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DOT’s $200-Million Rotunda Fix Leaves Cyclists in Danger

DOT’s redesign of the 79th Street rotunda omits protection for people attempting to access the country’s most popular bike path. Image: DOT

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This one's going to be an uphill battle — literally and figuratively.

The Department of Transportation is gearing up for a $200-million renovation of the 79th Street Rotunda, complete with accessibility improvements, restroom upgrades, and concrete work. But Upper West Siders are outraged that the project bizarrely omits safety upgrades for cyclists bound for the busy Hudson River Greenway.

"They’re going to spend $200 million, and we’re not getting anything," said Howard Yaruss, a West 68th Street resident who co-chairs Manhattan Community Board 7's transportation committee.

Currently, greenway cyclists ride along the waterfront. To get there via 79th Street, they must navigate in mixed traffic through the rotunda's traffic circle. DOT's plan does nothing to change that — in fact, it narrows the roadway so that cyclists must share the same space with MTA buses and motorists exiting and entering the Henry Hudson Parkway.

"I exit there," Yaruss told Streetsblog. "I’m one of the, literally, hundreds of thousands of people who live in the vicinity, and it’s treacherous."

Complicating matters further, the Parks Department will soon impose a year-round detour that forces cyclists away from the waterfront and over a steep ramp just to the west of the traffic circle — dangerously close to traffic. The detour goes into effect this spring, but will be suspended for three years once construction on the rotunda begins.

When construction is complete, DOT's proposed design, pictured at the top of this story, would direct northbound cyclists all the way around the circle in order to continue north — an illogical and unsafe maneuver that many are certain to ignore at their own peril.

Earlier this year, the Parks Department permanently diverted cyclists from the flat waterfront greenway to the hillier path marked by the bold dotted green line. Image: NYC Parks
Earlier this year, the Parks Department permanently diverted cyclists from the flat waterfront greenway to the hillier path marked by the bold dotted green line. Image: NYC Parks
Earlier this year, the Parks Department permanently diverted cyclists from the flat waterfront greenway to the hillier path marked by the bold dotted green line. Image: NYC Parks

On Monday, the CB 7 transportation committee met and refused to vote on DOT's project proposal. Instead, board members told the agency to go back to the drawing board.

But Yaruss isn't optimistic that DOT will comply with that request. The agency has bucked multiple requests for safety upgrades from the board this year.

At Monday's meeting, DOT rep Joannene Kidder, who works in the agency's bridge division, attributed the omission of bike lanes to its bike planning department, the West Side Spirit reports.

"Our cycling experts have determined that that is not ideal, and therefore it is not in the current design," Kidder said.

It's not clear what's "unideal" about providing a safe connection for thousands of cyclists trying to access the nation's busiest bike path.

Streetsblog Publisher and greenway commuter Mark Gorton proposed the alternative of a two-way protected bike lane on the south side of 79th Street between Riverside Drive and the rotunda. That would connect to a pathway adjacent to the south stairs into the rotunda, which would lead to the greenway. For much less money, DOT could just put down painted bike lanes.

The greenway detour makes the need for protected bike infrastructure even more urgent. It was imposed by the Parks Department with the support of both CB 7 and Council Member Helen Rosenthal, who was nonplussed at the time by cyclists' concerns about the steep incline and close proximity to traffic.

Rosenthal's advocacy may be the only salvation for West Side cyclists.

"I have cycled in this rotunda and it’s very important that we get input from cyclists as to their experience in this space," the council member said in a statement provided to Streetsblog. "I’m asking the DOT for a briefing on their plans, and am looking forward to working with them to protect both cyclists and pedestrians in the rotunda."

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