No Big Changes Coming to Dangerous Riverside Park Bike ‘Detour’

The current "shared path" is too narrow, too steep and doesn't really keep pedestrians and cyclists apart — which was the whole point of diverting cyclists from the Hudson River Greenway between 72nd and 83rd streets. Photo: Streetsblog
The current "shared path" is too narrow, too steep and doesn't really keep pedestrians and cyclists apart — which was the whole point of diverting cyclists from the Hudson River Greenway between 72nd and 83rd streets. Photo: Streetsblog

The Parks Department is not taking cyclists’ concerns seriously regarding a hastily built, steep, dark, root-damaged detour from the Hudson River Greenway that was installed in a “rogue” operation by the agency to separate pedestrians from cyclists along the much-used river route — and may have made the problem worse, bike riders are saying.

More than a dozen cyclists testified against the month-old detour at a meeting of Community Board 7 on Monday, but Riverside Park Administrator John Herrold dashed any hopes that the Parks Department will make improvements that could ensure that the “shared path” live up to its purpose — which “began with a concern for safety. Everyone’s safety,” Herrold said.

Herrold cited a lack of funding for additional improvements to the $200,000 route, which the Parks Department built on its own, with limited input from the Department of Transportation, which has considerable experience with bike lanes.

“They totally went rogue,” a city government source who is intimate with the Parks Department process told Streetsblog. “Best bike lane in the city … and they just don’t give a fuck. They are discouraging cycling.”

Safety for both two-wheeled and two-footed users of the path has been a concern ever since mid-June, when the Parks Department barred cyclists from using the Greenway between 72nd and 83rd streets — a stretch of the busiest bike path in North America where cyclists and pedestrians share the space. The Parks Department said it was motivated by a small number of collisions between cyclists and also between cyclists and pedestrians, including a crash between a bike rider and a 4-year-old in April.

“Some park users recommended that this proposed detour route be placed on the Participatory Budgeting ballot conducted by Council Member Helen Rosenthal to fund the necessary work,” said Parks Department spokeswoman Megan Moriarty. “It received enough votes to pass because people wanted to prevent those conflicts in this busy area of the park.” (Update: That money was voted on in the 2015 round of participatory budgeting.)

Signs at both ends of the detour along the water now order cyclists to dismount or ride up a hilly, bumpy and poorly marked inland bypass that is itself shared with pedestrians, many of whom are unaware that they have strayed onto a major bike route. On this path, cyclists must climb an approximately eight-percent grade to the top of the Boat Basin Rotunda at 79th Street and then brace for a fast descent on a narrow path where they may encounter dog walkers, Little Leaguers, Dumpsters and the occasional motor vehicle. (Moriarty did not deny that the Parks Department built the path to its own specifications, saying only, “We discussed the traffic circle with DOT in the context of the Rotunda design.”)

Cyclists don’t want to share the space with pedestrians — and pedestrians don’t like being startled to find there are cyclists on the path. It’s a prescription for disaster, said some bike riders. Cyclists say there have been several crashes since the detour was built.

“We’re waiting for a fatality on that bike path,” said Upper West Side cyclist Arnold Schickler.

Herrold said there would be some minor improvements to the bare-bones design for the new bike route, but no repairs of the root damage that is dangerous at night, and no additional illumination along the heavily wooded area. There will be some yellow signs that say, “Caution: shared path,” Herrold said (the signs do not include the symbol of a bike, making them confusing, cyclists said).

Bike riders seemed most frustrated with Herrold’s lack of concern for their needs. The administrator, who does not have a background in transportation, continually called the detour a “shared route,” angering cyclists who don’t want to endanger pedestrians, but also desire a path of their own — as they have below 72nd Street on the busy Greenway. He differed with several board members and members of the public about the sufficiency of existing lighting.

Parks Committee Co-Chairman and street safety advocate Ken Coughlin — who has since been demoted by CB7 Chairwoman Roberta Semer (for reasons not made public but are being investigated by Streetsblog) — repeatedly challenged Herrold on insufficient signage that is not sufficient to prevent cyclists and pedestrians to mingle.

“Pedestrians are walking in the bike lane and the bike lane is quite narrow,” Coughlin said.

“It isn’t really a bike lane,” Herrold said. “It is a shared path.”

Coughlin declined to back down.

“But there’s a section with a bike icon and bollards,” he said. “Clearly you are intending to separate users.”

“We’re intending to protect pedestrians,” Herrold said.

“Maybe one part of protecting pedestrians is to warn them not to be where the bike icon is,” Coughlin pressed, prompting Herrold to point out that pedestrians will continue to use the path to get to ballfields and a track.

“Yes,” Coughlin added, “but you would [want them to] walk on the side.”

“I will look at it,” a clearly annoyed Herrold said. “But it is a shared path. It’s not a bike lane.”

Members of the public picked up on Coughlin’s frustration [watch the full meeting here].

Lawyer Steve Vaccaro said it is “shocking that the Parks Department [built the detour] in without getting the necessary expertise and without having sufficient funding” to make the new path safe.

Upper Manhattanite Angel Tripp testified that she used to ride through the park to feel safe. But the detour, she said, is “as risky as riding in the road.”

Tripp also urged board members to take a broader perspective than they would about a typical change to a local park.

“This is not just about the Upper West Side,” she said. “There are people from all over the city who use this path. This is the path that connects the Bronx and Upper Manhattan to downtown Manhattan and Brooklyn and vice versa. This is not just about you all. This is about all of us in the city. This is a main artery.”

Upper West Sider Rhonda Shafner also said she doesn’t feel safe on the detour.

“I am now biking to work on Riverside Drive, where there is no bike path and with all the traffic it is not as safe as a bike path,” she said.

Two resolutions were defeated. One, by board member — and Streetsblog op-ed contributor — Richard Robbins called for the detour to be scrapped entirely. That motion was defeated 6-2, with only Coughlin voting with Robbins. Board member Klari Neuwelt asked the Parks Department to consider allowing cyclist to return to the waterfront path during winter, when there are very few pedestrians. That motion also went nowhere. It may be revisited in the fall.

  • MatthewEH

    On days that I don’t feel like dealing with this, (say, southbound) I’ve been staying in upper Riverside Park paths until 79th Street, crossing 79th and continuing in Riverside Park until 72nd Street, west on 72nd, south on Riverside Boulevard, east on 64th-Street-ish, south on Freedom Place South (which newly connects through to 59th), west on 59th, south on the greenway again. Just avoids the mishegos entirely.

    It’s certainly more traffic-free than Riverside itself, and avoids the up-down hill that crests from 90th Street to 86th Street.

    It also looks like new ramps (construction-crew only for now) are being built from Riverside Boulevard down to the greenway alignment under the highway. Maybe some of those ramps will allow bikes when they open for civilians? (The current single ramp that’s open now is pedestrian-only.)

  • This is a disaster of bureaucracy, ignorance and pettiness. The park is lost to cyclists.

  • Rider

    This isn’t just an issue of cyclists v. pedestrians. Can we also talk about how abelist this detour is? It’s a huge hill and requires a lot of people to get off their bikes and walk. That’s not possible for everyone. Shame on the Parks Department for ignoring the needs of seniors and those with disabilities.

  • ItsEasyBeingGreen

    Does the Rotunda Cafe operator’s contract with Parks permit employee parking off this path just south of the Rotunda? It seems like it’s really supposed to be a dumpster pad. This hurts visibility on the path and frequently displaces a dumpster from the dumpster pad onto the path itself.

    I’ve been considering FOILing the contract to find out myself.

  • ItsEasyBeingGreen

    The second ramp is supposed to be for cycling. I doubt it will be a true bike path (as this detour and Battery Park demonstrate, Parks isn’t competent to build a bike path) but it should at least allow cycling without dismounting.

  • Emmily_Litella

    This is disgraceful. You have substituted one set of safety issues with another set, at a cost of inconvenience and at least $200,000. But now some adminsistrator can say “We did something”.

  • Geck

    I have not been up there lately, but the whole point as I understand it was supposed to be to avoid a shared waterfront path with cyclist and pedestrians mixing. So now we have a narrow curvy hilly bumpy path with pedestrians and cyclists mixing rather than a flat wide straight path with cyclists and pedestrians mixing. Would it have been that difficult to create designated cycling and pedestrian lanes on the waterfront path?

  • Daphna

    This detour is not needed. Pedestrians and cyclists can cooperate and co-exist. But IF there is a prevailing attitude that pedestrians must be prioritized at the expense of cyclists, then this detour still only can be justified Saturday-Sunday noon-8pm June-August during non-rainy days. That should be it!! 16 hours a week for three months. NOT 24/7/365. Cyclists should not be penalized the rest of the time when the pedestrian count is so low that there is no possible justification of the need to avoid ped/bike “conflict”.

  • MatthewEH

    There wasn’t a lot of room to work with down there. The exemplar where a design like that works really well is the Shore Greenway between Owl’s Head Park and the Verrazano bridge, but there’s a lot more width available there, and much lower usage numbers.

    To be fair, there are relatively few pedestrians on the inland route; many more on the esplanade. It would be nice if there were some signage somehow stating this path is now *primarily for cyclists*, and that while walking on it is not expressly prohibited, the polite thing to do is cross expeditiously to other paths.

  • Daphna

    On the part of the greenway that goes out over the water in the West 80’s, which is narrower, the lanes are clearly striped for cyclists and pedestrians and it works well despite having less width. Even though there is a lot less space, everyone is organized and pedestrians have more awareness and consideration of the bicycle lanes. If those same lanes were striped in the wider part of the greenway in that section, that would help tremendously. Right now there are no lanes striped in the wider section and pedestrians spread out everywhere in every which way.

  • MatthewEH

    To be fair, I see high pedestrian census here from maybe 10 AM to a little after sundown on weekends, and from 3 PM to sundown day on nice weekdays. And probably more like April-October than June/July/August only. It’s still

    Full disclosure, I ride on the now forbidden path in adverse conditions. (e.g., last night on my commute home, at the tail end of the rainstorms.) In such conditions the detour is manifestly less safe and I do not stand on ceremony.

  • Daphna

    Good point. The detour is really hilly and narrow. Cyclists who are not regular cyclists and not extremely fit, are not able to manage this detour. A path like the greenway, which is off road, attracts families with kids, people who are beginners, and recreational riders who are out of shape – they are a significant portion of the greenway riders and this detour is impossible for many of them.

  • TheCoffeeBandit

    Would definitely agree that this path is not safe. As a non-resident of the area, I still use it to access the ball fields near the boat basin. I also bike to get up there from Lower Manhattan. The new bike path is treacherous, mixes pedestrians with fast bike traffic in an unsafe way, and also puts the large groups coming out of those ball fields at risk. That path is the only way in and out. At the very least, they need to open up an entrance/exit to the water side in order to minimize pedestrian traffic on this “mixing zone”… which again, is functionally just a narrow bike path forcing pedestrians onto the grass.

  • Daphna

    This is double-crazy. Riverside Park Administrator John Herrold says that the new detour is a shared lane, NOT a bike path. So John Herrold has taken the original greenway along the water which was wide and flat but had trouble in his opinion because it was a shared path, and replaced it with a narrow, hilly, partially unprotected shared path. How does this help? If there were perceived ped/bike conflicts on a wide, flat path – how is transferring those ped/bike conflicts to a narrow, hilly path better???

    I would like to see Riverside Park Administrator John Herrold ride this detour on a bike and still pronounce it safe.

    Would it be helpful to email him?

  • Daphna

    Shame on these Manhattan Community Board 7 members other than Coughlin, Robbins and Neuwelt.

  • Edwin V

    Wow, there’s a lot of hysteria on here. It’s not ideal but neither was that whole stretch along the water on the esplanade. Probably could use better signage but after everyone becomes familiar with the detour I don’t see the issue. I barely ever see a pedestrian along there. Occasionally a dog walker.

  • AMH

    I remember multiple people bringing this up at the CB meeting a few years ago. The response was “you can always walk your bike”. Tell that to someone riding a handbike.

    We need leaders who take cycling seriously.

  • AMH

    Interesting, can you highlight this on a google map? I’m not familiar with the upper paths.

  • MatthewEH

    Here’s what I have in mind. (Just as an image, I can’t get the suggested routing-around to work as a clickable link):

  • AMH

    Thanks–I’ll give that a try sometime! I’ve been a lot less interested in riding after a few encounters with that detour.

  • MatthewEH

    My 2 cents is that it’s a reasonable detour during times when the esplanade path has a lot of pedestrians on it. It’s not ideal, but better than the status quo was. I was already using this routing as a bypass in conditions like that.

    The thing that sticks in my craw here is that the detour is 24/7/365, with no discretion accorded to cyclists (at least officially) to stay on the esplanade path if the weather is cold, rainy, or snowy. Or if it’s after dark. Or if I’m a handcycle rider. Or all of the above.

  • Edwin V

    Fair. Icy it will be tricky for sure but so is all of that area. Compromises.

  • JK

    The administrator of Riverside Park should have not have the final say over any section of the Hudson River Greenway. It’s a citywide bicycle arterial route and one of busiest multi-use paths in North America. (This is like having the Park’s administrator for East River Park narrowing the plaza access to the Manhattan Bridge bike path to five feet because they felt like it — makes no sense.) This should be a mayor’s office decision. The detour is far below recommended widths for multi-use paths, has bad sight lines and will be very sketchy during the dark months when it’s always wet and covered with wet leaves. High volume multi-use paths should be 14ft to 16ft wide. The section of the South end of the path near the drinking fountain where it joins the waterfront esplanade is probably six feet and there is a lot of user conflict at that sharp hairpin. This was a good thing to try out, but the evidence is in, and there is no doubt that this is significantly more dangerous for cyclists than the esplanade. If we had a functioning mayor and Parks Commissioner who actually cared about the nuts and bolts of the Parks system this experiment would end before it’s ended by multiple expensive lawsuits.

  • MatthewEH

    From what I understand, the south-end hairpin will be fixed. The plan there is to have the path continue south where it crosses the 73rd Street access stairs, go through a part of what’s now the dog run, and connect directly to the under-highway alignment of the path further south.

  • KeNYC2030

    Where did you hear this? My intel is that there is no money for this, although there IS money for routing the bike path across the north end of the soccer field and terminating at the waterfront path to avoid the current conflicts with Little Leaguers and their families. Of course, the money would be better spent on what you describe but I think the plans I describe are set in stone.

  • KeNYC2030

    Icy (or wet leaves) on an 8 percent grade is a whole lot different from icy on flat.

  • Edwin V

    Thanks for that clarification

  • MatthewEH
  • KeNYC2030

    OK, that’s from the Riverside Park Master Plan, most if not all of which is purely aspirational and unfunded at this point.

  • GimmeGimmeGimme

    @JK and your entitled ilk can eat a bowl of male genitalia. This is was an easy win for cyclists and slow riders, avoiding the most congested section of the path for a leafy green tour with few pedestrians. I’ve ridden this route long before it was on this stupid Streetsblog radar, and it’s the best way to avoid imminent crashes with the throngs of people on the esplanade. Ride where you want to, but don’t endanger this progress for the rest of the cycling community.

  • MatthewEH

    Ah, understood.

  • EagleEye

    I recently was told that the contract is signed for the path across the soccer field and retaining the insane mixing zone between 71st and 72nd. There will be a narrow pedestrian only path behind the ballfields that will become a bicycle demolition derby. Please contact John Herrold and any Parks Dept senior brass to have this plan fixed before more money is wasted and the soccer field spoiled.

  • NYCyclist

    The Participatory Budgeting proposal was a bait-and-switch. It promised: “signage, pavement markings, gates and bollards where required, and repave and regrade sections of the existing park paths.”


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