Upper Manhattan Finally Talks Out Bike Projects at CB 12 Forum

Despite a committed group of local advocates, official consideration of new bicycle infrastructure in Upper Manhattan has been on hold for years. A public forum held by Manhattan Community Board 12 last week could finally lead to some forward movement on street safety and bicycle issues for the neighborhood.

After a number of delays, CB 12 convened the special forum last Thursday night, with community members, advocates and city officials all participating. Now that the groups have met and discussed topics of interest, the normal public process between the community board and the Department of Transportation for developing new bike infrastructure and street safety projects may move ahead.

With the Hudson River Greenway serving as the central artery for bike traffic in the area, greenway issues were of top concern at the forum. Participants discussed the so-called lighthouse link, which would extend the greenway at water level past the George Washington Bridge, allowing pedestrians and cyclists to avoid the steep hill they must currently climb. They also brought up the entrance to the greenway at 181st Street, which lets off at a one-way highway on-ramp and forces cyclists exiting the greenway to walk their bikes along the sidewalk. The street used to be bi-directional, but one lane was eliminated and replaced with curb parking when the highway entrance re-opened last year.

Local advocates also raised the prospect of building the Dyckman greenway connector, a proposed separated bike lane that would connect the greenways along the Hudson and Harlem Rivers. The connector has so far been left out of DOT’s plans for Inwood but could get a big boost from CB 12 support.

Jonathan Rabinowitz, a member of the local advocacy group Bike Upper Manhattan, was at the meeting and filed the following report.

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[The] bike lane forum held by Manhattan Community Board 12 was well attended by bicyclists and complete streets advocates. We heard from Hayes Lord of DOT’s Bicycle Program, John Mattera, the Parks Greenway planner, Aja Hazelhoff of Transportation Alternatives, Rich Conroy of Bike New York, Christine Berthet from the Transportation Committee of Manhattan CB 4 (Hell’s Kitchen), Tila Duhaime of the Upper West Side Streets Renaissance, and Brad Conover of Bike Upper Manhattan (my group).

Two of the board’s traffic & transportation committee members were absent, but three board members who spoke up, Gloria Vanterpool, Yosef Kalinsky, and Mitchell Glenn, were very positive about the forum. Gloria, who is the chairwoman of the Committee on the Concerns of the Aging, said that she had never learned to ride a bike but that she was impressed with the complete streets arguments and would support more bike lanes in Washington Heights and Inwood. Another T&T committee member, Edith Prentiss, an advocate for wheelchair users, pointed out that for changes in the streetscape to be successful, the changes would require local disabled residents to be retrained in the new traffic patterns.

The question of adding a bicycle facility to Riverside Drive between West 181st St and the Henry Hudson Parkway onramp was answered by the city thus: “We’re hoping to have some design resolution in the very near future.” Tila was the most eloquent of the several speakers who commented negatively on the current design, saying that she wondered why those eight people parking on Riverside Drive were so important that their spaces could block the installation of safe bicycle facilities for the thousands of cyclists who use the Hudson River Greenway.

John Mattera from Parks spoke about building a ramp from the current Greenway’s northern terminus at Riverside Drive just south of Dyckman Street down to Dyckman Street. That project, which covers a 60 foot drop in altitude, would need two hairpin turns for a safe ramp and cost $4 million to complete.

John also spoke about the new “Lighthouse Link Greenway,” which would initially extend south in Fort Washington Park from the Dyckman Marina for about a mile, not all the way to the Little Red Lighthouse at the foot of the George Washington Bridge. To connect this path to the Greenway at the lighthouse would cost about $15-16 million, the same cost as the new path between 84th and 91st Streets. This new path would have lights and stone benches as well as lookout points for river vistas.

The highlight of the evening, in my opinion, was Christine’s statement that “the bike lane that is the most friendly to your grandmother, to your children, is the protected bike lane.”

T&T Committee Chair Yosef Kalinsky said that there was a strong sentiment to making the streets safer, to connecting communities, and that this could be put into a resolution for the full board in September, at the next meeting of his committee.

One useful tidbit I learned from DOT: Sharrows require 27 foot wide streets; dedicated lanes require 30 foot wide streets, and “On-Street Bicycle Paths,” the current terminology for Grand-Street–type bike lanes, require 34 foot minimum width. Hayes didn’t use the “Class I, II, or III” terminology, which I had thought was confusing.