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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. 

The Borough President’s plan would give over a lane of traffic to bikes on the West Side Highway. Photo: Phil O’Brien

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.”

The plan proposes 4 miles of new protected bike lane along the West Side Highway.

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.” 

A rendering from the Manhattan Borough President’s Office of the proposed bike lane on the West Side Highway.

“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.”

The junction at W46th Street near the Manhattan Cruise Terminal is “an accident waiting to happen”. Photo Marcia Polas.

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.  

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. 

Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine at today’s press conference pitching the idea of a bike line on the West Side Highway. Photo supplied.

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.”

Join the Conversation

18 Comments

  1. I am someone who works in Manhattan and is only a pedestrian. How about protecting the pedestrian? Cyclists totally disregard red lights, don’t yield to pedestrians, ride the wrong way on one-way streets, and when you attempt to call them on it, give you an expletive-laden response. How about regulating how cyclists operate as well? What about licensing them and making them abide by the same traffic rules as everyone else? I am all for reducing congestion and pollution in Manhattan, but cyclists should be made to abide by the same rules as everyone else.

    1. I am a cyclist and, of course, a pedestrian as well. I agree with you… the increase in cycling scofflaws has been extreme since Covid and I sometimes confront them. The real problem is that 2 or 3 police stand around ignoring all traffic safety infractions… cyclists but also CARS RUNNING RED LIGHTS, SPEEDING, FAILING TO YIELD. And they are much more likely to kill or severely injure someone. I had hoped that since the new mayor came from their ranks, they would support him, straighten up and start enforcing laws to make us all safe but I haven’t seen any change at all.

    2. I think the rules can be relaxed for cyclists and then strictly enforced. I think the problem is that many of the rules do not make sense for a cyclist so they just don’t end up being enforced. I honestly don’t mind a cyclist running a red light IF THEY YIELD TO PEDESTRIANS. And swerving around pedestrians is not yielding. So a red light could be treated more like a yield sign. They already do it with respect to yielding to cars so cyclists are clearly just being bullies when they don’t yield to pedestrians.

  2. Another bike lane next to an existing bike lane? How about we instead better protect the east/west bike lanes leading to the existing bike lane that runs along side the river and West Side Highway?

    As for this encouraging commuters to chose their bike instead of their car, that’s just silly, no one is going to ride there bike from somewhere in NJ or even Yonkers to get into the city. This just increases the density of motor vehicles into fewer lanes increasing the already dangerous traffic along the often too deadly West Side Highway / 12th Ave / Henry Hudson and will push more cars and trucks onto our community streets and avenues increasing the dangers there among the already constricted 10th and 9th Aves from outdoor dining.

    How about you just improve the existing bike lanes first? Because this proposal doesn’t seem to eliminate them along the Hudson greenway.

    Sounds like the politicians are just pandering to the hyper vocal bike lobby and not the plural voices of the majority of non bike riders in our neighborhood who need safer streets FROM bike riders who disobey traffic laws, ride the wrong direction and nearly hit pedestrians on our streets and cross walks in the heart of our neighborhood every hour as opposed to improving the fringe borders.

    1. I’ve got to agree with this – expanding an existing bike lane that’s going to be mostly empty half the year when the weather is poor… It seems pretty wasteful

  3. As a regular bike user of the Hudson parkway, I am not sure moving us into a lane of traffic next to all the exhaust and further from the beauty of the river is a great idea. I agree more needs to be done, but I would rather see protected bike lanes vs. pedestrian areas with what we have now. One of the main reasons I bike from Javitz up to the GW and back is because I can do it with few stops. Putting us in a lane on the west side highway is undoubtedly going to introduce a lot more stops at intersections and that is definitely a setback.

  4. Your article omits mention of an important issue: cyclist accountability. To date, there is no such thing. And it shows.

    Your photo at the top of the article is very interesting. It shows the West Side Highway with every lane of traffic completely taken. And yet you suggest removing one of those lanes?
    It also shows a sign on the Greenway: “No motor vehicles, e-bikes, e-scooters” – this is a joke, and a very bad one. I’d also like to point out that their are traffic lights on the bike lane, intended for cyclists. Another very bad joke.

    New York used to be known as a walking city. No more. Pedestrians are terrified – of cyclists.

    If cyclists have no accountability for their actions, it will not matter how many “state-of-the-art” bike lanes you create. If that beautiful bike lane goes east/west, but cyclists want to go west/east, they’ll either go the wrong way on the bike lane or ride on the sidewalk. Because they can. Because no one is telling them not to. Because cyclists care about nothing but their own convenience, and, as your article shows, that attitude is fully supported.

    Please tell me what the plans are to enforce cyclist accountability for their actions on the road. I think that would make a very informative and timely article, and certainly be a good counterpoint to the article above. Thank you.

  5. It is funny to me that the press conference for this announcement produced quotes from “West Side officials” who are all politicians, speaking as if they were some kind of subject expert, not a single traffic or transportation professional is quoted. The politicians ‘pie-in-the-sky’ comments belie their complete idiocy about this subject. Shocking that there is no acknowledgement of the fact that just as cyclists are banned from using the adjacent promenade next to the water in Hudson River Park, so too are pedestrians supposed to be banned from running or walking on the BIKEWAY. Why doesn’t the City and/or State DOT post P/T peak-period bikeway Ambassadors (aka marshals) at each of the pedestrian crossing/bikeway access points to tell pedestrians not to turn onto and start walking along the bikeway as they cross the road from the east side of the avenue (like the road marshals that the Century Road Club Association are required to furnish in order to run bicycle races in Central Park) ?  This would be a great NYC Summer Job like the beach and public pool lifeguards. Engineering and Design can only go so far to correct for idiotic and/or selfish behavior.

  6. I think this is a great idea. It’ll give more room for pedestrians (there are certain stretches along the greenway where the pedestrian path is very narrow), and a separated bikeway ensures that conditions will be safer for cyclists and pedestrians as well (less mixing).

    To the commenter above worried about removing a lane: maybe look up induced demand.

  7. Many pedestrians don’t pay attention to bikes when crossing the street. They walk into oncoming bike lanes while on their phones when they don’t have the right of way all the time.

    1. They need to paint the bike lanes and make them stand out more, and more signage for pedestrians who can be easily distracted by a multitude of things. Additionally, raising these crosswalk areas on the Greenway would help. We have far too many visitors who just don’t know as they rush across the highway and onto another active roadway.

  8. Ugh, the idea of years of construction up and down the west side, tearing up and redoing all the plantings and structures… The rendering with all the flower pots is pretty hilarious – they would offer little protection from rogue vehicles and would require someone to tend and water each pot. Heck, I’d be happy if we could get Target to actually tend to the tree pits currently in front of their store.

    Also, I agree with the comment about the cross streets needing to be prioritized. I live only a couple of blocks from the west side bike path but I rarely will ride my bike because all of the surrounding streets are so treacherous and scary to ride on.

  9. Erik Bottcher says “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.” Does that mean they won’t have to stop for traffic lights? Pedestrians beware!

  10. A major problem with the existing bikeway/bike path is that it already is too narrow to accommodate the volume of riders who use it.

    So, simply shifting the bikeway/bike path to the also congested West Side Highway/12th Ave does NOT solve the problem; it merely shifts it, while compounding the the vehicular traffic that will only further increase as Hudson Yards (which is far from complete) is built out in the coming years.

    Instead, why not widen the existing bikeway/bike path, while stepping up enforcement of existing laws/regulations for all stakeholders riders, joggers, pedestrians, etc., including personnel to direct pedestrians & joggers to use the correct paths?

  11. Pedestrian safety seems to not be s consideration. Try crossing from 12th ave to Pier 84 – and not all cyclists stop or can stop if going fast. Honestly, protect the walkers not the traffic

  12. Let’s go one better. Close the highway to ALL motorized vehicles. Only bikes and horses permitted. Think of the many jobs for new bike stores and stables. This is another anti-senior citizen idea. How many seniors ride bikes- is it 1% or maybe 2%? We could also consider making ownership of a private vehicle a misdemeanor, and if that works, a felony.

    The bike lobby so outweighs it’s numbers that one has to wonder who is getting major campaign contributions from it.

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