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KOMANOFF: Ride Single File? Hell no! 

It’s only a sign on a road in New Jersey. But it feels like a desecration.

12:01 AM EDT on June 14, 2023

Don’t tell Charles Komanoff how to ride on Henry Hudson Drive. Photo: Charles Komanoff

This essay by Streetsblog contributor Charles Komanoff was first posted at northjersey.com under the anodyne headline, Regulating cycling on Palisades Park's Henry Hudson Drive is unfair. This is why. It's also posted on his personal website here.

Komanoff’s focus is actually both narrower and broader than the Jersey headline. Narrower because his target is just the RIDE SINGLE FILE rule. Broader because he raises the perennial issue of public authorities running roughshod over cyclists’ rights.

The Editors

It’s only a sign on a road in New Jersey. But it feels like a desecration.

In the most perfect place to ride a bicycle, outside the city yet in reach, a place to unclench, exult, immerse, they’ve put up signs that negate it by announcing: RIDE SINGLE FILE.

I’ve bicycled hundreds of times on “River Road” (officially, Henry Hudson Drive), the eight- or nine-mile blacktop ribbon alongside the Hudson north of the George Washington Bridge that alternately rolls, rises and plunges through a domain so wondrous that, I like to say, if it were in Vermont or Virginia it would be in the guidebooks.

It’s the fulcrum of my all-seasons recreational ride from Manhattan to the riverside village of Piermont, in Rockland County. The road begins at Edgewater, a short, steep downhill to the left off the bridge. Immediately you enter a world of towering cliffs, tall trees, and abundant sky and ride next to hillsides that sprout freshets after rainstorms. And always just a glance away is the lordly, bounteous river.

The sign in question. Photo: Charles Komanoff

Once in a while I’ll pull even with someone who hasn’t cycled there before and I’ll mention that the Palisades Park Commission used to prohibit bike-riding except on weekend mornings. I might add that as head of Transportation Alternatives in 1988-89, along with fellow advocates from the Bicycle Touring Club of New Jersey, American Youth Hostels, and the New York Cycle Club, I secured 24/7 cycling and walking access there, permanently.

If we’ve summited on Dyckman Hill Road and I’ve caught my breath, I might point to the spur of road that steepens and corkscrews out of view, and confess that it was I who in 1989 acceded to the last-minute settlement provision that forbids cycling up it to Englewood Cliffs ... and the requirements that riders be at least 14 and wear a helmet. I consented, I’ll say, to help the commission director save face after his board ruled in our favor. I’ll remark that he returned my good will the following year by encouraging the Port Authority to rescind its ban on biking on the GWB’s ramped south path.

“I think the trade-off worked out well,” I’ll say.

And from hundreds of hours I've spent on this peaceable and capacious roadway, I can attest that cyclists don’t have to be told how to share Henry Hudson Drive. When a car looms or approaches, we intuitively melt to the side.

So it was startling when the signs went up, probably in early March, requiring us to ride single file. I emailed the park director (we know each other slightly), heard nothing, wrote again, got a formulaic reply, wrote back proposing we meet on the drive and compare notes, no reply, wrote to the allied Palisades Park Conservancy, waited and wrote a second time, eventually getting a reply that parroted the director: “They’re trying to address growing congestion between cars, bikes, and pedestrians on Henry Hudson Drive.”

Growing congestion? Are there really many more people using the drive than in the past? Numbers, please? Have any park users reported problems or conflicts? What, exactly? What say the Palisades Park police?

And whence the edict demanding cyclists ride single file? Did anyone on Palisades Park’s staff or board confer with cycling groups? Do we who negotiated the 24/7 cycling agreement in 1989, or our successors, not have a stake? Not to mention, does anyone who has a hand in setting park policy ever cycle on Henry Hudson Drive? What do they report?

OK, I get that obsessing over a road sign may seem precious, if not downright privileged. But for thousands of us from miles around, Henry Hudson Drive is, in fact, precious. 

Moreover, while recreational cyclists may cultivate an aura of invincibility, with our fitness and gear, we’re also vulnerable to drivers’ caprice. And maybe about to become more so here, if a driver having a bad day decides to menace non-compliant cyclists, as I remember being menaced by drivers in Manhattan in 1987 while New York City signs banning cycling on Midtown avenues remained in place after a court ruling overturning the ban.

I raised that scenario with the park chief and the conservancy director. Neither addressed it.

I’m headed to River Road soon, perhaps this weekend. I intend to comport myself as I always have: single file on the challenging climbs and the heady downhills, side by side with a riding partner when I’m able. While I don’t expect to be pulled over, you never know. 

I’m bringing a sweater. When park police detained me during the spring 1988 Trans Alt ride that launched our organizing campaign, the police holding pen was way over-air-conditioned.

Charles Komanoff is a frequent Streetsblog contributor and former board chair of Transportation Alternatives. Click here to view his archive.

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