Hoping to clear heavy bicycle, pedestrian and e-bike congestion on New York’s busiest greenway, Borough President Mark Levine and local officials are proposing an expanded, protected bike lane on the West Side Highway — converted from a lane of traffic.
In a press conference Tuesday, Levine was joined by City Council Members Erik Bottcher and Christopher Marte as well as Manhattan Community Board 4 Chair Jeffrey LeFrancois and local transportation advocates to put forward a two-phased approach: first, the immediate implementation of a jersey barrier-protected cyclist path converted from one lane of the West Side Highway from W57th Street to Chambers by the State Department of Transportation (DOT), followed-up with a more permanent installation as well as expansion north of W57th Street.
The Hudson River Greenway is one of the busiest bike and pedestrian paths in America, and Levine commented: “It’s a victim of its own success. It is simply too crowded on the greenway.”
“Bicyclists have to weave around people, pedestrians have to steel themselves for two-way bike traffic, and e-bikes are forced into the highway. It doesn’t have to be this way, and we could do much better,” he added. “Taking a lane of traffic on the highway and turning that into a dedicated, protected space for cyclists and e-bike users, including delivery workers, so that they all have a safer space to get around the city must be a key component of the city’s work to reduce congestion, reduce emissions and create safer streets for all New Yorkers.”
A strong supporter of congestion pricing as a means to reduce both traffic and carbon emissions, Levine said additional car-free transportation infrastructure was needed to convince drivers to choose alternative methods of commuting.
“If we can make it easier to commute on a bicycle along this artery, then there will be people who will give up their cars to do it. But we have to improve alternatives beyond using the private automobile,” said Levine. “This is a decision that we can and should make for safety, for viability and for the environment.”
West Side officials were equally enthusiastic about the proposal. “Our office gets a lot of calls from pedestrians who don’t feel safe crossing from one end of the bike lane to another,” said City Council Member Erik Bottcher. “By dedicating a lane — two-way bike lane on the West Side highway we’d be relieving congestion on the bike path and we’d also be accommodating long-distance bikers — if they’re going up to the George Washington Bridge they won’t have to stop every 100 feet,” he added. “This is a common sense solution and I’m very proud to support it.”
“This is about the government catching up to how people move around town, and it’s about time,” said Community Board 4 Chair Jeffrey LeFrancois. “In Hell’s Kitchen and Chelsea where Community Board 4 represents, this would go further to stitch our communities to HRPK — making it a safer connection for residents on the West Side as well. It’s not just about moving from point A to B, but about prioritizing people and making it safer to get from A to B both on your feet and on wheels in New York City,” he added. “It would make us a 21st century city — putting us on par with Paris, London and even Boston to prioritize people and safety in this way.”
Speakers Eric McClue of Streets PAC and Anna Melendez from Transportation Aternatives emphasized the need for safe pathways for recreational cyclists, commuters and delivery workers. Said Melendez, “New Yorkers shouldn’t be competing against each other for the use of our shared public space. Investing in protected bike lanes by repurposing space that was previously designed only for the convenience of people in motor vehicles will encourage more New Yorkers to bike, and to do it safely, while also giving e-bike riders, especially delivery cyclists, a vital West Side connection.”
Council Member Marte emphasized the urgent environmental need for additional infrastructure as well as the current pedestrian safety risks, especially present in Hell’s Kitchen near Pier 88’s cruise ship terminal. “When we see tourists just wandering around the bike path, for every cyclist — and I’m a cyclist myself— it creates a lot of fear,” said Marte. “When we have cruises that stop further north and people don’t understand New York City and they’re coming with their luggage, 15-20 people at a time — this is just an accident waiting to happen.”
Hell’s Kitchen local Marcia Polas has seen the accidents waiting to happen first-hand. “It’s terrifying,” said Polas, who has regularly walked the greenway near the cruise ship terminal and witnessed near pile-ups between cruise-going pedestrians, cars and cyclists. “A couple of times I have grabbed somebody’s sleeve or the back of their shirt or shouted ‘No!'” to prevent someone from being run over, she said, adding that she too was also nearly clipped by a cab speeding out of the cruise ship pickup lane and crossing into the greenway.
Without additional pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure, “If I see a cruise ship as I’m coming down the street, I go to the overpass,” said Polas. “I don’t even bother walking at the street level because I don’t want to be in that intersection. I cross over now from up above, and I look down and pray that I don’t see anything I’m never going to be able to forget.” Of the proposal, Polas said: “I love the idea of more people commuting via the West Side highway and feeling like they can because they don’t have to dodge pedestrians.”
Asked about the impact on local traffic, Levine stated that officials were still assessing which lane will work the best: “We’ll allow the engineers at the DOT to determine the best route,” he said, adding that if the lane was placed “on the Eastern side of the highway, most of what you’re losing is parking, not a travel lane.” He argued that in previous projects, such as the pedestrian-reconfiguring of Times Square traffic patterns made for a more efficient — and safer — intersection.
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Levine also cited the recent success of the protected Brooklyn Bridge bike lane, which has increased ridership significantly between boroughs. “It’s a great example of what’s possible on the West Side. And in fact, we should figure out a way to connect what we’re going to create here on the West Side with the Brooklyn Bridge bike lane — but that’s another press conference — stay tuned for that!” he added.
Asked about the source of funding for the project, Levine said that the West Side Highway is under the jurisdiction of the state. Last spring former Governor Andrew Cuomo approved $5 million in funding to repair the bike and pedestrian path connections between Clinton Cove and Riverside Park. In this case, Levine argued that the immediate cost “can be minimal with paint and jersey barriers. Over long term to make something like that permanent, it’s a multimillion-dollar investment and we don’t want to minimize that, but what we’d like to see first are the immediate steps,” he added.
With the approval of the state legislature, Levine expected that the first phase of the project could be completed “in a matter of months” and that a feasibility study could be implemented as soon as tomorrow. Despite previous similar proposals, he was optimistic about Albany’s support, adding, “we had a different governor then, and we have a new governor now — it’s a new day in Albany, and it’s time to try this again. I have every reason to believe that this will get a welcome reception in the state government. I think anyone who cares about this park and this greenway supports this plan.”