Eyes on the Street: The New Mario Cuomo Bridge Bike Path Opens

A great ride (mostly). Photo: Daniel Convissor
A great ride (mostly). Photo: Daniel Convissor

It’s a beautiful ride — but an unnecessarily tight squeeze.

The bike path on the Gov. Mario M. Cuomo/Tappan Zee Bridge opened to pedestrians and cyclists for the first time on Monday. This comes almost two years after the space became available by moving eastbound traffic to the southern span. The up-river views from the northern span are gorgeous enough to allow me to momentarily overlook the flaws in this long-overdue project.

First, the good news: It’s breathtaking to be out there, mid-span between Tarrytown and Nyack, over the Hudson. The combined bike-pedestrian path offers six overlooks that allow for more leisurely appreciation of the view. They each have seating and a bit of shade. The scenery is inspiring — the entire sky before you, painting a river that is held in place by a ring of modest, but majestic mountains.

Turns out I didn’t need to worry that long hill from the Rockland shoreline to the crest of the bridge would be a challenge for my kids. I gave my youngest a preemptive pep talk, saying we should take our time and take breaks. When we were a good way up the hill, one of my children asked, “When does the hill start?”

Also a positive: We had seen renderings showing that cyclists would be required to stop at each overlook — something my group, Bike Tarrytown, had opposed. But for whatever reason, no stop markings were on the bridge at its opening. And clearly, signs aren’t needed. Cyclists were respectful at these locations without being required to stop.

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Many of the downsides of the bridge path are features of the design that Bike Tarrytown had long highlighted:

Riders will definitely feel cramped and unsafe as the number of cyclists and pedestrians increases. As I predicted during a Journal News interview in April, 2019, this conflict inadvertently flows from sub-par engineering decisions.

A normal 12-foot-wide trail would feel a little awkward given the volumes of people at hand, but the bridge’s path is feels tighter because it has walls on both sides, so there’s no leeway. People walking and cycling naturally leave about 18 inches of “shy distance” so they don’t rub up against, or crash into, such barriers. So the 12-foot bridge path really has only nine feet of comfortably usable space. And then that space is reduced by folks wanting to have shy distance between people walking and cycling.

Good active transportation facilities don’t pit cyclists and pedestrians against each other, but have one path for people on foot and another for people on wheels. (For more details on the safety and social justice issues, see Bike Tarrytown’s web page on the bridge.)

And good active transportation facilities don’t shut down — as the bridge bike path does every night at 10 p.m. It doesn’t reopen until 6 a.m. Imagine if the bridge was closed to cars for those eight hours.

The path’s policies also create conditions for unnecessary law enforcement interactions. In addition to the possible painting of “stop” indicators, cyclists are asked to dismount at the Nyack end. There are also signs warning of a 15 MPH speed limit and a requirement to “use bike helmets.” The speed restriction may be hard to adhere to going down the bridge’s long slopes and not all riders have speedometers. Helmet laws have proven to be invitations for cops to selectively enforce the rules.

Disabled people are in for challenges. The dismount signs discriminate against people who find cycling easy but walking hard (or impossible).

And just as with Gov. Cuomo’s bollards on the busy Hudson River Greenway, the bollards at the various entrances don’t leave the five feet of clearance necessary for some inclusive cycles and work bikes to get by.

After a long ride — the bridge is more than three miles long! — my kids and I took a break at the Rockland Welcome Center and got a big, cold drink. There are some tables, though no shade at all.

Oh, and there’s no bike parking at this end of the bridge — though it, and the much-needed shade, may be resolved as contractors get to items they couldn’t finish before opening day, which was dictated by it being bridge’s namesake’s birthday.

If you go:

  • Entrances
    • South Nyack
      • if biking, use the intersection of Clinton Avenue and South Franklin Street.
      • if driving, use the parking lot at the Welcome Center on Route 9W North. It’s on an island in the middle of Thruway Interchange 10. (map)
      • There’s also a staircase from South Broadway by the corner of Mansfield Ave.
    • Tarrytown
      • 333 South Broadway
  • In Tarrytown, the bridge connects to Route 9. People who want to ride north need to negotiate crossing five lanes of traffic, where people frequently drive 40 MPH. The Thruway Authority considered putting a safe crosswalk there, but the state DOT didn’t want to inconvenience people driving.
  • There are several dangerous storm drain grates in the area as well. Bike Tarrytown requested a fix, but state DOT flat out refuses. “We don’t think it’s unsafe,” said Lisa Weiss, the assistant to the Region 8 director.

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