Banning Bikes From Roosevelt Island Bridge Ramp Won’t Make Biking Safer

With little car traffic and tree-lined waterfront streets, Roosevelt Island is a low-stress environment for bicycling. The bridge that connects the island to Queens, however, is much less bike-friendly. Claiming that the ramp from the bridge to the island is too dangerous, a residents’ association is weighing whether to call for a total bike ban on the ramp.

The helix ramp, located where the bridge lands at the southern end of the Motorgate parking garage, provides access to the island for drivers and bicyclists. After a motorist struck a cyclist on the ramp in July, the Roosevelt Island Residents Association (RIRA) public safety committee unanimously passed a resolution recommending that the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation (RIOC), the state authority that runs the island, prohibit cyclists, wheelchairs and scooters on the ramp [PDF].

The issue, first reported by the Roosevelt Islander blog, now goes before the RIRA common council meeting, scheduled for September 9 at 8 p.m., at the Church of Good Shepherd on Roosevelt Island. The public is invited to attend and speak at the meeting.

Much of the interest in banning cyclists from the ramp appears to be driven by Frank Farance, a public safety committee member who has criticized Bike New York for leading small groups on rides down the helix as part of the bicycle safety courses it offers on Roosevelt Island. To make his case, he’s posted video of the supposedly dangerous cyclists, shot while driving behind them on the ramp:

Scandalous!

If cyclists are banned from the ramp, they would be forced to dismount and use stairs or an elevator within the Motorgate parking garage. It’s a far less attractive option than using the existing ramp, making compliance with the rule unlikely.

The Roosevelt Island bridge and helix ramp have long been recognized as areas in need of improvement. Last year, island resident Anna Maria Moström was killed while cycling by a turning RIOC bus driver on a surface street near the helix ramp. Island residents say it’s one of the least attractive places to bike, despite being the only way on or off the island.

The Department of City Planning recommended building bicycle and pedestrian ramps directly from the bridge to greenways on the island, so users could avoid the helix entirely — a promising solution, but one that could take years.

In the meantime, the Roosevelt Islander blog points out that small changes could improve safety immediately. For example, the double-yellow lines on the ramp have faded away, potentially leaving unfamiliar users with the incorrect impression that the ramp is one-way. In addition, signs alerting drivers to the ramp’s 10 mph speed limit and the presence of bicycles have been removed and could be replaced.

There are ideas on the table to make biking on the Roosevelt Island bridge safer. Banning bicycles should not be one of them.

  • Br’er Rabbit

    qrt145: I have been trying to get Frank to admit he is (1) neither a bike owner, nor (2) has he ever ridden a bike in traffic. He refuses to answer. Frank has an “underlying agenda” of “revenge” vs. RIOC, since he wasn’t appointed to the RIOC Board by the Governor, although Frank was a top vote-getter on RI way back (when RIOC Board member nominee elections were held). Probably Albany officials didn’t appoint Frank because they figured he was either (a) too flaky or (b) too obnoxious/annoying/”know-it-all” character. So, by continually pointing out all that RIOC isn’t doing right, especially at Motorgate, Frank’s trying to embarrass RIOC. qrt145: Frank is basically wedded to his car. I wonder if he really cares about bike safety at all. His game probably is to demonstrate “how much” RIOC lost by not having him on the Board, and “how stupid” he thinks RIOC (& everyone else, usually) is, by demonstrating how “smart” he is in comparison.

  • Br’er Rabbit

    That is a good idea, except for emergency vehicle access and delivery trucks (and hospital employees – they got a waiver to use the ramp back in the 80s). Pedestrianization is always a plus.

  • Br’er Rabbit

    This was definitely distracted driving – there’s footage to prove it. Isn’t there a law against using devices, staring at screens, such as texting while driving, instead of paying attention to the road? What about your braking distance when you were shooting the video? I do not think you were paying attention to the road when you were shooting the video so you were endangering the cyclists, other motorists, and yourself by shooting a video while driving. And then you are critical of other motorists, or cyclists. Why not drive safely/carefully yourself before you start criticizing others?

  • Br’er Rabbit

    But your resolution advocated banning bikes on the ramp. Why deny it?

  • Frank Farance

    Ms. Chirivas, you’ve raised this point several times, my proposed resolution (see 09-09 streetsblog post) does not ban bicycles, consistent with Bike NY’s presentation (who was holding my resolution), and consistent with RIOC’s actions. Below, please find my proposed resolution to RIRA regarding this important safety issue (see the 24-page report referenced on the streetsblog article “http://www.streetsblog.org/2015/09/09/roosevelt-island-leadership-quashes-idea-of-banning-bikes-from-bridge-ramp/”):

    —-

    [Resolution proposed by Frank Farance]

    Resolution On Improving Bicycle Safety On Motorgate Helix

    Whereas, there is a strong interest making Roosevelt Island more accessible to cyclists, including bike sharing programs like Citi Bike, and including various bicycle configurations, such as tandems;

    Whereas, there will be a continuing flow of construction vehicles and other vehicles with the Cornell campus construction and its operation;

    Whereas, the NYC Bicycle Master Plan requires a 5-foot width for bicycles in areas of limited maneuvering and the Helix Ramp does not have marked 5 feet of bicycle lane space;

    Whereas, the NYC Bicycle Master Plan defines various kinds of “stress” levels for bicycle paths, including Level 4 (Moderate to High) which requires experienced cyclists, and Level 5 (High) which requires expert cyclists;

    Whereas, the Helix Ramp with its limited width, truck turning radii, and limited maneuverability, has a Curb Lane Width Stress Level, effectively, of 4 to 5 that requires experienced or expert cyclists;

    Whereas, the Helix Ramp has a speed limit of 10 MPH, which corresponds to a braking distance of approximately 50 feet;
    Whereas, defensive driving schools teach “one car length per 10 MPH” forward distance, which is about 15 feet;

    Whereas the Helix Ramp suffers from a lack of a shoulder, maneuverability, evasive maneuverability for motorists and cyclists;

    Therefore, with the above significant safety concerns for motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians, RIRA makes the following recommendations:

    (1) Signage educating the pedestrians, wheelchairs, motorized wheelchairs, and cyclists of the hazards of the Helix Ramp, including limited sight, limited braking distance, lack of clearance, lack of maneuverability, steep inclines, cyclists’ human performance factors (especially uphill), motorists’ blind spots, and hazardous turning conditions for trucks and buses;

    (2) Signage reminding pedestrians, wheelchairs, and motorized wheelchairs that they are prohibited on the Helix Ramp, as per NYC DOT regulations;

    (3) Signage on the Helix Ramp including “Bicycles May Use Full Lane”, “Do Not Pass”, “Cars and Trucks: Maintain 50-Foot Separation From Cyclists”; and repainting roadway line stripes (yellow lines);

    (4) Signage at that the top and the bottom of the Helix Ramp indicating Alternate Routes for Cyclists (who choose to avoid the Helix Ramp), Pedestrians, Wheelchairs, and Motorized Wheelchairs;

    (5) RIOC investigating transit lanes through Motorgate from bridge to street level and, if feasible and safe, permit cyclists to transit Motorgate as one of the Alternate Routes for the Helix Ramp;

    (6) RIOC requesting a study by NYC DOT on the mixed-use traffic conditions surrounding the Motorgate Helix, the Ramp, the intersection at its base, and vicinity;

    (7) RIOC investigating the feasibility of providing a multi-purpose escalator, as per the 2014 City Planning department’s Western Queens Transportation Study, or a multi-purpose stairs;

    (8) RIOC investigate the feasibility of a traffic control system for sequencing cyclists, cars, long-and trucks on the Helix Ramp, and sequencing traffic and pedestrians a the 3-way intersection at the base of the Helix Ramp;

    (9) RIOC review any recommendations with RIRA’s appropriate committees, such as Public Safety Committee, Planning Committee, Island Services Committee; and with the tenant associations of the housing developments of Roosevelt Island.

  • Br’er Rabbit

    That is true; your July resolution went much further than the resolution the PSC passed. You thought the PSC resolution was “dumb” – didn’t include technical information that you included to support your pro bike-ban position. You wanted to overturn the results of the vote at the PSC and have the Common Council consider your resolution (below) instead.

    When questions began being asked about a ban, without furnishing another viable means for cyclists to access the island, you disavowed your resolution, and adapted the opposite position (especially once the streetsblog article appeared, which did correctly list you as the driver of the effort to ban bikes on the ramp, since you had volunteered to write the resolution banning bikes, which appears below).

    So now you say you stand corrected and don’t oppose bikes on the ramp – but you still don’t get it. Cyclists have no choice but to use the ramp, whether or not it’s dangerous, as they use many other roads that may not be perfectly safe. That’s just a fact of life. The ramp, however, has no sidewalk either – and motorized wheelchairs do not fit into the elevators in Motorgate. Thus, from the perspective of enabling equal access to the bridge, or alternatively from the bridge to the street, a new elevator must be constructed at Motorgate that can accommodate pedestrians who use motorized wheelchairs who currently have no choice but to use the ramp.

    Luckily there isn’t much traffic on the ramp ordinarily, but the ramp is a tight fit for two-way traffic and bikes. The right thing to do would be to build a new dedicated ADA-compliant bike/pedestrian ramp connecting the bridge to the promenade. Ms. Chirivas’ column in the current issue of the WIRE (the RI local newspaper) http://www.mainstreetwire.com/archive/2015/3601/623-island-ovserver discusses the need for such a ramp, so that cyclists and pedestrians who use motorized wheelchairs can finally have a safer option.

  • Br’er Rabbit

    Please see my above post: Of course the resolution you wrote for the Public Safety Committee (PSC) reflects the 7/14/15 unanimous vote (including you) calling for bikes and pedestrians to be banned. Why are you backtracking from the truth?

    The PSC in the event didn’t vote for your resolution which was called “Draft Resolution Requesting Banning Bicycle and Wheelchair Access on RI Helix Ramp” and included a page with draft signage; instead voted for a much simpler resolution. This loss evidently irked you greatly, since you aggressively then pushed your own bike-banning resolution for several weeks until the cycling community on RI began to complain that they had no choice but to use the ramp (even if it isn’t perfect) etc.

    Your current report focuses on the ramp without pushing the one thing that could make Motorgate safe for all: The construction of a new dedicated ADA-compliant bike/pedestrian ramp connecting the bridge to the promenade.

    Here’s the text of Mr. Farance’s original 3-page resolution banning bikes on the ramp, the resolution wasn’t passed by the PSC, but the Streetsblog article correctly identified Mr. Farance as the driving force behind the bike ban, the man who volunteered to write the PSC resolution and who continued to champion his bike-banning resolution for weeks, even after it was not passed by the PSC.

    Draft Resolution Requesting Banning Bicycle and Wheelchair Access on RI Helix Ramp

    Whereas the NYC Bicycle Master Plan requires a
    5-foot width for bicycles in areas of limited maneuvering;

    Whereas the RI helix ramp has limited
    maneuvering;

    Whereas the RI helix does not have marked 5 feet
    of bicycle lane space;

    Whereas the NYC Bicycle Master Plan defines
    “stress” levels for bicycle paths, including Level 4 (Moderate to High) which requires experienced cyclists, and Level 5 (High) which requires
    expert cyclists;

    Whereas the RI helix ramp with its limited width, truck turning radii, and limited maneuverability, has a “stress” level, effectively, of 4 to 5 that requires experienced or expert cyclists;

    Whereas ADA requirements for wheelchairs require
    36-inch lane widths;

    Whereas pedestrians, including those assistive
    technologies, such as wheelchairs (motorized or not), have different traffic laws than cyclists;

    Whereas NYC Department of Transportation (DOT)
    regulations only permit pedestrians in roadways while crossing them and using crosswalks in intersections;

    Whereas the RI helix ramp is roadway whose
    crosswalk at the base the ramp is the only place where pedestrians are permitted, and only for the purposes of crossing within the crosswalk;

    Whereas the RI helix ramp suffers from limited
    sight distance;

    Whereas the RI helix ramp suffers from a lack of
    a shoulder and maneuverability for motorists;

    Whereas wheelchair use on the helix ramp, while
    NOT permitted by NYC DOT regulations, effectively creates a dangerous, single-lane no passing condition;

    Whereas the RI helix ramp was not signed [sic; “designed”] for wheelchair or pedestrian travel;

    Therefore, with the above significant safety
    concerns for motorist, cyclist, and pedestrian, and in accordance with RIRA Public Safety
    Committee’s preliminary review and unanimous vote of July 14, 2015 recommending banning all bicycle and wheelchair traffic from the RI helix ramp, the RIRA PSC now resolves in writing to make the following recommendations:

    (1) Signage educating the pedestrians, wheelchairs, motorized wheelchairs, and cyclists of the hazards of the Helix Ramp, including limited sight, lack of clearance, lack of maneuverability, steep inclines, motorists’ blind spots, and hazardous turning conditions for trucks and buses;

    (2) Signage reminding pedestrians, wheelchairs,
    and motorized wheelchairs that they are prohibited on the Helix Ramp, as per NYC DOT regulations;

    (3) Signage restricting the Helix Ramp such that
    cyclists and trucks over 40 feet require an escort via Public Safety, including signage providing PSD contact information to make said request;

    (4) Signage at that the top and the bottom of
    the Helix Ramp indicating Alternate Routes for Pedestrians, Wheelchairs, Motorized Wheelchairs, and Cyclists that make use of the Motorgate elevators,
    the Motorgate stairs, and the Motorgate aisles, as appropriate;

    (5) Way-finding signage in the aisles of Motorgate that direct the cyclists and others through the aisles towards and from the street level at Motorgate 1A;

    (6) RIOC request a study by NYC DOT on the
    mixed-use traffic conditions surrounding the Motorgate Helix and vicinity;

    (7) RIOC investigate the feasibility of providing a multi-purpose escalator, as per the 2014 City Planning department’s Western Queens Transportation Study;

    (8) RIOC review any recommendations with RIRA’s
    appropriate committees, such as Public Safety Committee, Planning Committee, Island Services Committee.

    By Frank Farance-

    Suggested Signage At Top Of Helix Ramp

    Regulatory Sign (Red Background, With White
    Letters):

    “ATTENTION: NO PEDESTRIANS, BICYCLES,
    WHEELCHAIRS, OR MOTORIZED WHEELCHAIRS. CYCLISTS AND TRUCKS OVER 40 FEET IN
    LENGTH REQUIRE AN ESCORT. WAIT HERE AND CONTACT PUBLIC SAFETY DEPARTMENT
    AT 212 832 4545 FOR YOUR ESCORT.”

    Information Sign (Orange Background, Black
    Letters):

    “WARNING!

    Pedestrians, Wheelchairs, Motorized Wheelchairs,
    and Cyclists: The Helix Ramp is hazardous, including limited sight, lack of clearance, lack of maneuverability, steep inclines, motorists’ blind spots, and hazardous turning conditions for trucks and buses.

    ALTERNATE ROUTES TO GROUND LEVEL FOR BICYCLES AND WHEELCHAIRS:

    (1) Use Motorgate South elevator

    (2) Use Motorgate North elevator

    (3) If able, carry bicycle down stairs next to
    Motorgate South elevator

    (4) Ride bicycle/wheelchair down Motorgate aisle
    4C, see way-finding signs at gate entrance to parking garage

    RIDING UNESCORTED DOWN HELIX RAMP IS
    DANGEROUS”

    ———————————————–

  • Frank Farance

    Ms. Helen Chirivas: You’ve missed the point several times, no need to spend readers’ time on irrelevant arguments. I’ve stated my position, you’ve misunderstood all my positions, I am not interested in prohibiting cyclists, I am interested in improving safety for cyclists. You can’t even read your own citation above that does NOT prohibit cyclists. Simply, you have difficulty reading these kinds of things, you arrive at fuzzy, illogical conclusions, then you want argue those points, and you are unwilling to be informed by facts, logic, and reasoning. For the sake of the readers of this blog, why not go back to participating that RIRA committee and argue your points there.

  • Br’er Rabbit

    Mr. Frank Farance: Don’t try to rewrite history. The above streetsblog article correctly identified you as the driving force behind banning bikes from the ramp. You wrote a 3-page resolution calling for bikes to be banned in July 2015. In August 2015, streetsblog wrote a story correctly citing you as the person driving the effort. Once your original 3-page resolution was reviewed by readers, various flaws/defects were identified in the methodology you employed to come to the conclusion that the ramp is a level 5 stressful roadway for cyclists, etc. Along the way, you launched a gratuitous attack on Bike NY, saying they were teaching kids to ride bikes on the ramp in an unsafe manner, and that their instructors don’t know what they’re doing and so forth (although it’s unclear if you yourself have ever even ridden a bike) and offered to get members of the public in trouble with the law by leading them into Motorgate parking aisles so you could show them a roundabout route to street level and thus avoid the ramp, although the parking aisles are off-limits to non-customers and non-customers are considered trespassers.

    Your current 24-page report is a rehashing of your original 3-page report – it cites the same flawed mish-mash of references, geometry and so forth.

    You spend 24 pages in your report supposedly proving what various entities say in a few words: The ramp is unsafe for pedestrians and cyclists, and is also on occasion unsafe for cars, since civilian cars are not allowed on the ramp when construction trucks are escorted up and down the ramp, meaning cars and big trucks do not fit on the ramp at the same time. Thus, the ramp was poorly designed for any group of users – or maybe the ramp would be OK for only bikes/pedestrians but is not OK if you add cars/trucks into the mix. Unfortunately, though, at present, there is only the ramp available for vehicular, and most importantly, emergency, access to the island. We know cyclists and users of motorized wheelchairs will (logically) not stop using the ramp. What, Frank, is the correct response to the situation? It’s to get RIOC or the NYC DOT or some gov entity to mitigate the poor situation for cyclists and users of motorized wheelchairs, by constructing an ADA-compliant pedestrian/bike ramp connecting the bridge to the promenade. Or perhaps, meanwhile, adding a wheelchair lift to motorgate, so at least motorized wheelchair users do not have to use the ramp to gain access to the bridge.

    Frank: People can and have drawn their own conclusions based on your resolution, both your current resolution contained in your 24-page report, and your original 3-page resolution upon which your 24-page report is based. They represent a snow job misusing technical methods to “prove” what is obvious without the blather. And you think nevertheless that the “solution” of signage – either in your July resolution or your September resolution – is going to “solve” the problem? Although many, if not most, other roads are equally “dangerous” for cyclists? I think you should be ashamed of yourself. I think it’s obvious that in recommending the posting such ridiculous signage at the ramp you are then hoping to call into question the “bike safety” of many other roadways, right? Frank: Bikes and cars have coexisted for years on roadways without signs. It’s obvious you’re trying to provoke a backlash against bikes by recommending the posting of unrealistic onerous signage. RIOC of course will not go for it, neither would DOT (if they were asked for their opinion on the matter). Please do not try a back-door attempt to drive cyclists from streets, by falsely exaggerating “stress levels” or saying cars must be ten car lengths or more behind bikes and so forth. Both driving and cycling are stressful on occasion but that doesn’t mean cyclists abandon cycling or drivers driving. We can all see through what you’re doing Frank and it stinks.

  • Anon resident

    The Roosevelt Island Operation Corp should be dismantled. Its a dumping ground for ex staff at state or city agencies where they don’t know what to do with them or the person needs to put in a few more years before retirement.

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