Stop Ruining the Hudson River Greenway in the Name of Security

Concrete barriers are pinching the most crowded bike path in the city, and officials won't say how long the measures will remain in place.

A state DOT jersey barrier at 50th Street. Photo: @aghoXoh6joh2liP/Twitter
A state DOT jersey barrier at 50th Street. Photo: @aghoXoh6joh2liP/Twitter

The preventive measures installed after Tuesday’s fatal attack have cut the width of the Hudson River Greenway in half at some locations, pinching the movement of cyclists and pedestrians on a crowded path used by thousands of people each day.

The greenway is managed by a confusing array of state and city agencies. The new barriers and blocks are primarily the work of the state DOT and NYPD. In total, state DOT and NYPD fortified 57 crossings between 59th Street and the Battery, said NYC DOT spokesperson Scott Gastel.

At 31 locations where motor vehicles traverse the path, state DOT installed long jersey barriers, pictured above. These are the most obtrusive measures, narrowing the width of the path by several feet.

Even without these obstructions, the greenway can get crowded with cyclists, walkers, and joggers — especially when people are passing each other. The jersey barriers not only funnel people uncomfortably close together, they also increase the potential for head-on conflicts between greenway users.

Near 59th Street, a cyclist heads into the oncoming lane to steer around a state DOT jersey barrier. Photo: Mark Gorton
Near 59th Street, a cyclist heads into the oncoming lane to steer around a state DOT jersey barrier. Photo: Mark Gorton

Additionally, at 26 pedestrian-only crossings, NYPD put down concrete cubes. While the cubes maintain two-way travel on the path, they also narrow it more than necessary:

NYPD installed concrete cubes at 26 pedestrian crossing along the greenway, including here at Houston Street. Photo: Mark Gorton
NYPD installed concrete cubes at 26 pedestrian crossings along the greenway, including at Houston Street. Photo: Mark Gorton

At other locations, NYPD officers have parked their vehicles right in the middle of the path.

Constricting the greenway doesn’t appear to concern city or state officials at the moment. “After these safety measures are installed, there may be areas at the intersections that will be more narrow than they used to be,” mayoral spokesperson Ben Sarle told the Times. “But, I would trade a little speed for substantially more safety any day.”

The segment of the greenway below 59th Street is owned by the state, but operated and maintained by the Hudson River Park Trust. Signal timing and police enforcement along the route is the city’s jurisdiction.

Streetsblog asked both state DOT and NYC DOT how long greenway users can expect the concrete barriers on the path, and whether they would pursue a less obtrusive solution. State DOT has yet to respond. NYC DOT didn’t have a timetable.

“That is part of the ongoing discussion,” Gastel said, in regards to whether the barriers are temporary or permanent. “These were the immediate measures taken for that section of Battery to 59th. Overall, the parties are going to look at the rest of the greenway and other public spaces as well for other necessary security measures.”

In a statement, Transportation Alternatives called for the jersey barriers to be re-oriented immediately and demanded a specific schedule for the implementation of less obtrusive safety measures:

The 20 foot linear jersey barriers installed across the greenway by the Governor’s State DOT are particularly dangerous, as they are channeling two-way bike traffic into one lane, effectively putting north and southbound cyclists on a collision course.

The Hudson River Greenway is the busiest pedestrian and bike path in North America — it is used and beloved by hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers every year, and the city and state’s current ‘solutions’ fail them in spectacular fashion. We need to protect our public spaces without making them uninviting and difficult to use.

‘Temporary’, as these barriers are purported to be, might as well be ‘forever’ in New York bureaucratic parlance. The city needs to publicly establish a hard timetable for removal of these barriers and implementation of more thoughtful solutions that maintain the safety and integrity of the greenway.

There are smart policies the city can instead implement right now — like bollards — that will largely and inexpensively eliminate the risk of traffic violence, without prioritizing fear over health and well-being. Until bollards can be installed, we insist that the State and the City refine the placement of their concrete blocks so that the integrity of the busiest bike path in the country can be maintained.

Greenway vulnerabilities have been known for many years. After a drunk driver killed Eric Ng while he was riding on the path in 2006, Transportation Alternatives recommended installing steel bollards at street and driveway crossings, but the various agencies responsible for the greenway didn’t take the threat seriously until now.

These heavy-handed concrete obstacles are not the way to go. We don’t need to ruin the greenway in order to save it.

  • Adrian Benepe

    Thanks! I had a motto that I imposed on our staff: “It’s our business to help people do theirs”!

  • Adrian Benepe

    The problem is generally not cars crossing the path, but cars that accidentally drive onto the path. But cars that cross the path heading for venues on the other side often are coming from a parallel route, and suddenly turn on.

  • Adrian Benepe

    I agree!

  • Adrian Benepe

    The entire problem can be solved with bollards that go up and down and can be activated by remote control that all emergency vehicle have.

  • Hehe! That reminds me of a motto that my father had regarding the toilet in our house: “Our aim is to keep this place clean; your aim will help.”

  • cjstephens

    Is that kind of remote control that all emergency vehicles have actually a thing, or is it just an idea (honestly don’t know)?

  • crazytrainmatt

    This guidelines rightfully exclude some of the tight chicane fences installed seemingly at random on local bike routes. There’s two obnoxious ones near the highway patrol station on the bronx river greenway. They were installed in the last year or so and are so tight as to be dangerous for anyone but an unloaded sport cyclist. Trailers are SOL.

  • Joe R.

    I had a discussion about those in the other thread on this subject. I was specifically talking about the ones installed on some pedestrian overpasses, but in principal the hazards are the same as those you mention. Chicane fences are just a dumb idea, and often the reason for installing them is even dumber. I might remotely understand installing them where a bike path or pedestrian bridge exits right into a traffic lane, but I’ve seen pictures of them installed randomly on bike paths as a speed control device. Totally stupid for three reasons. One, they only control speed in the immediate vicinity. Two, they present a hazard, particularly at night. Three, bikes don’t go that fast to start with. Not sure why we’re obsessed with the speed of a vehicle which rarely breaks 20 to 25 mph. If there’s a need to control speed in certain locations, like entering a tight curve or a blind spot, rumble strips and warning signs should work well without presenting the hazard these fences do.

  • Joe R.

    Thanks for the heads up about the bathrooms. I’m rarely in parks to start with, but when I am I still avoid the bathrooms on the assumption they’re either closed, or disgustingly filthy. Nice to hear this problem was finally taken care of.

  • Joe R.

    Always a good idea to look for cross traffic on the green, no matter where you are. I’ve avoided collisions a number of times doing that.

  • Joe R.

    No problem with it, either, although I still want retractable bollards to keep non-authorized vehicles out.

  • reasonableexplanation

    I thought you mentioned that you regularly break 35mph in an aerodynamic tuck on your bike?

    For the record I’m against chicanes, speed humps, or any similar nonsense for bikes or cars.

  • Joe R.

    I might hit 30 to 35 mph once or twice going downhill on an average ride but in general most of the time my speed is in the 17 to 23 mph area. Once in a blue moon I have a crazy tail wind which lets me hold 30 to 35 mph on level roads for a while (and well over 40 mph on a downhill). That’s the exception, not the rule. That said, I don’t do those kinds of speeds except on wide arterials in places where there aren’t likely to be any pedestrians. It also helps that I’m usually riding after midnight. You won’t see me tearing down a greenway at those kinds of speeds, for example. I recall hitting close to 30 mph on the Belt Park Greenway on some of the downgrades but that was as fast as I’ll ever go on that type of infrastructure. Had it not been empty, I probably wouldn’t go much over 20 mph.

  • Guest

    I think those chicane fences on the Bronx River Greenway are egregious, and you’re all absolutely right they are too tight to actually get the bicycle through!

    Their purpose is not speed control, though. They are forcing cyclists to dismount through the entire Ranaqua area. Somebody thought it was too dangerous to allow cyclists to mix with traffic in this low-volume parking lot/driveway space, so you’re supposed to walk until you’ve exited the second chicane.

    Dumb.

  • Guest

    That has NOT been my experience with police vehicles.

    Moreover, there is NEVER a need for them to be on the Greenway. There are other vehicles they can use for regular patrols that would be more effective. For other emergency responses, they can stop the car on West Street and walk over the relatively narrow landscaped strip – probably quicker and safer than finding an entry point to the greenway and navigate through its slower users. Yes, police can walk more than 5 feet from their cars.

  • Guest

    An ambulance, on the other hand, may actually benefit from being able to load a patient more easily. Limited access should be possible for cases like that… but it’s not necessary or helpful for the NYPD, and will only be abused.

  • AMH

    Thanks for explaining that–I had wondered about the neglect.

  • AMH

    Yes, these awful barricades do nothing to slow motor vehicles from making high-speed turns into greenway traffic.

  • kevd

    entry points for motor vehicles.
    Sorry If I was unclear.

  • Elizabeth F

    No, cops are not going to stop on West Side Highway to deal with a situation on the Greenway. Let’s just try to get them to not stop on the Greenway to deal with West Side Highway stuff.

  • AMH

    It’s incredible how careful they were not to intrude on any motor vehicle space. All of the pain is on greenway users. Even the heavy equipment placing the barriers was entirely within the greenway rather than on the adjacent roadway. It seems to me that they should be slowing motor traffic, particularly where cars often make high-speed turns across greenway traffic, and the slip lane at Pier 94 where drivers ignore the stop signs. Tightening down these lanes with jersey barriers would make it physically impossible for a vehicle to make a turn onto the greenway while allowing larger openings for greenway traffic.

  • AMH

    The greenway has always been pretty inconsistent–there’s a great big MUTCD violation right at the south end.

    https://goo.gl/maps/8qL27uXrsH22

  • Elizabeth F

    I commute a lot on the Greenway. Mostly north of 125 St; but also 1/2x/week to Midtown or even Canal St. I have never seen a police or parks vehicle showing less than the utmost care for the safety of bike and ped Greenway users. Once, believe it or not, I saw an NYPD on patrol, begin driven around by a yellow cab; I didn’t stop to find out why. They were deriving carefully too.

    For that reason, I just don’t think that NYPD and Parks vehicles on the Greenway are a serious issue. I put them in the same category as construction vehicles on the highway — a necessary annoyance you have to slow down for, but really nothing more.

    Parks vehicles use the Greenway extensively in their duties to maintain the park. I don’t see how they can in practice take out the trash, mow the grass, remove weeds, plant landscaping, etc. without vehicular access. Once, I came across a landscaping crew that was partially blocking the Greenway with equipment, workers, piles of dirt, etc. These people were working on our behalf to keep the Greenway looking beautiful; they deserve I respect. And yet, I observed another biker yell at them to “get out of the way,” as she brushed past as quickly as possible. I’m sorry, can’t we treat others a little better in New York, especially when they are working on our behalf?

    North of 59 St, there is typically no road nearby. Bikers get mugged yearly around 170St — a part that’s particularly isolated, and just out of view of the PAPD guard post under the GWB. At most spots, driving motor vehicles on the Greenway is the ONLY way to service north of 59th St.

    > I would be much more worried about, say, a dog walker with a long leash talking on her cellphone on the bike path rather than the pedestrian area.

    Yes, welcome to NYC.

    > Also, if someone needed an ambulance (heart attack, or after crashing into said dog walker), I would want the ambulance to be able to access the path.

    Unfortunately that’s not always easy. Once I helped an injured roller blader near Fort Tryon (I stopped bike traffic so they didn’t run over her). It took at least 15 minutes to get an ambulance to come. And once it did — they needed to call TWO NYFD trucks to block traffic on the Henry Hudson in order to get her into the ambulance.

  • Elizabeth F

    You’re trying too hard to make this case. They shut down the entire West Side HIghway for 1.5 days, because of something that happened on the Greenway.

  • Elizabeth F

    Crossings are unfortunately needed. They don’t have to be motor vehicle entry points, as long as you have bollards.

  • Elizabeth F

    There are problems with the barriers, yes. But are they AT LEAST as likely to cause trouble as the attacks? I doubt even today’s idiotic barriers will kill 8 bikers.

  • vbtwo31984

    It’s something they have in the Netherlands. They use a lot of retractable bollards there to prevent unauthorized traffic from coming through. All emergency vehicles have a way of lowering the bollards to be able to get through.

  • iSkyscraper

    Underpasses will cost a few million each, and flood regularly. Not practical next to a river.

  • MatthewEH

    Mostly we’re on the same page here. But, most ordinary parks maintenance can be done with smaller vehicles rather than full-sized cars and trucks. That seems to be how most of the world does this sort of thing.

  • rivardau

    Oh, there’s nothing like good old-fashioned government over-reaction to the WRONG thing after a mass attack!

    The problem was that the Highway Vehicle was the one speeding and curved – ergo, the barriers should be creating the pinch point on the road to make THAT traffic slow down!

    But nope, the USA says…oh it’s ok to sacrifice a few minutes of time for better safety – for BIKES – that was not even the cause nor problem of the event!

    Now if the government could act as swift anytime it is a mass gun shooting!!

    #stilltakingoffshoesatairports

  • vbtwo31984
  • vbtwo31984
  • vbtwo31984

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG