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Eyes on the Street: Fresh Hazards for Riverside Park Bike Bypass

12:01 AM EDT on July 15, 2019

A cyclist going downhill on the Hudson Greenway bike bypass confronts a driver on a Parks Department-only path at 79th Street. The offending dumpster, which apparently had already been moved out of the path, is on the right. Photo: Ken Coughlin

Law-breaking drivers and a badly placed trash Dumpster have been presenting fresh hazards to users of a much-criticized bike “bypass” above the Hudson River Greenway in Riverside Park, and the Dumpster may have resulted in injury-causing crashes.

The dangerous situation has gained the attention of local Community Board 7, whose Transportation and Parks & Environment Committee will jointly take up the matter on Monday.

The bypass, which runs through the park from 72nd to 83rd Streets, has drawn complaints from cyclists and many on Twitter for its steep grades and intermingling of cyclists and pedestrians — and the occasional Parks Department vehicle. Cyclists say that the grade makes it difficult to control their speed while riding downhill, potentially endangering pedestrians, and that the path's uphill incline defeats all but the most experienced riders. They also say that they are confused by the directional markers that the city has painted on the pavement.

“It’s not at all clear where we should go," said cyclist Lesley McDavern, adding that the bypass is “poorly conceived” and “poorly marked."

"I see the arrows, the chevrons pointing in that direction, [but] I see nothing pointing in this direction and it makes me think that this is the bike lane, but it might be a road, and I don’t really know. There’s a lack of information about exactly where the bike path is.”

The saga begins in 2015, when the city decided to try to separate cyclists and pedestrians on the waterfront greenway — the nation's busiest bike path — as much as possible near the 79th Street Boat Basin, a local attraction. It built the bypass — a detour for 10 blocks around the boat basin, to the greenway's east through hilly park terrain — but did not require that cyclists use it exclusively. The city began mandating that cyclists use the bypass earlier this year, after a speeding cyclist injured a 4-year-old child near the Boat Basin in April.

The bypass route puts cyclists close to  the 79th Street Traffic Circle and the building atop which the traffic circle sits, the Riverside Park Rotunda. Inside the rotunda is a popular restaurant, the Boat Basin Cafe. Veering southbound off the traffic circle at its western edge — and forming part of the bypass — is a paved path that is supposed to be restricted only to Parks Department vehicles and residents of the boat basin. The restaurant's Dumpster also sits along the path.

For some time, ride-share and taxi drivers sometimes have exited illegally from the traffic circle onto Parks Department path in order to drop off patrons at the cafe. Now that the city is forcing cyclists to use the same path, however, there is a danger that a cyclist riding on the steep path will collide with a law-breaking driver.

“Last weekend I was there and saw a ride-share car go down the slope [of the bike path detour] to illegally drop off a passenger at the Boat Basin Cafe,” said CB7 Parks & Environment Committee Co-Chairman Ken Coughlin. “As the car turned around and started to head back up the hill, I realized that a cyclist coming down the slope wouldn't have time to stop and would crash into the car. I ran ahead and directed traffic for the driver.”

Coughlin noted that a cyclist coming down the incline onto the path from the traffic circle could crash into a Parks vehicles, too. Jeff Novich recently posted a video of his ride on the bypass. The steep grade is obvious in two places (even the veteran cyclist Novich slows down considerably), and there are potential conflicts with pedestrians, vehicles and, yes, that Dumpster throughout.

The Department of Parks & Recreation told Streetsblog last week that it has since moved the Dumpster — Novich's video was shot on July 12, so who are you going to believe — the Parks Department or your own lying eyes? — and would continue to monitor the location of the receptacle so that it cannot again become a hazard. But the Dumpster may have contributed to several crashes before it was moved on July 3, given that it returned in Novich's video.

Coughlin said that he had heard of at least two crashes near the Dumpster; one required a trip to the hospital, while the other was a head-on collision between two cyclists. Other tipsters have described near misses.

The Parks Department declined to comment on the vehicles seen illegally using the bypass.

Instead, the agency defended the arrangement, saying that the feedback about the bypass from pedestrians and many cyclists has been overwhelmingly positive. The department said it is still making improvements — such as removing shrubbery and installing more signage so cyclists can see where they're going — and denied that the bypass is any steeper than other slopes in Riverside Park.

"We always welcome constructive input from the public," said spokeswoman Megan Moriarty. "We will continue to monitor the pedestrian and cyclist experience in Riverside Park."

A cyclist approaches the slope on part of the bypass bike path in Riverside Park.
A cyclist approaches the slope on part of the bypass bike path in Riverside Park. Photo: Vivian Lipson

Cyclists and strollers in Riverside Park last week did not offer many positive comments about the bypass. 

“The signs make it look like it’s bike-only and when you see pedestrians you think they’re in the wrong place,” said McDavern, the cyclist. “So I don’t know what to look out for here. There are too few clues as to what I need to be careful about.”

A cyclist who gave his name only as Luke said he's seen cars on the path.

“You know the cars do still come up this way," he said. "Somebody came this way and the car almost hit him. This is going to cause a lot of deaths, especially at night.”

Park user Richard Hiller added that he would “like it to return to the way it was” before the bypass was put in earlier this year. 

“I understand that there is some concern about there being too many bikes around the 79th Street Boat Basin,” Hiller said, “but I don't believe that it's been an issue. … On balance I think [the bypass is] a mistake that should be reversed.”

CB 7’s Parks & Environment Committee will meet on Monday at the Community Board office, 250 West 87th St., at 7 p.m. 

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