Op-Ed: Riverside Park Greenway Bike Bypass is An Accident Waiting To Happen

The city should not force cyclists to use a flawed path.

The new dedicated bypass in Riverside Park has confusing markers for cyclists, one of many flawed design features.
The new dedicated bypass in Riverside Park has confusing markers for cyclists, one of many flawed design features.

On Wednesday night, I rode on the new “bypass” dedicated bike path through Riverside Park, which directs cyclists away from the Hudson River Greenway from 72nd to 83rd Streets. I found it unacceptable in many ways.

The newly designated detour on the nation’s busiest cycling path is well intentioned. Recently a 4-year-old child was injured by a speeding cyclist on the greenway. But the “solution” is deeply flawed — so flawed, in fact, that the city should reconsider its decision forcing cyclists to use the bypass.

The bypass’ steepness and the intermingling of cyclists and pedestrians there render the path unsafe. 

Since the bypass opened, I have often seen pedestrians walking on it — put in danger by cyclists who  pick up too much speed on the steep descent. (There isn’t sufficient signage warning both users.) Cyclists easily can coast down those hills at more than 20 miles per hour, putting pedestrians at risk of serious injury or even death if there are collisions. 

Richard Robbins
Author Richard Robbins on the Upper West Side.

Moreover, the hills are too steep for all but the most serious cyclists, so even casual, responsible cyclists (including children and seniors) who formerly could negotiate the greenway are effectively excluded from riding on the bypass. That leaves that section of the route only to cyclists who are able to climb steep hills — and who may be more prone to speed. 

The detour forces cyclists to “go up many hills that might be hard for a senior or an inexperienced biker like me,” my 13-year-old nephew told me. 

The likely big reduction in casual cyclists could put pedestrians at an even greater risk, because pedestrians won’t realize they’re walking in the bike lane until they face a speeding cyclist. And cyclists have an incentive to speed down hills, in order to gain momentum to get up the next hill.

Further, there is no lighting on the bypass, especially near the Rotunda. By 9:30 at night, on one of the longest days of the year, it was pitch black. My bike lights were insufficient to light the path, let alone for me to see if any people might be hiding in dark, isolated areas. The lack of proper lighting will further dissuade many riders and could make riders — especially women — fearful to ride in the park after dark.

Still another flaw: The paint and bollards at the Rotunda, which are supposed to provide cyclists with guidance as they pass near motor vehicles, make no sense. The northbound arrows point right at the bollards. Meanwhile, if southbound cyclists follow the painted arrows directing them, they leave no room for northbound riders.

The Hudson River Greenway bike path for cyclists and pedestrians. Photo: Ken Coughlin
The Hudson River Greenway bike path, pictured in the late fall. Photo: Ken Coughlin

Rather than precluding many riders from the greenway and forcing cyclists onto steep hills, where they are prone to ride at excessive speeds, we should make pedestrians safer by getting all cyclists to slow down in shared areas. Community Board 7 overwhelmingly passed a resolution I proposed calling for a 10-mile-per-hour speed limit on all wheeled vehicles on shared paths in Riverside Park. Right now, there is no speed limit. I hope this is enacted and intelligently enforced soon.

In sum, the bypass is clearly well-intentioned, but it puts both pedestrians and cyclists at greater risk while dissuading all but the most serious cyclists from riding on what has been an essential part of the city’s bike infrastructure. I hope the Department of Parks and Recreation will reconsider forcing cyclists onto this path before there is a tragedy.

Richard Robbins is a member of Community Board 7 and serves on its Transportation Committee. The views represented here are solely his own and do not reflect the views of CB7.

  • AMH

    Well said, thank you. After a few days of confusion caused by the “dismount” barricades across the greenway with nothing directing riders to the detour path (I and many others squeezed through the barriers and rode carefully since there were no crowds, cops or any other reason to dismount) I rode this detour for the first time this week and was amazed by how bad it was. I followed a group of riders up the hill which became increasingly steep to the point of suddenly becoming almost vertical. Several people very nearly fell over and I felt like I was about to roll backward down the hill. Then there was the lack of wayfinding where the paths split and branch–I had to make a split-second decision without any pavement markings and I nearly plowed into some joggers. The photo above perfectly illustrates another confusing situation arising from the lack of design or thought given to users–what do the two huge “DO NOT ENTER” signs mean when there is a bike arrow pointing straight at them?

    The path is not built for riding and requiring anyone to ride it is complete insanity.

  • KeNYC2030

    I personally know of two crashes sustained by cyclists on the bypass in the last week. In one case, a woman from Colombia encountered protruding tree roots she wasn’t expecting (a flaw the writer fails to mention) and ended up being taken to the hospital. Yesterday morning, the husband of a friend of mine saw an ambulance at the bottom of the southbound slope from the 79th St. Rotunda, near the garbage dumpsters. He said that several cyclists appeared to be involved in whatever had happened.

  • AMH

    That’s awful, but I can’t say I’m surprised. I really don’t want to ride the greenway anymore.

    It’s time for everyone hurt by this city’s awful cycling infrastructure to band together and sue.

  • walks bikes drives

    I thought the whole idea was that the Parks Dept. was supposed to fix the grade of the path before they made it the cycling route.

  • KeNYC2030

    Dream on. They had $200,000 for this project, about $30k of which goes to administrative costs. They were able to do a little repaving (and not enough of that), and that’s it.

  • ItsEasyBeingGreen

    Yeah there’s still tree roots sticking out through the pavement on the downhill side of the hill just north of 72nd Street.

  • ItsEasyBeingGreen

    There’s also a dumpster sitting on the path itself south of the Rotunda, presumably to make room on the dumpster pad for parked cars. It’s right in the direct line between the Rotunda and continuing on the path.

    I guarantee the Boat Basin Cafe operator’s contract with the Parks Department does not allow blocking the path with the dumpster, and I’m curious if it allows the otherwise illegal parking of vehicles around the path area back there. This needs to be enforced regardless of what happens with this detour.

  • ItsEasyBeingGreen

    There’s also a dumpster sitting on the path itself south of the Rotunda, presumably to make room on the dumpster pad for parked cars. It’s right in the direct line between the Rotunda and continuing on the path.

    I guarantee the Boat Basin Cafe operator’s contract with the Parks Department does not allow blocking the path with the dumpster, and I’m curious if it allows the otherwise illegal parking of vehicles around the path area back there. This needs to be enforced regardless of what happens with this detour. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/e93fd15d4430db8873419ff0ca1c558f72231374f7a9e83c6b5ad4f833b17eaa.jpg

  • KeNYC2030

    Also, to be fair, DOT had nothing to do with this. It was paid for with Participatory Budget money from Council Member Helen Rosenthal and implemented by the Department of Parks & Recreation, specifically Riverside Park.

  • Nawc77

    By the DOTs logic, when there is a child hit by a car, that street should become off limits to cars.

  • Joe R.

    That’s the grade????? Holy crap! I don’t think I have a gear low enough to pedal up that.

  • Jeff

    Would a potential crash really be an “accident” if it’s the predictable result of poor infrastructure design?

  • Simon Phearson

    Imposing a speed limit – especially one so low – on cyclists is ridiculous. I don’t know what kind of bike Richard rides, but I’ll bet it doesn’t have a speedometer on it. How are they supposed to comply with a straight numerical limit?

    It’s perfectly fine to ask and require cyclists to ride at safe speeds in crowded conditions. One would hope cyclists would be inclined to do so anyway, since crashes aren’t good for them, either. But 10 mph feels so slow that few conscientious cyclists are likely to stay under it consistently.

  • SSkate

    That second photo of “Cyclists on the main part of the greenway”, where the heck was that taken? Doesn’t look like anywhere along the bike path that I know.

  • AMH

    Yes please!

  • AMH

    This is exactly where I got confused! I nearly headed downhill, then realized that went right to the boat basin and swerved uphill.

  • AMH

    Not to mention the roots and holes in the 100s–I’ve called parks once a year, every year to complain, but they always say there’s no funding. Someone is going to get hurt if they haven’t already.

  • Joe R.

    Besides that, it’s apparent those who suggest 10 mph speed limits never actually rode a bike. Modern bikes are very efficient. Really, even old bikes are very efficient. That’s the point of them. It only takes about 30 to 45 watts of power to maintain 10 mph on a level road. An average cyclist can put out 100 watts continuously without really breaking a sweat. Just the weight of your feet turning the pedals gets most bikes well past 10 mph. I find I have to ride my brake to maintain 10 mph, and also need to constantly check my speedometer as it’s easy to creep past that. Those without a speedometer don’t have the latter option.

    Add in even the slightest downgrade and it gets even harder to maintain 10 mph.

    Besides all that, despite Richard mentioning intelligent enforcement, we all know that’s not going to happen. The NYPD will be giving people tickets for going 11 mph at 11 PM when nobody is around.

    It’s much better to just not have numerical speed limits but go after the few who are obviously going too fast for the conditions. Or if you must have a numerical speed limit, only have it apply during peak hours. Also, make it something reasonable, like maybe 20 mph. That will keep the people trying to best their Strava times during peak hours in check, but not really affect anyone else.

  • ItsEasyBeingGreen

    I think it’s an image file name mixup, the photo originally appears in this article about Houston: https://usa.streetsblog.org/2018/04/25/houstons-getting-ready-for-a-flurry-of-bike-lane-expansion/comment-page-1/

  • 10 is too slow but I don’t think 20 would still be considered “riding slow.” Obviously opinions will differ.

    Just wanted to comment that if they’re seriously enforcing something ridiculous like 10mph and even if you do have a speedometer the constant checking on a downhill would be akin to checking your phone – distracted driving – not safe.

  • Joe R.

    That’s exactly why I picked 20 mph. It’s high enough that people won’t need to be constantly looking at their speedometers. It may not be riding slow, but it’s slow enough for people to be able to still stop quickly or take evasive action. The general idea is to go after the outlier who causes the most problems, which is really the purpose of speed limits in the first place. That would be idiots who’ll insist on going 25, 30, even 35 mph regardless of the conditions, even when doing so isn’t safe.

  • PDiddy

    Is this really a problem of speed limits or more of a bad design problem? For example, the concept of the skinny streets programs is to give visual cues to people on what the proper speed is. If you have to enforce speed limits by a sign, you’ve done something wrong.

  • Joe R.

    If only they applied that same logic to cars, and not just bikes.

  • walks bikes drives

    15 would be a more acceptable number. I agree that 10mph, I need to be riding the brake. Cant even do it granny gearing. But I can keep a more consistent 13-15mph riding slowly. Through the area in question, I am usually doing 13-15mph and can stop very quickly, like for a most darting kids since i am also attempting to predict them. Once I pass Pier I Cafe on the other side, I usually open it up to 25. I try not to go over 25 on the Greenway because I dont think it is safe. The problem is the people who are going through that shared space area at 20-25+ when it is congested. I’ve gone through that area pushing 25mph, but that was on a cold winter night when no one was around.

  • walks bikes drives

    I rode the path shortly after it was originally designated. With the exception of the spot right at the entrance to the rotunda southbound, the grade is easily manageable. I did it on a compact 11-28 without ever dropping into the small chain ring, so maybe the lowest gear I used was 50/24. Right before entering the rotunda, the grade has a quick spike up, similar to the path north to the GWB right before the HHP overpass and the climb up to highway level. I feel like that bled off speed quickly, but then was level on the rotunda and easy to put that speed back on.

  • Joe R.

    15 mph is acceptable if there’s some margin for enforcement to account for radar gun and speedometer error. The idea is to not have the speed limit so low that you need to be constantly checking your speedometer (assuming you have one). That defeats the safety purpose. I can maintain 14 or 15 mph pedaling very lightly, but on slight downgrades my speed will drift past that. If you have a 2 or 3 mph margin for enforcement, then all is well.

    That said, if there are to be any speed limits at all, they should only be in effect during peak times, and only in shared spaces. Most of the Greenway shouldn’t have any legal speed limit.

    Once I pass Pier I Cafe on the other side, I usually open it up to 25. I try not to go over 25 on the Greenway because I dont think it is safe.

    I can’t say one way or another since I’ve never ridden the Greenway. If it’s similar to the Belt Parkway Greenway in terms of width, then probably much over 25 mph is pushing it. I nearly hit 30 mph on some of the descents last time I rode it. That’s about as fast as I feel comfortable riding there. Any faster and I’m likely to be in the dirt on some of the turns.

  • Joe R.

    I have 53-42 in front and 11-12-13-14-15-17-19-21-23-25 in back. 42/25 is actually a lower gear than 50/24, so I guess I could probably manage it. I get up this in 42/25 no problem:

    https://www.google.com/maps/@40.7078317,-73.8027272,3a,75y,326.93h,69.53t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1shX1Y-ibnNrcrtsQBSizUwQ!2e0!7i16384!8i8192

  • Dina

    The detour is so dangerous. I saw northbound bicyclists head into traffic by the 79 St. rotunda because they didn’t realize they were supposed to be sharing the same lane as the southbound people. I also saw a head-on collision on the hill rejoining the original path near 72 St. Most of the people using the path on weekends were unable to handle the steep grade, and were blocking those that could. There needs to be a safer solution.

  • AJ

    I encountered that ambulance yesterday as well. Coming from the north, descending after the rotunda again, I had to put in a bit of effort to steer clear it. I know the ambulance people are saving lives and so, but would it be too much to ask to park their ride not in the middle of the lane? I was especially astonished because there was a patch of gravel right next to it, so there was the opportunity to park it without bothering any of the people (cyclists) that wanted to pass.

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/3c48173f3d6250c2220406ddbbdee5cd0c6c75738f3b1641a83c9e36911768e2.jpg

  • 100% agree. I ride the greenway 2x/day to get to work, on a Citibike. I’m able to ride up that steep incline but it’s an insane thing for a casual rider to encounter out of the blue. I see tons of people walking their bikes up that hill.

    Why not use some paint to properly delineate walking and biking on the main stretch in question? This bypass is so silly when it comes to a critical bike route that commuters use. I’m not riding this because I want to take a circuitous path through a park and up hills.

  • AJ

    So we can conclude from this that while the DOT often seems to lack expertise about how to stimulate biking, the Department of Parks & Recreation is completely clueless.

    How is it possible that a council member, with clearly very limited expertise on this a matter, can decide that it is better to divert the busiest bike path in the country through such a steep hilly section? If the objective is to make NYC (Manhattan in specific) less attractive for biking than she made an excellent decision.

  • AMH

    I’ve been trying to think of design solutions; better design is clearly the answer rather than banning cycling. The existing practice of introducing hazards (the cobblestones, barricades narrowing the path, etc) are counterproductive since they force riders to focus on not crashing rather than on mixing safely with people.

  • Edwin V

    Wow. You’re complaining that your commute got delayed by an ambulance who was there to help fellow cyclists?! Nearly all the complaints on here are too much. If car traffic had a new traffic pattern somewhere that confused them into riding too close to a bike lane you’d all be blaming the drivers.
    It’s new and different yes, but not that bad. You all sound like drivers when their extra lane gets taken and made into a bike lane. It’s an imperfect solution but so was the mixed path it’s replacing.

  • quenchy

    on my rides, i always use the restroom on that hudson river greenway (its around 77th st). i think a lot of cyclists use it as well. so, if you are going southbound, you are more likely to bike using the bypass till you get to the restrooms, and then continue on the pedestrain only route

  • AJ

    You should read better. I’m not complaining that my commute was delayed. I’m complaining the ambulance was parked at a dangerous place, in the middle of the bike path, right after a steep downhill, while there was an excellent alternative next to it.

  • Edwin V

    And you should complain less.

  • AJ

    ???

  • Rich

    Ha! Amazingly, Streetsblog gave the article that headline. I wouldn’t have said accident.

  • Dorrie

    Tried out the detour last weekend while biking south with my 8 year old- one of the hills’ drop offs was so steep that I had to walk my bike, part of the the route is so narrow that it would feel unsafe if there had been more bikers, can’t imagine biking it in the dark. I am going to switch to biking on the mid level with my kid until the new path is leveled or routed back. Overall very disappointed, this is not a working solution, especially in more crowded, dark or wet conditions, and definitely not at all accessible for casual riders. Also, sick of the city administrators pitting bikers against pedestrians, instead of thinking of workable solutions and god forbid taking some space away from cars.

  • SSkate

    They replaced the photo I complained about, with one that is in Riverside Park. But it’s of the section of the bikepath around 100th to 102nd St.

  • Rich

    Simon & Joe –

    I’m sorry you think that a 10 MPH speed limit for a shared path is ridiculous and thank you for informing me that only owners of fancy bicycles have the intelligence and competence to weigh in on matters of public safety. Since you’re concerned, I have a hybrid and I just got a road bike that I just christened on Monday by riding from my apartment on the UWS to Montauk. And both of these bikes do have speedometers. I hope this makes me worthy of weighing in on cycling safety matters in your minds? (Both bikes also have brakes that allow me to ride at safe speeds in all conditions.)

    In fact, though, you are correct that I am not a knowledgeable enough cyclist when I suggested a speed limit for shared paths on the Greenway; I actually had proposed a 15 MPH speed limit. It was Ken Coughlin (who happens to be a bona fide bicycle owner and, more importantly, an absolute hero for cycling advocacy in New York City for the past few decades) who properly corrected me that 15 MPH is too fast to be safe on the shared path that is frequented by young children and senior citizens and that it should be 10 MPH.

    I suggest you stop worrying about how many watts of power it takes to propel your bicycle past 10 MPH and spend some time, as Ken and I have, attending community board meetings, town halls, precinct meetings and talking to community members and leaders who are terrified that speeding cyclists have, and will continue to, endanger our most vulnerable park users. The recent serious injury of a 4-year-old is far from the first caused by a cyclist more worried about maximizing efficiency for the watts of power he could produce than public safety.

    In fact, I hold attitudes and actual riding behavior of people like you going far faster than 10 MPH directly responsible for forcing Parks to banish cyclists from the Greenway to the steep hills of Riverside Park, effectively killing the nation’s most used bike path for seniors, children, and many others who aren’t in good enough shape and/or who don’t have fancy enough bikes to climb the steep hills.

    I have two young daughters and I’m terrified taking them onto the Greenway because some cyclists ride 20+ MPH on the level ground of the Greenway. And currently there is no speed limit so Simon’s suggestion that “It’s perfectly fine to ask and require cyclists to ride at safe speeds in crowded conditions” is currently not legally possible.

    If riding your brake is what it takes to go 10 MPH, that’s what you need to do, especially when there are pedestrians, seniors and children around. Perhaps if you do, those of us working to make the park safe and enjoyable for everyone might be able to undo the great damage that has been done by reckless, irresponsible cyclists who have abused their responsibility to ride safely on what had been the shared Greenway.

    Rich

    These views my own and do not necessarily represent the views of CB7.

  • skateduck

    Excellent article and spot on….Both my wife and I are senior citizens and have both been blind sided by this draconian action by the Manhattan Parks Commissioner…and I would add to the conversation the fact that high speed all terrain park vehicles also are on this alternative path and I had to scream out “slow down” at one of them last week as he was speeding down the steep inclined hill from the rotunda….that hill “takes no prisoners” and how on earth can this narrow path be shared with high speed bikes, and 4 wheel park vehicles!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Elizabeth F

    A 10mph speed limit on the Greenway would be disastrous for one’s ability to commute around Manhattan on bike, while getting to work on time. And it’s also unnecessary: because 99% of the time, there aren’t enough pedestrians to make a difference. I mean nights, weekdays, winter, etc; I know this from experience. At the other end of the spectrum, 10mph is still too fact for the park north of 145 St around Fourth of July. A better approach would be a 5-5-5 rule:

    * Leave at least 5 ft when passing pedestrians. (Hey, we’re asking for a 3ft passing rule with cars; I think 5ft for bikes on pedestrians is generous and appropriate).
    * 5mph if forced to pass pedestrians closer than 5ft
    * 5mph anywhere within 30ft of young children.

  • skateduck

    cheery lane on way to 125th

  • Daphna

    The bypass is very hilly, narrow and unprotected in one part. Unacceptable, unnecessary and Manhattan Community Board 7 should be ashamed.
    The only time that crowding occurs is during weekend daytime hours in nice weather in the summer. This detour does NOT need to be in effect:
    1) fall, winter, spring (anytime)
    2) summer nights
    3) summer weekdays
    4) summer weekends in poor weather
    Why is it always cyclists who must be re-routed or told to dismount when there is perceived pedestrian/cyclist conflict? Cyclists should not be the ones who have their infrastructure diminished or eliminated when there are competing demands for limited space.

  • Rich

    Simon & Joe –

    I’m sorry you think that a 10 MPH speed limit for a shared path is ridiculous and thank you for informing me that only owners of fancy bicycles have the intelligence and competence to weigh in on matters of public safety. Since you’re concerned, I have a hybrid and I just got a road bike that I just christened last Monday by riding from my apartment on the UWS to Montauk Point. And both of these bikes do have speedometers. I hope this makes me worthy of weighing in on cycling safety matters in your minds? (Both bikes also have brakes that allow me to ride at safe speeds in all conditions.)

    In fact, though, you are correct that I am not a knowledgeable enough cyclist when I suggested a speed limit for shared paths on the Greenway; I actually had proposed a 15 MPH speed limit. It was Ken Coughlin (who happens to be a bona fide bicycle owner and, more importantly, an absolute hero for cycling advocacy in New York City for the past few decades) who properly corrected me that 15 MPH is too fast to be safe on the shared path that is frequented by young children and senior citizens and that it should be 10 MPH.

    I suggest you stop worrying about how many watts of power it takes to propel your bicycle past 10 MPH and spend some time, as Ken and I have, attending community board meetings, town halls, precinct meetings and talking to community members and leaders who are terrified that speeding cyclists have, and will continue to, endanger our most vulnerable park users. The recent serious injury of a 4-year-old is far from the first caused by a cyclist more worried about maximizing efficiency for the watts of power he could produce than public safety.

    In fact, I hold attitudes and actual riding behavior of people like you going far faster than 10 MPH directly responsible for forcing Parks to banish cyclists from the Greenway to the steep hills of Riverside Park, effectively killing the nation’s most used bike path for seniors, children, and many others who aren’t in good enough shape and/or who don’t have fancy enough bikes to climb the steep hills.

    I have two young daughters and I’m terrified taking them onto the Greenway because some cyclists ride 20+ MPH on the level ground of the Greenway. And currently there is no speed limit so Simon’s suggestion that “It’s perfectly fine to ask and require cyclists to ride at safe speeds in crowded conditions” is currently not legally possible.

    If riding your brake is what it takes to go 10 MPH, that’s what you need to do, especially when there are pedestrians, seniors and children around. Perhaps if you do, those of us working to make the park safe and enjoyable for everyone might be able to undo the great damage that has been done by reckless, irresponsible cyclists who have abused their responsibility to ride safely on what had been the shared Greenway.

    Rich

    These views my own and do not necessarily represent the views of CB7.

  • AC

    Great op ed. On July 5th, I broke my arm and other bruises when a speed racer clipped my handle bars on the Hudson bike path at w83rd. A bike speed fast from behind and i didn’t see him until I was thrown from my bike. I don’t think it was due to the new bi-pass but maybe. The most important thing is police the new speed limits and requiring “on your left” when passing another bike.

    Andrew

  • Prosperne

    I guess all these people new to NYC and the UWS forget how the path was in the 90s and early 2000s. North of Boat Basin and south of the tennis courts all bicyclists and pedestrians traveled up into the upper decks of Riverside Park. The path had sharp turns and poor visibility and lots of wet leaves. Did we complain then? No. We actually all looked out for one another – cyclists, runners and pedestrians. When they finished the over water portion of the path that flanked the highway, were there complaints that we had to shake the path? No. Did anyone complain before the path south of Chelsea was fixed and cleaned up of the drugs, sex and prostitution as they repaved the path and eventually made parks to Battery Park? No. So everyone needs to chill out. If you can’t share this city with others and be part of the collective community, you don’t deserve to be here and you are clearly not a New Yorker, so enough already and move back to where you were around 9/11.

  • nj,

    it looks like the point was they are diverting a bike path into the hills, and maybe since pedestrians were given the waterfront, it is a bit annoying that cyclists don’t have the shitty, hilly path all to themselves at the very least? doesn’t seem like you understood that at all..

  • nj,

    to be fair, pedestrians always get right of way, correct? also a cyclist is more likely to be passing through whereas a pedestrian is more likely to be local to the area, so they have more ownership in the way they use the park. even as a cyclist who uses the greenway, i’d be pissed if i lived across the street and saw my nice park path become highway only. that being said, the detour sucks and they really just need to redesign the waterfront path to create dedicated lanes

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