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

The Parks Department is protecting pedestrians by sending cyclists up and down a steep, confusing path — and watch out for that Dumpster!

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
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. 

  • Joe R.

    Since it’s easier for pedestrians to climb a steep hill, and there’s no issue of them not being able to control their speed on the way down, why wasn’t this bypass used for pedestrians instead of cyclists? Also, the hazards mentioned wouldn’t even be an issue at walking speed.

  • Edwin V

    Really?! I can’t tell if you’re being serious here.

  • What’s not to get? It is easier to walk up an incline than to ride a bike up an incline. And people coming down a steep hill on foot do not accellerate to 25 miles per hour, as someone coasting down on a bike would.

  • Edwin V

    You want to move pedestrians off the esplanade to accommodate cyclists? I commute by bike and ride close to 10k miles a year. I use the west side path all the time as I live one block from it. But I would protest if someone tried to have we walk away from the water’s edge just so I could accommodate some bikes who can’t properly slow down at an intersection with pedestrians. Imagine if this was cars mixing with bikes, there’d be a riot on here if someone said it was too hard for a car to slow down so instead let’s move the cyclists away. SMH to some of the entitlement on here.

  • I was not defending excessive speed; I was just pointing out that the meaning of the comment to which you responded is clear. I fully agree that avoiding excessive speed is a bicyclist’s responsibility, even on a downhill.

    The main point is the climb up the hill. That climb should not be imposed on cyclists. The difference between the relative ease of walking up a hill and the extreme difficulty of riding up a hill is enough justification to send pedestrians rather than cyclists onto the detour.

    P.S. – Ten thousand miles a year?! Damn! I hit 6000 miles in a year three times, the last time in 2017, with a high of 6800 in 2015. But I didn’t come close to those totals last year, nor will I do so this year. After seven years of commuting every day, my will to deal with the 20-degree mornings began to ebb. But here in the beautiful summer, my desire to ride is at its maximum, as is the joy of the experience. Even still, I haven’t been commuting by bike every day; so my yearly total will be paltry. I just use all my vacation days for the nicest days (some of which we have been having every week lately) and take the most pleasurable of pleasure rides.

  • Edwin V

    To be fair I’m including a bunch of indoor training miles in the winter so probably less than 10k on the actual road. 😉

  • Joe R.

    Also, from the video it’s pretty obvious that between the narrowness of that path, the steep grades, and the sharp turns that it was designed as a walking path. Converting it to a bike path without widening and reducing the grades is a disaster in the making.

    The gradients are an even bigger issue because it’s not one single climb and then you’re done. It’s undulating, up and down, a few times. This is the most tiring kind of gradient profile to ride. It’s made even worse by the fact it’s too dangerous in most places to pick up speed on the downgrade to help you climb the next hill. That means you have to slog up every hill.

  • Joe R.

    It has nothing to do with entitlement. If the diversion was to a parallel path which was more or less flat it wouldn’t be an issue. Instead, this is basically a walking path, and was designed as such. It’s not suitable for bikes without major regrading and widening. The first part of the diversion is OK. It’s a light climb, then you’re on a parallel road a few feet higher than than the esplanade. Why couldn’t that path just be continued like that for the ten blocks or so in question? Looking at at satellite photo it seems possible. There’s nothing but trees where the proposed path would be. There are no permanent structures which would need to be removed.

  • @disqus_2NA3R9NJcr:disqus Uh, well this is exactly what the pedestrians did to the cyclists, so thanks for proving our point that a different solution for the waterfront space is needed

  • Ahh, so that’s the winter secret: indoor!

    The problem there is the discipline to get out to the gym. Hard to f-ing do!

  • Joe R.

    I have one of these but I hardly use it:

    https://www.allexercisebikes.net/schwinn-240-recumbent-exercise-bike.html

    For one thing unless it’s the dead of winter I get soaked using it since there’s no cooling breeze. Even with a fan I have that issue except in the winter, when the basement is about 55°F.

    For another riding a stationary bike is boring as f*ck compared to riding on the streets.

  • Elizabeth F

    I think they should make the bypass be for peak-time daylight hours only. The main path is well lit at night, which I can’t say for the bypass. Plus, having bikes and peds together at night adds safety in numbers.

  • Elizabeth F

    The two-way bike lane on top of the circle is too narrow. As you can see, ALL northbound cyclists thought so and bike to the right of the flexible bollards. This could unfortunately become a favorite ticket trap for anti-bike UWS cops.

    Previously, there was no problem with sharing bikes + park vehicles on those two ramps, as long as park vehicles go really slowly on their way up/down. Clearly, illegal dropoffs need to be stopped. That can be achieved by placing bollards, preventing vehicles from leaving the circle area. (Would probably need to be removable or gated for park vehicles entering/leaving the park road).

  • Andrew

    Because cyclists are using this area as a highway, while pedestrians are using it as a park. People who walk down to the Riverside Park waterfront do so to reach the waterfront.

  • John

    Can I point out the irony that a few miles south on the greenway there are concrete barriers (creating dangerous pinch points) everywhere, supposedly to protect us from the incursion of cars. Yet here some flimsy plastic sticks are supposed to protect us from the incursion of cars from the traffic circle? Is there any sort of design standard applied?

  • Joe R.

    That’s still not the point. The point is the bypass is unsuitable for cycling. It’s basically a converted walking path. The first part of the diversion is OK. It’s a light climb, then you’re on a parallel road a few feet higher than than the esplanade. Why couldn’t that path just be continued like that for the ten blocks or so in question? Looking at a satellite photo it seems possible. There’s nothing but trees where the proposed path would be. There are no permanent structures which would need to be removed.

    Also, how much of the day is the crowding really an issue? My guess is the problems are mostly in the summers, perhaps from the mid afternoons through the evening. If you don’t want to construct a suitable bypass as I mentioned, then limit the bypass to these periods only.

  • Elizabeth F

    > Is there any sort of design standard applied?

    Short answer, no. The bollards were installed on the Greenway because a homocidall maniac really did kill some bikers with his car. So DOT decided to install bollards. HOWEVER… DOT’s jurisdiction ends at 59th St, north of which it’s Parks Dept territory. And I guess Parks Dept doesn’t care if homocidal maniacs kill cyclists on THEIR watch.

    > Yet here some flimsy plastic sticks are supposed to protect us from the incursion of cars from the traffic circle?

    The purpose of the flimsy plastic sticks seems to be to keep bikes out of the way of the occasional Parks Dept truck using the ramps down to the garage underneath. They haven’t thought at all about how to keep cars from illegally using the area.

  • Elizabeth F

    No one should be going 25mph on those paths.

  • I agree with that.

  • KeNYC2030

    The collision with the four-year-old had nothing to do with the mandating of this new path. The plan all along was to require cyclists to use it once it was completed, and it wasn’t completed until mid-June, which just happened to be soon after the child was struck.

    Also, it’s disappointing to see Streetsblog joining in the mainstream media’s implicit bike-blaming — “speeding cyclist.” While cyclists should ride at a speed that allows them to react to prevailing conditions such as children on a path, we don’t know the circumstances of this particular incident.

  • MatthewEH

    The lower levels of the Boat Basin rotunda structure (where the Boat Basin Cafe level is) are squarely in the way. That’s the trouble.

  • Andrew

    I was responding to your suggestion that pedestrians be banned from the waterfront path, as if pedestrians, like cyclists (and motorists), were generally using Riverside Park as a north-south thoroughfare.

    That’s not why pedestrians are on the waterfront path. Pedestrians use the waterfront path to be on the waterfront. If they’re traveling north-south, they’ll generally find the avenues a lot more convenient than descending all the way to the water and then climbing back up again.

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