The Hudson River Greenway Needs Great Design, Not Knee-Jerk Security Fixes

The greenway is bursting at the seams during warmer months and needs to be widened to handle the peak volume of bike and pedestrian traffic it carries.

Greenway users need to know there’s a plan for keeping greenway security zones clear of ice and snow. Photo copyright Shmuli Evers, used with permission.
Greenway users need to know there’s a plan for keeping greenway security zones clear of ice and snow. Photo copyright Shmuli Evers, used with permission.

Sometime in the next year or so the makeshift security barriers on the Hudson River Greenway will give way to permanent bollards to keep cars out. The question is whether the agencies in charge of the greenway will use best practices to improve safety, or botch the job and make the greenway unrideable for the large number of people who bike on it.

Last night, the Manhattan Community Board 2 transportation committee discussed the situation and unanimously passed a resolution asking New York State DOT to study “pedestrian, bicycle, and illegal motorized vehicle congestion” on the bikeway before the agency implements more permanent safety measures.

Already, the greenway is bursting at the seams during warmer months and needs to be widened to handle the peak volume of bike and pedestrian traffic it carries.

The Jersey barriers currently lining dozens of entry points to the greenway were placed by State DOT after last October’s fatal vehicular attack. The barriers create chutes 60 inches wide, requiring people on bikes to slow down and proceed single file. This has created several pinch points on the greenway in CB 2’s turf, from Canal Street to 14th Street.

The state plans to replace the temporary barriers with permanent bollards spaced only 48 inches apart. That alarms greenway users like Nancy Brous, who bikes with her 10-year-old children. The pinch points on the greenway already make her so nervous that she often opts to ride with her kids on the streets instead.

She held up a tape measure at 48 inches to stress how narrow the clearance would be. “To prevent a future terrorist attack, they’re making the path dangerous for daily users,” she said.

CB 2’s resolution requests that “no permanent bollards be installed at 48 inch widths until this traffic study has been completed and is available for public review.”

“I cycle everywhere in the city, I use the bike lanes, and 48 inches is certainly too little to allow cyclists to pass on the West Side bike lanes,” said West Village resident Daniel Katzen. “As someone who cycles almost 200 miles a week in the city, making it more accessible to cyclists is critical.”

Reed Rubey, a daily bike commuter, said the greenway is failing precisely when people need it the most. “I ride from Harlem to Tribeca on the greenway and it’s the highlight of my day both times. And my experience is that it’s great in the winter when nobody’s on it, but the minute the weather picks up, it’s a very dangerous thing to navigate. I’m very good with my bike, but the challenges I find on the greenway are more difficult than just about anywhere else in the city.”

The multitude of different conveyances on the greenway no longer fit comfortably within its current dimensions. Cyclists, runners, skateboarders, kids on scooters, and people on e-bikes travel at varying speeds. 

The greenway isn’t designed to handle all of them, and some people on the greenway feel intimidated by the faster e-bikes, said Graeme Birchall, president of the Downtown Boathouse on Pier 26 in Tribeca, which offers free public kayaking to 30,000 people every year.

“It’s driving some people off the bike path. I get complaints from people with children, I get complaints from seniors, I have a lot of volunteers who are female, who just will not ride on the bike path,” he said.

The board responded by including language in its resolution about the “lack of enforcement to mitigate dangerous riding behavior” and calling for rumble strips that create vibrations at higher speeds, setting a speed limit, installing signage to direct traffic movement in a safe and orderly manner, and addressing other ways to enforce safe speeds and courteous behavior on the greenway.

  • Komanoff

    Great actual reporting in this post. Every person interviewed had a killer quote. Collectively, they told the story. Nice work!

  • RandomGuy

    I have to admit, I find the community board feedback concerning and indicative of why Americans get crummy bike infrastructure.

    The implicit argument here feels to me that the Greenway should be designed for prospective recreational customers of organizations like the Downtown boathouse, and people who ride at faster paces (15 mph? 17 mph?) are the problem.

    As someone who uses this Greenway everyday (since it’s the closest thing to tolerable infrastructure in NYC), I’d actually characterize the people who expect to jog in the middle of the most densely trafficked trail in the US — or expect to ride side-by-side with an 8 year old kid (or their girlfriend) at 10 mph, forcing other rides to face oncoming traffic — as the dangerous ones. These are the behaviors that should be corrected.

    The interventions suggested in the article are indicative of attempts to subrogate serious commute bicyclists into a second-class position. Would we seriously suggest putting rumble strips on the adjacent freeway? What kind of a speed limit are they thinking of?

    There are already frequent signs asking people to stay to the right. Many people do not comply.

  • 8FH

    I have a problem with classifying runners a legitimate users of the path. Except in areas where there is no separate pedestrian path, runners are explicitly banned from the path by multiple signs and markings. Almost every single jogger is oblivious to their surroundings, listening to music with both ears.

    I also am strongly against a speed limit. The path is extensively used by commuters. At 20 mph, not accounting for stops and pedestrians, it takes 18 min to travel the 6 mi from the Boat Basin to the Battery. Adding 10 min for reasonable stopping and slowing for lights and yielding to pedestrians, that’s 28 min. At a 10 mph speed limit, that same trip would take 46 min. That’s a big difference for a change that would not make the greenway much safer.

    Of course, I am open to any evidence that a speed limit would make the greenway safer with proper barriers. In that case, I would favor a speed limit until the path can be widened, then having slow and fast lanes.

  • Reader

    I agree that community boards need to think bigger – and maybe take junkets to bike-friendly countries to actually learn something – instead of suggesting silly things like rumble strips, more signs, or speed limits. But what we really have here is a classic example of drivers getting the whole loaf and everyone else fighting over the scraps. The only solution is to take a lane on West Street and turn it into a bicycle highway. The existing path could then be turned into a mixed-use recreational path.

    We can’t enforce behavior or expect people to comply with signs when the infrastructure sucks and is too narrow for the volume of riders. If we’re not designing bike paths for people to ride side by side with their kid or girlfriend – or, ahem, boyfriend – and still leave room for people to pass them, then something is wrong: our priorities.

    (As an aside, it’s understandable why many joggers would use the bike path; runners like straight lines and the designated walking/running paths are filled with turns and obstacles like benches. Yet another reason to move fast bikes to a lane on West Street.)

  • RandomGuy

    Agreed 100% on all counts. This trail is ultimately a (substandard) bicycle superhighway for N/S commuters. Ideally, there would be a dedicated facility for that purpose.

    In the interim, it is not clear why we would jeopardize its ability to function as an effective traffic arterial that moves tens of thousands of people a day on bike, for an indeterminate number of hypothetical senior citizen weekend recreational riders, or children.

    Ideally, NYC would have an extensive network of high-quality, gapless bicycle superhighways so that not every single person trying to get N/S on a bike has to cram themselves into a single trail — since they have nowhere else to ride.

    I’m assuming there has not been an actual bicycle LOS analysis on the trail? I’m assuming most segments would get a D or an F during peak hours.

  • RandomGuy

    The joggers are terrifying — almost as bad as the tourists who have no idea how to ride a bike in dense traffic, and think you can just ride side-by-side on each side of the bike trail lane (are people supposed to pass in between you?)

    The joggers travel in the center of a lane that has a (legal?) double yellow line. When you ring your bell to pass, they ignore you (or just can’t even hear in the first place.)

    They create a dangerous condition where bicyclists have no choice but to pass them with very little horizontal clearance. I always slow down, but even at 8-10 mph, a negligent jogger can create a two-way collision.

  • walks bikes drives

    The double yellow line is legal because the path is made for bicycles, which are vehicles. The double yellow line signifies bidirectional traffic and actually means it is illegal for a cyclist to pass another by crossing the line. This is why most two way bike paths have yellow dashed lines rather than solid.

  • walks bikes drives

    I dont even consider 15-17 to be a faster pace. I use the path occasionally to commute and often to joyride, but, while not clad in lycra, my typical cruising speed on the greenway is about 20mph. Here I am in maybe the top third of riders, but by far not the fastest. With a tailwind, and effort, that cruising speed might be closer to 23-25mph, putting me in the top 5-10% of riders on the path, anecdotally. I have no problem with other cyclists on the path, and usually dont have to give too much speed to safely pass, and I mean safely. But joggers are the worst, often because they dont follow a straight path and tend to weave while they are jogging, and are much harder to safely pass.

    It’s not about speed limits or rumble strips (the ones near the boat basin can be downright dangerous for narrow tires at any speed – I almost went down on them with 23mm tires at about 9-10mph when my rear tire slipped between two cobbles as I was slowly traveling behind a group of tourists). Any bicycle speed on the path up to about 25mph is perfectly safe as long as people operate their bikes and feet safely. Joggers, keep off the dammed path. Cyclists, slow down in congestion, around kids, and always stop for pedestrians in crosswalks, and be aware of cyclists in front of you stopping for pedestrians. Ride straight and keep right. And don’t use the excuse of being clipped in to not stop.

  • walks bikes drives

    Oh, and instead of spending money on rumble strips and signage, spend the money on raised crosswalks instead. And limit cars crossing the greenway.

  • Joe R.

    I would hope the speed limit would be something more reasonable like 20 or 25 mph, not a ridiculous 10 mph which would make the Greenway useless as a transportation artery.

    The real problem is the Greenway needs to be expanded to accommodate all users. As usual, NYC doesn’t want to spend the money. Instead, the want to try to fix the problem with a bunch of rules. It can’t work.

  • Joe R.

    NYC needs exactly that—a world-class network of bicycle superhighways where you can ride nonstop at whatever speed suits you. We should do this regardless of cost. Even if it means lots of overpasses, underpasses, and viaducts bicycle infrastructure still costs pennies on the dollar compared to car infrastructure. NYC has highways where cars can go nonstop. We need the same thing for bicycles.

  • Joe R.

    Exactly. 15 to 17 mph is a best a middling pace. Lots of riders in OK shape can manage that. As for tailwinds, those increase your speed but they do so for all cyclists. So you’re probably still in the top third doing 23 to 25 mph with a tailwind. For what it’s worth, there’s often a strong tailwind blowing east during winters where I live. When I ride Union Turnpike out of the city I might be doing 35+ mph for long stretches thanks to the tailwind. I’m not even sure if that would be in the top 5% to 10% of riders under similar conditions. Bicycles can reach crazy speeds when tailwinds get really strong. I still remember going 45 mph fairly easily back in my college years when there was a really crazy tailwind on Utopia Parkway.

  • ItsEasyBeingGreen

    Is there any way to affect the state plan and encourage them to follow best practices? Should we start calling State DOT Deputy Director Shilpan Patel again?

  • 8FH

    Especially because New Yorkers are incapable of following rules.

  • Joseph R.

    I ride the greenway everyday and it feels so odd hearing some of these complaints. The biggest frustration and fear I encounter is the jersey barriers. I’ve seen multiple bikers crash/ride up the Jersey barriers near 57th street because of how narrow the opening is there.

    I think it’s especially idiotic how they placed the barrier in the middle of a turn around 22nd street at the pier. I ride through that stretch everyday and while I find the placement of 99% of the barriers completely unreasonable, this one is just especially dangerous and unnecessary. It’s dangerous because it narrows what would be an already narrow, but rounded turn, and turns it more into a zig zag since the barrier protrudes into the southbound lane. It’s also unnecessary because I’ve seen the full-sized parks cars drive around it by driving through the grass on the northbound lane(the tire tracks last pretty long in there too), effectively proving it’s more for show than for stopping a car.

    Also, people are set up to fail when passing because many times the only way to pass people between 20th – 72nd street is to pick up speed and ride the wrong way through the barriers. At peak times, this becomes far more dangerous and opens up room for error with unnecessary consequences. The alternative is sitting behind the slowest person until you can break away. This has cascading effects where now cyclists coming up to a slower mob have to consider passing several people in an already short stretch. They just result in lots of close passes and merges that could effectively be avoided.

  • walks bikes drives

    I’m saying anecdotally- based on the number of cyclists I perceive as passing and who pass me on a ride.

  • AMH

    The segment underneath the West Side Highway looks like it’s going to be a decent width (assuming that the second half is eventually opened). That needs to be the standard for everything south of there–make the existing ROW southbound, and convert a lane of highway to a northbound path. There’s no reason for West Street to be 8-10 lanes wide. People deserve the ability to ride side-by-side without taking up the entire path.

  • Canonchet

    The comment from Graeme of the Downtown Boathouse was specifically about e-bikes, which are specifically banned by Hudson Greenway bike rules but are nonetheless common, seemingly averaging a steady 20+ mph, requiring illegal use of the incoming bike lane to pass the majority 10-15 mph cyclists

  • AMH

    I contacted NYSDOT and encourage everyone to do so.

    “I am alarmed by revelations that NYSDOT is planning to install permanent bollards with only 48 inches of clearance in the Hudson River Greenway bicycle path. This spacing is much too narrow and will endanger users of the path. The proper distance between post FACES (not centers) is 60 inches according to the MUTCD. This provides enough clearance to accommodate bicycle traffic while protecting against motor vehicle entry. Please do not endanger us in the name of “security”. Please follow standard best practices to prevent vehicle intrusion on the bike path, and consider limiting vehicle access points rather than obstructing the path everywhere with bollards.”