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New Riverside Park Master Plan May Send Greenway Cyclists on Hilly Detours

4:34 PM EDT on June 29, 2016

The preliminary Riverside Park Master Plan reroutes cyclists away from the waterfront at 72nd Street. Image: NYC Parks
The preliminary Riverside Park Master Plan reroutes cyclists away from the waterfront at 72nd Street, along the hillier path marked by the bold dotted green line. Click to enlarge. Image: NYC Parks
The preliminary Riverside Park Master Plan reroutes cyclists away from the waterfront at 72nd Street. Image: NYC Parks

The waterfront greenway in Riverside Park is one of New York's most popular places to bike and walk. During the summer, it can get crowded -- so crowded that the Parks Department is proposing new detour routes to divert cyclists away from the waterfront path. Those routes are hillier and poorly lit, however, and advocates are worried that the department will compel cyclists to use them at all times.

On Monday, the Parks Department presented parts of its preliminary Riverside Park Master Plan to the Manhattan Community Board 7 parks and environment committee. The plan includes bike detours along three segments of the greenway -- between 72nd and 83rd streets, 93rd and 99th, and 145th and 155th.

The detour path between 72nd and 83rd received some funding courtesy of Council Member Helen Rosenthal's 2015 participatory budget and will be built next year. It includes a particularly steep incline at 79th Street, where cyclists will have to climb up and around the 79th Street Rotunda. Lowering the grade of the rotunda's access ramps is included in the long-term Riverside master plan, but is not part of the upcoming project and will likely be very expensive.

CB 7 member Ken Coughlin, speaking for himself and not the board, said that while the waterfront esplanade can get messy in the summer, most of the time it is fine. The greenway is the most heavily-biked route in the city, and for much of the year there are more cyclists than pedestrians using the waterfront path.

He warned that the detour paths could pose particular problems during the winter, when there is limited lighting and inclines may freeze over and become slippery. “The absence of notable conflicts on the current riverfront path during most days and times does not justify forcing [cyclists] to divert to a sub-optimal hilly, indirect and potentially unsafe route at all times,” he said in an email.

Rosenthal's communications director Stephanie Buhle said rules regarding cyclists' use of the waterfront path have yet to be determined. “[We are] trying to assess and make sense of what will work to make sure pedestrians and cyclists are using the space in a way that makes it possible for everyone,” she said.

The incline on the ramps around the 79th Street Rotunda may be too steep for some cyclists to handle. Image: NYC Parks
The proposed new path (the green dotted line) will take cyclists up the steep ramps around the 79th Street Rotunda. Image: NYC Parks
The incline on the ramps around the 79th Street Rotunda may be too steep for some cyclists to handle. Image: NYC Parks

In addition to the proposed detours, the master plan calls for expanded biking and walking paths between 92nd and 95th and along the "Cherry Walk" from 100th to 125th, by the Henry Hudson Parkway. The plan also calls for new lighting to better illuminate the notoriously dark Cherry Walk.

The CB 7 committee endorsed the overall goals of the plan -- which touches on maintenance and drainage issues in addition to bike/ped routes -- but not specific projects, Coughlin said. The full board will take up that resolution at its meeting next Tuesday.

The "Cherry Walk" is in line for expansion between 100th and 125th Streets. Click to enlarge. Image: NYC Parks
The "Cherry Walk" is in line for expansion between 100th and 125th Streets. Click to enlarge. Image: NYC Parks
The "Cherry Walk" is in line for expansion between 100th and 125th Streets. Click to enlarge. Image: NYC Parks

There is no set timeline for the implementation of the master plan. Buhle said the Parks Department will return with a final plan at an undetermined future date.

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