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CB 7 Parks Committee Votes for Hilly Greenway Detour in Riverside Park

1:38 PM EDT on October 18, 2016

NYC Park wants to divert cyclists from the waterfront greenway to the hillier path marked by the bold dotted green line year-round. Image: NYC Parks
The Parks Department wants to permanently divert cyclists from the flat waterfront greenway to the hillier path marked by the bold dotted green line. Image: NYC Parks

Manhattan Community Board 7's Parks and Environment Committee voted 4 to 1 last night in favor of the Parks Department's proposal to route cyclists away from from Riverside Park's waterfront greenway between 72nd Street and 83rd Street.

The plan would direct cyclists inland at 72nd Street through a hilly wooded path passing through the 79th Street Rotunda, which has a particularly steep incline. The justification is that the waterfront path is too crowded for cyclists and pedestrians to share, but the crowding is only a problem during peak summer months, and the detour would be in effect year-round. It is one of three similar detours in the department's preliminary Riverside Park Master Plan.

The project received $200,000 from Council Member Helen Rosenthal's participatory budget, far less than the $2 million that the Parks Department reps said is needed for a full build-out. In lieu of securing funds for the full project, the money will go toward partial measures: paving gentler turns onto the detour route at 72nd Street and 83rd Street, installing bright LED lights, and trimming surrounding trees to increase visibility. The project would be implemented next year.

Ultimately, the master plan calls for regrading the path to make it flatter. That would be an expensive capital project that would cost even more than $2 million, said Riverside Park Chief of Design and Construction Margaret Bracken. Until then, the detour will be in effect and the path will be hilly. The LED lights will at least improve visibility at night.

While Riverside Park Administrator John Herrold told the committee he was open to limiting the detour to high-use months of the year, Bracken said the agency preferred a year-round detour. "I think it's better to have a constant condition," she said. "It's really really challenging to have a situation where people, you know, one day of the week use one route and another day of the week use another route."

In a revealing exchange, Bracken contested an audience member, Chris Henry, when he said the greenway should be "treated as a transportation facility." Her response was emblematic of how the Parks Department has consistently failed to consider how the greenway functions as a key transportation route for thousands of New Yorkers.

"I also feel like I have to speak out to champion... our parks," said Bracken. "And the idea that we’re just going to redesign the park so that cyclists can speed through the park whenever they want..."

"Well, that’s not what I'm saying," Henry interjected.

"But you kind of are," said Bracken. "Not getting off ever?"

Some audience members expressed concern about riding on the steep inclines, particularly during the winter, but Herrold insisted it was no big deal. "I think it's overstating the challenge," he said. "When I've stood at the top of the rotunda and watched cyclists go up and down it during rush hour in the morning, it's not the Tour de France guys. It's people on Citi Bikes going to work. I don't see it as an impediment to very many people."

Committee member Ken Coughlin said the option of a summer-only detour deserved stronger consideration to avoid "endangering people at night when it's icy, when there are limbs that fall from the trees." "I don't think $160,000 buys us enough changes to make this a year-round thing," he said.

Pointing to an earlier comment from Herrold that enforcement would be sporadic at best, Coughlin said the detour would likely be routinely ignored in colder weather. "It's just unrealistic to expect cyclists to always use this path when nobody is on the riverfront path," Coughlin said. "All it takes is a sign [to tell them whether they should take the detour]."

Rosenthal told the room that she supports the proposal and "defers" to Parks on the question of seasonality. She echoed many audience members who said cyclists in the park go too fast near seniors and children. "I think the idea was, and still is, for this one piece right at the Boat Basin section, that is particularly challenging for pedestrians and cyclists," she said. "I think [this] plan does exactly that... It addresses, I think, what the people were asking for."

The committee voted in favor of a resolution approving a year-round detour with a request that the question of seasonality be reevaluated in two years. Coughlin was the dissenting vote.

CB 7 will vote on the committee's resolution at its full board meeting on Tuesday, November 1 at Mount Sinai West Hospital. While a reversal would be unusual, it's not unheard of when large numbers of people turn up to testify against a committee's decision.

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