestrians. I’m not saying the cyclist was in the wrong, but none of us – drivers, cyclists, and of course pedestrians – can “assume” all other road users will strictly observe the right-of-way rule,or observe it to the degree we would.

    We don’t know exactly what happened that night at that intersection. It is a poorly-lit area, and the intersection is unsignalized. These are certainly clues to what might have happened.

    The driver was making the turn. If the cyclist did not have front and rear lights on her bike (I’m not saying she didn’t, I’m just saying this as an example or reason why she might not have been highly visible) or wearing a vest, or even had fluorescent tape on the bike, or reflectors on the fender(s), she may very well have blended into the background. Maybe she wasn’t highly visible – we just don’t know. The driver scanned the road for oncoming traffic and likely didn’t see her coming along. He makes his left, keeping his eyes glued to the narrow roadway he must turn into which has its own hazards since his vehicle actually overhangs the sidewalk and can hit pedestrians if they are walking by the curb as it makes the turn, and suddenly, there is a cyclist in front of his vehicle. Either she barely misses him or he barely misses her – somehow, either way, she collides or is hit by his front drivers side bumper, and crashes into the sidewalk. Highly tragically for her, she crashes with such force that she is finished then and there from the impact of the crash. There is no equivalent to air-bags or seat-belt for a bike – just helmets – and unfortunately she wasn’t wearing one. Thus, the brunt of any accident is borne by one’s body for a cyclist – thus, it doesn’t take much for a bicycle accident to become a tragedy. I don’t understand why if, in NYS, helmets are mandatory for both riders and passengers (https://www.health.ny.gov/prevention/injury_prevention/children/toolkits/motorcycles/motorcycle_helmets.htm) the same should not be the case for cyclists state-wide? Of course – even helmets can only go so far in saving lives of operators of 2-wheel motorized vehicles or cyclists. I once saw 2 people die in a motorcycle crash – also from hitting/getting hit by a car making a left. It was on McDonald Avenue – under the trestle (elevated F train tracks) – at night; the driver may not have seen the motorcycle coming along and there are a lot of shadows from the trestle posts. Speeding was not a factor, although the bike of course was travelling faster than the car which was slowly crawling through the intersection. Either they didn’t see each other, or each thought the other would yield. Result: Another tragedy. BTW: This was a signalized intersection. I was at the bus-stop waiting for a bus to Boro Park and witnessed the accident right on the corner. I believe this was the “H” bus – although it was so long ago. The driver making the left either didn’t see or judge correctly how fast the bike was approaching the intersection; the bike in turn evidently didn’t or couldn’t slow down/stop, swerve or otherwise avoid the car (the steel trestle posts also could not have “helped” since swerving might have meant crashing into a post).

    How could the accident on RI have been prevented? First, and most importantly, much more lighting needs to be installed at that intersection. Also, even though cyclists many times do not observe lights, the intersection must be signalized, so that the “you go first, no, I’ll go first” “negotiation” at the corner, should two vehicles reach it simultaneously, can be eliminated, along with the possibility of collisions if each vehicle decides to proceed simultaneously (“signals are crossed”). There could be dedicated left-turn signal – since the accident could have occurred even if the corner was signalized. Also, at night, with poor lighting, you cannot even make eye contact with the oncoming driver/cyclist to reach an :”agreement” or see them nod or wave along who will go first (yield). All these variables can be eliminated (or mostly eliminated) with better lighting and a traffic signal that includes a left-turn signal (holding oncoming traffic as the driver making the left finishes his turn).

  • Joe R.

    An on demand left turn signal activated by the bus driver might be what is needed here. I’m gathering that at this location buses are the main user making left turns, so it’s an infrequent occurrence. Cyclists are highly likely to observe traffic signals if they’re designed in such a way as to only go red when something is actually crossing.

    Yes, better lighting is always a good thing. That will probably be done anyway as NYC transitions to LED streetlights. The current plan is to have the transition completed citiwide by 2017. Perhaps problematic areas should get improved lighting well before then.

  • dporpentine

    I can’t believe you have to explain this to this person . . .

  • CheshireKitty

    Yes, the overwhelming majority of those making lefts into Motorgate are the red buses although occasionally you do see cars turning in there, but yes, it is rare that it’s anything other than the red buses. An on demand left turn signal sounds like a great idea – it would be operated by wifi from the bus?

    I’m not sure who is in charge of the street lights on RI – it may not be NYC, Joe. RIOC may be responsible for them. If you are interested, there’s a Manhattan CB8 meeting on the 22nd which will discuss the W. Queens Transportation Study/bike crash as well as a community meeting later the same night covering Study, the crash, etc.

    Here is the info on the CB8 meeting:

    The City of New York

    Manhattan Community Board 8

    Roosevelt Island Committee

    Manhattan Park

    Community Room

    4 River Road

    Roosevelt Island, NY

    Wednesday, October 22, 2014

    6:30PM

    1. Presentation
    by Department of City Planning of its recommendations for the Western Queens
    Transportation Study which includes the Roosevelt Island Bridge — Joint
    issue with the Transportation Committee

    2. Update on
    weekend subway diversions

    3. Old Business

    4. New business

    Jeffrey Escobar and Laurence Parnes, Co-Chairs

  • CheshireKitty

    The bottom line is, if the driver had not started making the left, the cyclist would not have crashed into him/he would not have crashed into the cyclist – since they would have both been in their respective lanes, instead of the driver turning momentarily into her (the north-bound) lane in order to turn. Had he not crossed her path, she would have not crashed into him/he would not have crashed into her. And so, the accident must have occurred somehow because the driver made the left. Many different scenarios are possible – even the possibility that she hit him because she couldn’t stop, or thought she could outrun him. We just don’t know. The only thing we can say with certainty though is that unless she swerved to hit him and they were both in their own lanes, not turning (which can happen if a driver loses control or focus on driving straight down the road) then the reason the collision occurred is because the driver made the turn, either miscalculated how fast the bike was coming along, or thought she would stop, or didn’t see her.

  • lop

    Doesn’t the bus loop around on the street? Why not have it turn right into the garage instead? Seems simpler. Speed limit is 15 mph on the road right? Paint a solid bike lane in the middle, telling bikes to stay there, add a sign on the bus saying not to pass on the right when it’s turning.

    Plenty of places in the city have very poor lighting, not just because sodium lights are dim. They need to add fixtures under a lot of Els for instance.

  • CheshireKitty

    Yes – that could be a very simple/elegant solution. Currently, passengers are picked on at Motorgate on Southbound red bus trips, the assumption being that they are heading to mass transit. There are two additional stops in the Motorgate area, though: One across the street a bit north of the turnaround – also southbound – and one just around the corner from the turnaround, a northbound stop. You could, as you say, have the northbound bus make a right into Motorgate and pick up those passengers going northbound; the southbound passengers would need to wait across the street at the existing southbound stop (however, I’m not sure there is seating/shelter at that stop – whereas the existing stop at Motorgate has 2 benches, is under the bridge deck). Some will complain that they may not want to walk across the street to the bus stop from Motorgate, and indeed, it will be less convenient/seamless – plus they will need to leave the shelter of the bridge deck/covered walkways and cross the street which means they will be exposed to the elements momentarily. However, a left turn for a bus is not a great idea; maybe this left turn should be eliminated – by having the bus pick up passengers at Motorgate going north, instead of south.

    Re the bike lane: Do you mean a 2-way bike lane in the middle of the road? That’s quite an idea – but why not? Do these sorts of bike lanes exist in some areas of the City? I’m used to bike lanes to the right of traffic – or in a dedicated lane (replacement of parking lane & so forth).

    Yes. I think the motorcycle accident I witnessed which occurred under the McDonald Ave El may have occurred as a result of the poor lighting. Certainly the driver was only crawling through the intersection. He probably never saw the motorcyclist and his female passenger – who went flying.

    Shouldn’t the city implement the changeover to LEDs asap as they save energy/money? Or are the bulbs themselves costly and that’s why they are slow in changing them over (changing the light-bulbs). Yes – additional fixtures should be added beneath els. Another bad one is the N El in Astoria. It’s a similar problem at Motorgate as the deck puts a large area including the turnaround into perpetual shadow – plus the helix ramp exit is in shadow. Lighting has been improved in the area right beneath the deck recently, though, but the street lighting hasn’t been upgraded. The street lighting fixtures are the “quaint” park-like fixtures you see in parks – they are pretty but I’m not sure if they are most appropriate for the streets. Ironically, and sadly, there is an anti-crime mobile lighting unit positioned on the turnaround island just at the point, or nearly at the point, where the accident occurred, but I’m not sure it was on the night of the accident. The lighting is supposed to deter drug deals from being conducted across the street from Motorgate – an area known for drug dealing (from cars mostly).

  • R

    Unless, say, you need to go to or do anything on Main Street.

  • CheshireKitty

    If you want to accomplish multiple errands quickly, nothing beats a bike. It is definitely faster than walking and more convenient than driving as you can often just chain the bike up anywhere. There is a weight/bulk limit as to how much you can schlep back on a bike, although I used to even carry back Xmas trees on my bike (it is possible to do so). There is a slight risk, if you are overloaded though, of losing control – that almost happened to me once or twice. Of course drivers can be merciless. Using a bike to shop means you may make more trips buying fewer things each time, rather than less trips buying more things using either a shopping cart or driving. But nothing beats the flexibility of cycling. You can stop anytime to pull over and park to relax or read a book on a bench or soak up some rays. You really can’t do that with a car as parking is such a headache usually. Walking is similar but you may take hours walking around, whereas with a bike, travel time is compressed – it is probably faster than cars in a congested urban area. Cycling is ideal in so many ways – the only times cycling is not ideal is either in freezing cold or icy/snowy/rainy weather. Then, except for hardy souls, it may not be entirely practical (although you could still ride wearing a slicker – but you have a increased risk of sliding on oil slicks etc.).

    Yeah, people could bike to Main St – but there’s the red bus, which is free, that goes up and down Main St.

    There isn’t all that much to do on Main St, just a few restaurants, a couple of cafes, a couple of delis, the supermarket, a Chinese take-out, a Duane Reade at the train station. A resident that might want to do anything other than shop or eat at the handful of restaurants/cafes/businesses would need to travel off the island.

    RI in that way is like a tiny “borough” except we do not even have the amenities/variety of cultural experiences of the boroughs. it is rather austere that way. We are always hoping more businesses will locate here – but very few ever do. Also, we lose businesses. We had a fish store and a bakery and they closed. We had a hardware store, but it’s gone. And we had a wonderful (at least to me it was wonderful) and ultra reasonable thrift shop, a project of the Catholic parish on RI, but it closed. There is hardly anything interesting on RI anymore. For example, there is not a single clothing store. At least the former hardware store also used to carry some inexpensive items of clothing (such as you might see at cheap businesses along Steinway) and the thrift shop of course was a bonanza of potential and high-quality finds (considering the revolving door of medical and UN personnel – who would often dispose of unwanted clothing/goods/books when moving off the island). All of that is now vanished.

    We do have Sportspark, though – which has a pool, ping-pong, and various classes such as Zumba, Yoga. There is a tennis bubble – for those that can afford the price to join. There’s a theater group too – where people can sign up for various theater/dance classes, which also stages a series of theatrical productions annually. It is somewhat pricey. There are senior and disabled associations – that offer programs. Programs are offered at the library. But there is no community center (something like a settlement house) per se that would offer let’s say a variety of programs that might be of interest to the entire population. And the tiny number of types of classes at Sports park are not analogous to the often many different sorts of classes offered at municipal recreational centers. There is however also hoops at Sports Park – maybe there are other organized sports there as well.

    RI is pretty much a bedroom community – the big advantage is the nice views, the lack of traffic, the safety – since we have our own security force in addition to a patrol from the 114th Pct in Queens, the fact that we are only 4 minutes away from Mid-town via tram, and one stop away via train. But really, there is not much going on otherwise, unfortunately. The typical pattern is folks going to work, going home, going to the City/off-island for recreation/cultural opportunities. There are very few things happening on RI itself, which is why, for cyclists, the bike link to Queens is so important: Interesting areas like LIC, Greenpoint, and even W-burg, are only a few minutes away via bike, as well as the recreational opportunities at parks such as Astoria or McCarran Parks (or just the trees/greenery). The ride to the City is a longer ride, of course – but not really that far. It’s too bad the elevator to the Queensboro bridge was done away with after the RI Bridge was constructed in 1955 – that’s another loss that sort of “sealed” the “isolation” of RI.

  • lop

    If the bus is making a right you don’t want bikes to be next to the bus where they are vulnerable to a right hook, you want then behind the bus. I meant instead of sharrows paint a bike lane in the middle of the car lane to discourage bikes from trying to pass a slowing bus on the right. Since the speed limit is only 15 mph a car ‘stuck’ behind a bike won’t be slowed down much, no reason to put bikes off to the side. A continuous green lane or at least bike lane stripes plus share the road signs might get drivers to better tolerate bikes in front of them and do a better job directing bikes away from a bus right hook than a sharrow would. I don’t know what international best practices in this sort of situation would be.

  • CheshireKitty

    OK, I see what you mean: Since the island speed limit is already so low, why not have bikes actually share the car lanes. Currently, there are no real “bike paths” or “lanes” on RI – bikes can go anywhere except the sidewalks, but the sidewalks blend into the promenade where cycling is allowed. There aren’t too many bike-pedestrian problems although sometimes you hear some complaints (but very rarely).

    The cyclist could proceed with caution around a stopped bus loading and unloading passengers at a bus stop. There was a huge problem with a motorist who received a ticket for driving around a stopped bus on Main St – may have crossed the double yellow line in doing so. Passengers getting off the bus often will cross the street to their buildings; of course, they are all jaywalking in doing so. Cars of course must wait for them to cross the street – if they do drive around the bus, they must do so very cautiously. So far, nothing has ever happened that I know of even though this is a rather chaotic system – it’s tolerated by the local police force. And bikes? Both cars and bikes should stop, and only proceed if safe, considering the passengers streaming off the bus crossing the street at any point. I just don’t know – am not certain – if the law is exactly the same as with school buses. Main St narrows to a 2 lane two-way street, with a double-yellow stripe at Northtown (the portion of the island that was originally redeveloped). There is no pull-in for northbound buses along this section of Main St; cars can only continue on their way if they cross the double yellow line. They must, as explained above, also watch for pedestrians darting across the street from the bus mid-block (not in marked cross-walks). I sometimes walk out of my way from the bus to cross at the cross-walk, but I’m just about the only person I’ve ever seen do that – most will not bother. Imagine if there was a mid-block bus stop on 34 St and passengers did not walk to the cross walk to cross – imagine the chaos that would cause. Actually people do jaywalk on 34 St – here and there – but you usually don’t have masses of them doing so.

    Anyway, thanks for the ideas; I’ll mention them at the upcoming meetings.

  • lop

    Bikes should be in the lane, that’s the point. But many have a tendency to ride to the side when the road is wide enough for them to leave the general traffic labe clear. The bus will probably be a bit off the curb to make that right turn if that change is made, leaving room for a bike to pull up next to it just as it starts to turn, the idea would be to make sure to cyclists and motorists where the safe place for bikes to be is – the middle of the lane away from a potential right hook. The goal should be a system not just for the residents of Roosevelt island, but for all cyclists and motorists who might be there to visit. For those visitors it might not be obvious the bus is going to turn until too late. I don’t know if paint will do a good job of directing bikes away from a potential right hook. But maybe.

    In general you are allowed to pass stopped transit buses. But you aren’t allowed to cross a solid double yellow line.

  • lop
  • CheshireKitty

    That’s great – I’m going to suggest it on Wednesday. I think this will really enhance the island as a “bikable” neighborhood. Since there’s such a low speed limit cars should not be annoyed. Thanks!

  • CheshireKitty

    lop: I was thinking about that right turn into Motorgate turnaround. If there’s already a stop around the corner from the current stop, and it’s also under the Motorgate overhang – in Motorgate arcade (so it’s sheltered) – then why bother having the bus stop/turnaround at all? Why not simply fill the turnaround in and make it a plaza – or an extension of the “park” – actually just a giant planting container – in the turnaround island?

    Of course, I know that’s not as convenient as having the bus pull up to the entrance of Motorgate – it adds about a quarter of a block extra walk. But, it eliminates the turn, and may solve the safety issue of the turn. Still, RIOC shouldn’t over-react. As far as I know, there has only been one other fatal accident involving the red bus, and that was before I began living on RI, meaning the safety record of the red buses is remarkable. The collision with the cyclist is really a rarity; do we fill in the turnaround, make things less convenient for Motorgate users, because of the one accident, albeit a horribly tragic accident?

    It does mean that passengers going south would have to cross Main St to catch a S bound bus, if the entire turnaround was eliminated. Then again, that is already the case with catching N or S bound buses anyway throughout the island depending on what building you live in and what direction you wish to ride. If there was a light at the intersection then people catching the red bus at Motorgate going S could safely cross the street. But there is usually so little traffic I wonder if a light there would be installed; I think there are thresholds/standards, there has to be a certain number of cars before a light is installed.

    I read the entire Western Queens Transportation Study earlier. Some things I agree with , some I don’t. The concern of some small businessmen – that the improvements will drive up their rents, I can relate to. I began thinking that this improvement effort may be a nice way to bring gentrification to this (forgotten/gritty) part of Queens; displacement will result. I’m not automatically opposed to streetscape improvements, plantings, and definitely am for anything that will make cycling safer, more places to park bikes, etc. Also, transit links are important. But in general, I’ve long been on the opposite side of rising property values and so forth. I was born in Ft. Greene and lived in Bklyn my entire life, before coming to RI. When I left Bklyn, it, like the rest of NYC, was chaotic. I lived in fear to some extent. Now, I couldn’t go back even if I wanted to, since I could not afford the rent. I don’t know how people afford rents in Bklyn these days. This is the downside of gentrification: Displacement.

    The W Queens Transportation Study considered a N-S transit link from LGA to Downtown Bklyn. How many years has the City/various studies considered a link to LGA? At one point, the 63rd St line was supposed to turn north up 21st and head to LGA. Maybe a grade-level train/light rail is feasible. The proposed ferry extension is a great idea – but why stop at Hallett’s Cove? Why not extend a ferry all the way to LGA – build a dock there, as well!

    So, all I would say is, even though some of the ideas are good, I would still keep some of the “desolation” “light-industrial” “deserted look” of the area if at all possible, so the regular/poor people and small businesses can stay. The great thing about W. Queens is that it is still deserted and unfashionable. You can still park there, and there are still some cheap stores around. I would really prefer to see it remain cheap, frankly. Also, if the rents remain low, it remains an area that startups or artists can afford. If it’s gentrified, then it’s just another neighborhood that the regular folks are priced out of.

    There seems to be a rezoned area near the Con Ed – but I would have to study the map to make sure I got the location right. Near the Con Ed and S of Rainey Park. I wonder what that is about. I hope the City is not giving away part of Rainey Park to developers.

  • Joe R.

    On the LEDs, remember NYC has something like 300,000 streetlights. We’re limited by manpower as far as changing them faster. Yes, they’re more costly than sodium vapor lights, but at this point not much more costly. I think the newest ones pay for themselves in energy savings in about a year, so it would be in the city’s best interested to change them all out ASAP. NYC ironically took a really long time to change over to LEDs. Los Angeles finished installing LED streetlights last year ( http://www.forbes.com/sites/justingerdes/2013/07/31/los-angeles-completes-worlds-largest-led-street-light-retrofit/ ). They only had to change 141,089-less than half the number in NYC. I also suspect NYC waited a bit on this because they wanted to see if other cities had any issues. The first LED streetlights had issues of shorter than expected life, glare, and in some cases lousy light color. LED was also on a steep improvement curve until recently, so it made no sense to install lights which would be obsolete a few years later. As I recall, efficiencies went from 15 lm/W (about the same as an incandescent bulb) in the early 2000s to 60 lm/W (the same as a CFL) by the mid 2000s to over 100 lm/W (as good as linear fluorescent tubes) by 2010. I know all this because I tested quite a few of them ( http://www.candlepowerforums.com/vb/showthread.php?89607-White-LED-lumen-testing ). Now they’re at around 150 lm/W and still improving, but much more slowly, so it makes sense for NYC to install LEDs. We’ll probably get past 200 lm/W for production LEDs by 2020. We’ve hit 303 lm/W in the lab. That’s close to the theoretical limit-nearly 100% of the input power was being converted to light energy.

    LEDs have also come down drastically in price, particularly in the last few years. High-power emitters went from over $10 to $5 a few years ago to under $1 now. They’ll undoubtedly drop in price even further.

  • I went with my family to RI by bike (from Manhattan, took QBB to Queens first). I would say it was worth it for a change of scenery, as we had never been there before, but we probably would not go again. We did have a bit of a difficult time getting on to the island. My wife was afraid of the metal grates on the bridge and she walked her bike, and our bike trailer with the kids didn’t fit in the elevator so we had to take the car helix. These were both a bit scary, but neither were nearly as bad as the midtown traffic we went through in Manhattan on our way to the QBB.

  • CheshireKitty

    “The concern of some small businessmen [re Western Queens Transportation Study} – that the improvements will drive up their rents, I can relate to. I began thinking that this improvement effort may be a nice way to bring gentrification to this (forgotten/gritty) part of Queens; displacement will result. I’m not automatically opposed to streetscape improvements, plantings, and definitely am for anything that will make cycling safer, more places to park bikes, etc.”

    Yes, displacement does result – sometimes displacement into homelessness.

    An article in the Gawker says it all: “Brooklynites Demand Removal of Homeless to Make Park Safe for Dogs.” http://gawker.com/brooklynites-demand-removal-of-homeless-to-make-park-sa-1647737361

    Especially note the comments of Black Peter Brady: “What also has bummed me out is all of the sidewalks, roads and parks that have gotten an uplift in the past 5 years. Why the fuck didn’t that happen before? You only get neighborhood improvements if you can’t afford to live your neighborhood any more. My neighborhood has turned into a trend, a movie set and a commodity. I long for the days when it was just a neighborhood.”

  • Joe R.

    Totally agree. I’m tired of the gentrification which has pushed housing prices even in the “uncool” parts of the city past the point where many in the middle class can afford to live here. The middle class leave, the poor become homeless, and more rich come in. This is fact becoming a city of just the rich and the poor. Sad to say, a lot has been lost. We need to have places for artists, eccentrics, all the types which make living in a big city a colorful experience. A city with just yuppies and high-end shopping is not what cities should be about.

    As far as I’m concerned, let’s keep the “gritty” areas intact. They give the city its own unique character. They also remain one of the few places many can afford to live.

  • I have ridden on Roosevelt Island several times. It is indeed small; so you run out of things to see very quickly. The other problem is that the new park at the southern tip is off-limits to bikes. It’s inconceivable that they would have such a policy.

    But the park just north of the new park is pretty nice. You can have the fascinating sight of lots of seagulls flying very low, to and from the buildings on which they have evidently made nests.

    The best thing about Roosevelt Island is the views that you can get. I took a great picture of two Queens icons: the Queensboro Bridge and the Citicorp Building.

  • Westviewer

    There is something else that would make Roosevelt Island more attractive to bicyclists and that is the reconstruction of the elevator from the Queensborough Bridge to the island. The elevator would also be useful for pedestrians — Roosevelt Islanders and Cornell Tech people walking to and fro as well as tourists.

  • lop

    How many people would use that over the gondola, Roosevelt island bridge, and subway?

  • Westviewer

    I have no idea, but I do know that a lot of people walk across the Brooklyn Bridge.

  • Someone told me that there used to be stairs from the bridge. Even a reestablishment of that would be welcome.

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