De Blasio: Greenway Barriers Need to Change So “People Can Still Ride Their Bikes”

The state DOT, which put down the most intrusive barriers, says they will straighten them out and eventually use other measures instead, but there's still no specific timetable to replace them.

Reason may prevail. Photo copyright Shmuli Evers, used with permission.
Reason may prevail. Photo copyright Shmuli Evers, used with permission.

Speaking at NYPD headquarters this afternoon, Mayor de Blasio said the placement of concrete barriers on the Hudson River Greenway in response to Tuesday’s truck attack needs to change.

“I think what was originally put in just in the last day or so needs some revision to make sure people can still ride their bikes,” the mayor said. “Obviously we want safety and security, but we also want people to be able to go on about their lives, and enjoy their lives. That’s another part of showing our enemies they cannot win.”

Yesterday, state DOT laid down obtrusive jersey barriers at 31 car crossings along the greenway. They were placed at angles cutting across the path, creating narrow pinch points that reduced the width of the greenway to just a few feet. On a path used by thousands of people every day, the barriers generate bottlenecks and increase the risk of head-on collisions. (NYPD also put down concrete cubes at crosswalk entry points to the greenway, which are blocky but less disruptive.)

In response to complaints today, state DOT told Daily News reporter Dan Rivoli that it instructed contractors to walk the length of the greenway and straighten out diagonally-placed barriers. Some readers report that they’ve seen crews re-oriented the barriers this afternoon.

The jersey barriers are still bulkier and more obtrusive than the steel bollards that advocates have asked for. In a statement to Streetsblog, NYS DOT Chief of Staff Cathy Calhoun said the barriers are a “short term solution.”

“DOT is moving forward expeditiously to develop a permanent solution that will enhance security while allowing emergency vehicles to do their jobs,” she said. However, there’s still no specific timetable to replace the barriers.

At the press conference at 1 Police Plaza, the mayor was also asked about whether the city was considering barring motor vehicles from Central Park. He declined to comment, but NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill said a car-free park is “something that we’re taking a look at it.”

Transportation Alternatives called for steel bollards at street and driveway crossings along the greenway 10 years ago. O’Neill refused to say whether bollards should have been installed on the route before Tuesday’s attack.

“New York City is a big place, you know, and we do look, our counterterrorism bureau, along with DOT, we look at places where there are a tremendous amount of pedestrians. We also look at bicycle traffic too,” he said. “I’m not going to say what should have been there or what should not have been there.”

  • Joe R.

    Is there any reason they just couldn’t put these on top of the centerline? That would prevent motor vehicles from getting through in most cases. If need be, put additional jersey barriers along the shoulders. I can’t see how a hare-brained idea like what they did ever passed muster.

  • Brian Howald

    “In response to complaints today, state DOT told Daily News reporter Dan Rivoli that it instructed contractors to walk the length of the greenway and straighten out diagonally-placed barriers.”

    Were they born yesterday? Is it not obvious to anyone with six brain cells that the barriers shouldn’t be placed like that if there isn’t a reason for them to be?

  • Vooch

    joe ,

    that’s genius

  • Joe R.

    Speaking of stupid things I’ve seen, does anyone know why they put an obstacle coarse of fences on pedestrian overpasses like these?,-73.7965869,3a,75y,18.5h,62.78t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sdpiIoDGfr-dGUc6x57f7hA!2e0!7i13312!8i6656

    Besides serving no real purpose I can see, it probably also violates the ADA. I noticed these maybe ten years ago. They seem to be on all the overpasses in my area. Any ideas of how to petition DOT to remove them?

  • Larry Littlefield

    The bottom line is this attack, bad as it was, amounted to far less than a typical month of street violence against pedestrians and cyclists in NYC. Not much of a hit, and not as much as the guy had planned.

    The thing to fear remains a McVeigh-type attack. At some point not just anyone is going to be allowed to drive a motor vehicle onto Manhattan Island, only vetted “trusted travelers.” Too bad hundreds may have to die and hundreds more become permanently disabled before that happens. But this eventuality needs to be adjusted for in the MoveNY plan.

  • These fences are meant to slow cyclists down in places where the downhill slope would otherwise induce us to come off an overpass at too great a speed.

    We find these at most of the bike/pedestrian bridges that cross the L.I.E. Here is the array on the bridge at 84th Street.

    If not for these fences, cyclists would burst onto the street at the corner of 84th Street and 57th Road at speeds in excess of 20 miles per hour. These fences are a reasonable measure to prevent that.

    I will admit that, when I am riding, I find these fences annoying. But I also know that there are irresponsible
    cyclists out there who think it’s OK to ride at 20 or 25 miles per hour down local streets; and we need to discourage that sort of bad behaviour. So I see the necessity of these speed-limiting devices.

  • Adrian Horczak

    It’s great that the Jersey barriers are being oriented to a common sense direction now. Hopefully, bollards are on the way.

  • Joe R.

    The problem is you can’t easily see them at night. I can imagine a cyclist riding downhill crashing right into the fence. It almost happened to me once and I wasn’t riding excessively fast downhill. These seem like a lawsuit waiting to happen.

    I found this yesterday which suggests the real reason for these fences is to keep wheeled vehicles from riding out into a road without stopping:

    They only put them in places where the bridge exits right into a crosswalk. If the exit is in a safe area like a sidewalk or park, then no need for them according to the document. For example, the bridge at Underhill Avenue doesn’t have them.

    A better remediation is to just extend those bridges so they go all the way to the sidewalk instead of ending in a crosswalk on the service road. That’s a dangerous design which also requires unnecessary waiting on the part of both motor vehicles and pedestrians.

  • kevd

    those contractors have probably never thought about a bike path before and we’re acting at the behest of a state department that does next to nothing for bike infrastructure.
    i’m shocked its being fixed this quickly.

  • JTP Choons

    “The problem is you can’t easily see them at night. I can imagine a cyclist riding downhill crashing right into the fence.” — the problem with that statement is that you could make the same argument against any obstacle in a cyclist’s way, including bollards which stop cars from driving onto bicycle paths. The fact that they’re on a downhill is irrelevant – the argument will be made that if you cannot see them and stop in time, then you’re going too fast . As for their purpose, well I can see the reasoning behind it. Without them you’d have the occasional cyclist turning right onto that road without stopping to think. Extending the overpass across both roads isn’t always a viable solution – I don’t think it would be in the case of the bridge you linked to. These bridges require a two stage incline at both ends otherwise the incline would be too steep, and to get the distance the incline needs you have to orient it at 90 degrees to the bridge. That requires that there is enough room to accommodate the length of the incline, and I don’t think it would be possible in this case. There’s just no room for it.

  • JTP Choons

    You’d think the DOT would have instructed the contractors how best to place them in the first place though.

  • Joe R.

    The difference is properly placed bollards might be in the center of a 2-way bike lane, which is a place not directly in the cyclist’s path. These are right in the cyclist’s path and they’re practically invisible at night. Speed isn’t an issue. I think I was going 7 or 8 mph but I still couldn’t see them until I was nearly on top of them. If the idea is to get a cyclist to stop before turning onto a road, I can think of much better solutions, like maybe bright red flashing lights. Or better yet an on demand light which triggers with sensors so it’s green before the cyclist or pedestrian even reaches the crossing. That avoids the safety issue mentioned altogether. It’s also trivial and inexpensive to implement since the traffic signals are already there.

    There would definitely be enough room for the inclines you mentioned. The only caveat is you would need to use a few parking spaces. The main reason to extend the bridge isn’t primarily to get rid of those silly fences. Rather, it’s to avoid delay. A person crossing can get stuck waiting at 2 red lights. And motorists are delayed even if nobody is crossing because the lights are usually on a cycle (instead of on demand as would make more sense). Extending the bridge lets everyone go without delay.

  • Joe R.

    It’s just a shame it took a terrorist attack to get this problem fixed. We’re seemingly immune to the daily carnage which claims many more lives but the minute there’s a terror attack everyone runs with their hands up their behinds to find a solution. Look at all the intrusive security measures as a result of 9/11. Meanwhile, traffic violence claims that many lives nationally every single month, yet we do nothing about it.

  • Ian Turner

    State DOT really doesn’t care about bicycles, or care to know about bicycle infrastructure.

  • BortLicensePlatez

    Easy: they fucking *hate* cyclists.

  • JTP Choons

    I don’t think it’s very clear at all that you’d be able to extend that bridge. As a thought experiment, note where the incline currently ends, and shift it across the street. It would block the entrance of 173rd St.

    The only problem with those fences is that they have no stop sign on them. In the pdf you link to, the example fences have signs on them which would make them clearly visible under street lighting. I think at that point, if a person still can’t see them until the last minute, they should have a long think about whether their eyesight is good enough for cycling.

    So in all, I think the fences on that bridge have reasonable intentions, they’re just not installed properly (i.e. lacking in signs to make them appear more “solid.”)

  • Joe R.

    As I mentioned, one reason for not seeing them, besides not having signs, is that you’re looking at the road your about to cross instead. That’s actually what happened to me. I’ve long been in the habit when descending these bridges of looking for cross traffic and/or the signal state. My peripheral vision when doing that is good enough to spot any pedestrians whom I might encounter on the way down. Unfortunately, the fence isn’t highly visible like a pedestrian would be. The motion of pedestrians also helps make them readily visible, even using just peripheral vision. So basically the fence came into view at the last moment and I was barely able to avoid it. What saved me was the light from my headlamp reflecting back a bit. I grabbed the brake right away once I noticed.

    Now envision a scenario where the streetlights might be blocked by vegetation (somewhat common in my area) or out, and the cyclist doesn’t have a headlight. If the city couldn’t be bothered to make these highly visible at night with a light source, they should have found some other solution.

    Yeah, the bridge would need to curve so the landing didn’t block 173rd Street if it was extended. Like I said, if extending is unfeasible, there are at last 3 alternate ideas which would work just as well. The general idea is you want to warn anybody on wheels that they’re exiting right into traffic lanes. We might look to places like the Netherlands to see how they would handle a situation like this. My first guess is they would avoid this scenario altogether even at great expense. I’d love to see what they might do if that just wasn’t possible.

  • MatthewEH

    There’s too much path width to actually exclude motor vehicles in a lot of places without, e.g., putting two jersey barriers side-by-side.

    If I’m being charitable, they were trying to put the things in place expeditiously and would work out the kinks later. (Literally in this case, not just figuratively.)

  • MatthewEH

    I agree with JTP Choons.

    In practice, nobody goes over these bike/ped bridges for the very first time overnight. Or if they do, they take it *very* slowly. I certainly do.

    ftr, chain-link chicanes like this are pretty common on ped overpasses and underpasses in the SF Bay Area. The one at the California Avenue Caltrain undercrossing in Palo Alto actually got modified so that the fences were set more widely apart such that tandems could get through more easily. (That happened, like, 15 years ago.)

  • Joe R.

    Besides the fact these fences aren’t all that visible under poor lighting conditions, consider if you’ve been going over a bridge for many years and then these get installed. You can’t go on the assumption the cyclist either knows they’re there, or is going slowly. Someone who has gone over a bridge many times might be going somewhat faster as they know exactly what to expect. And if they happen to go across one day after these have been installed you have a totally avoidable incident. Any fixes to solve one problem shouldn’t potentially create others, particular when you have alternate solutions.

    What on earth would be the purpose of putting these on an underpass? An underpass by definition means you reach your highest speed under the road you’re crossing, and you’ll be slowing down on the uphill portion before exiting the underpass. Hence there is no need for measures to reduce speed before you exit as the geometry already slowed you down. There just isn’t the issue you face with overpasses where you might exit them too fast right into a traffic lane thanks to the downslope. Putting one under a railroad underpass is particularly pointless as it’s likely not even exiting onto a road.

    You just won’t see stuff like this in bike friendly countries. I only bought up this entire subject because these fences are just as awful as what was done on the greenway, except they were apparent sanctioned by DOT! I’m actually looking for a lawyer now to file a class-action lawsuit. I don’t care about money, I just want the damned things taken out. They’re fucking dangerous.

  • dr2chase

    Yeah, and those SF Bay Area chain-link chicanes suck shit. I’m glad they fixed some of them to be tandem-worthy, but they’ve still got them in mountain view, and last time (20-some years ago) I rode over the Palo Alto 101 overpass it *didn’t* make me dismount my bike, but it completely prevented passage of a child trailer. That was pretty much the first time I thought about how I might productively use thermite.

    How about reflective + lit caution signs for things like cross traffic — maybe rumble strips as you approach a hazard, just like for cars, instead of inserting obstacles in the path.

  • Joe R.

    How about reflective + lit caution signs for things like cross traffic — maybe rumble strips as you approach a hazard, just like for cars, instead of inserting obstacles in the path.

    Yeah, my point exactly. We would never do nonsense like this with motor traffic. Why are we doing it with bikes?

  • Joe R.

    Perhaps but what’s the rush except for political reasons? Seriously, they’ve been aware of the problem for a decade and did nothing about it. I’d rather they take a few weeks to come up with a more sensible solution. If they must have an immediate solution as a photo op, then those giant concrete blocks shown in the other thread on this subject aren’t horrible.

  • dr2chase

    Here’s lengthier griping about Mountain View biking, complete with links to videos (includes some of those gates):

    or, interfering with ferrying a bike back towards its home:

  • Joe R.

    Maybe I might remotely understand the point of the one at the entrance to the bike path, even though I still think it’s a silly concept, but the ones at 8:50 and 10:50 are totally pointless. “Slow down” for what? There a dead straight bike path in either direction with no exits onto roads. It’s funny how we seem so obsessed with slowing down bikes which go 25 mph on a really good day with a strong rider, but are OK with cars tearing through residential areas at twice that speed.

  • Brian Howald

    The geometry isn’t specific to a bike path! If you put jersey barriers diagonally across a road, the effect would be the same.

  • Brian Howald

    All that is required to place them correctly is, at worst, indifference towards cyclists and knowledge of basic physics.

    Not caring about us or the infrastructure we need seems to be sufficient criteria to have done it right.

  • Brian Howald

    A month?

    The terrorist injured or killed 20 people. Drivers in New York City kill or injure 40 people on an average day.

  • Larry Littlefield

    I’m going off the 13 people reported killed by this site in September.

    The local response to this tragedy has been to try to stop people from riding bicycles. The national response has been an anti-immigrant frenzy.

    And yet this attack was small compared with the ongoing motor vehicle carnage, which only Streetsblog reports.

    Similarly, after Las Vegas I saw a charge of the number of people killed in mass shooting incidents year-by-year. It was tiny relative to overall gun violence.

  • kevd

    yes but to them roads and cars are for transportation.
    greenways and bike are parks for playing.
    so if people have to stop, dismount and walk – so be it, they’re just out having fun in a park, anyway.

  • djx

    “It’s funny how we seem so obsessed with slowing down bikes which go 25 mph on a really good day with a strong rider, but are OK with cars tearing through residential areas at twice that speed.”


  • reasonableexplanation

    Since every cyclist is mandated to have a front light at night, reflective tape should be enough. It’s dirt cheap too!

    I’m glad there’s some common sense about unexpected obstacles at night. In a previous article on streetsblog, I was crucified for suggesting that new road calming infrastructure like high curbs and planters should have reflective tape put on them. The reason given was, well if you didn’t see them you were going too fast anyway.

    Any permanent structure normally unexpected in the path of travel, for cyclists or drivers, should really have reflective tape.

  • Brian Howald

    That’s a better point, and the correct one.

  • AMH

    They did exactly this at some of the intersections! Others have the barriers just tossed all over the place.

    I’m also wondering if they could have avoided obstructing the pathway at all by using the jersey barriers to tighten down the roadways that cross it. If you restrict the width of the driveway enough, vehicles don’t have enough room to turn onto the path, but the greenway traffic is relatively unimpeded. Seems far more prudent to restrict motor vehicles than cyclists and pedestrians.

  • AMH

    I have to say, it’s encouraging to actually hear the mayor acknowledge that people need to ride their bikes.