Volume 21, Number 13 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | AUGUST 8 - 14, 2008

Downtown Express photos by Jefferson Siegel

A rare sight: Cyclists obeying the dismount signs, center. More often they pedal through, even through the narrow tunnel near the Goldman Sachs construction site.

Bikers don’t walk a 1/2 mile in pedestrian’s shoes

By Julie Shapiro

It was an unusual sight for the pedestrian walkway along West St.: A man in business clothes and a helmet with sweat pouring down his face ran alongside his bike. He gripped the handlebars as he ran, and every few steps he hopped a foot onto one pedal, coasting for several yards.

Joel, 46, was late for work at the World Financial Center. He could have jumped on his bike and ridden the rest of the way — which would have been easier and faster — but he was obeying the neon orange signs posted at intervals along the walkway: “Cyclists Must Dismount and Walk Bikes.”

“It’s dangerous to fly through here,” he said, catching his breath. “I have kids, and if I were pushing my kids through here on a stroller, I’d be concerned.”

Joel, who did not want to give his last name, was exiting the pedestrian tunnel in front of the Goldman Sachs construction between Murray and Vesey Sts. The dimly lit tunnel is only about 7 feet wide, barely enough space for three people to walk comfortably side by side.

Cyclists are supposed to dismount and walk their bikes from Chambers St. all the way down to Albany St., including the tunnel, a distance of about half a mile, but few obey the rule. On a recent morning, dozens of cyclists — including commuters, delivery people and recreational bikers — ignored the dismount rule and sped past pedestrians. Few of them slowed down. In 45 minutes, Joel was the only one who walked his bike through the tunnel. Pedestrians say the speeding cyclists make the path dangerous, and it’s only a matter of time before someone gets seriously hurt.

Daisy Melendez, 27, said a cyclist came within inches of hitting her baby stroller several days ago.

“They don’t slow down,” she said. “They go so fast…. They shouldn’t permit bikes at all here.”

The State Department of Transportation put the dismount rule into effect last fall because the Route 9A reconstruction narrowed the bike path in some areas and combined it with the pedestrian walkway in others. The high volume of pedestrian traffic and the surrounding construction convinced State D.O.T. to force bikers to dismount, said Adam Levine, an agency spokesperson.

The dismount policy will last until December 2009, Levine said.

The State D.O.T. considered diverting cyclists to a path along North End Ave. or along the Battery Park City esplanade, which would have allowed people to stay on their bikes. But North End Ave. had too much construction, particularly the towers Milstein Properties is building at Sites 23 and 24, Levine said, and the esplanade was too crowded with pedestrians to add commuter bikes to the mix, said Leticia Remauro, spokesperson for the Battery Park City Authority.

“The esplanade was never designed to be a thoroughfare,” Remauro said. “It was always designed to be passive recreation space.”

State D.O.T. has flaggers at intersections along West St. to direct traffic and tell cyclists to dismount, Levine said. But their first priority is to ensure the smooth flow of vehicular traffic, and they will only enforce the dismount rule if they have time, Levine said. Since the flaggers have to stay posted at the intersections, they don’t enforce the rule on the path itself.

State D.O.T. has no plans to add more flaggers, Levine said. State and City D.O.T. are working on a new enforcement solution, said Judy Norinsky, Community Board 1’s community liaison.

But getting cyclists to walk their bikes for a half mile takes more than just telling them to do so.

“I tell them to get off, but they don’t listen,” said a woman who was directing traffic at Murray and West Sts. on a recent morning. “I can’t make them get off. I tell them please, but they don’t want to.”

The flagger, who did not want to give her name, was working for Tishman Construction, the contractor on the Goldman site. Richard Kielar, a Tishman spokesperson, said Tishman staff is not required to enforce the D.O.T.’s rule.

“The flag person was just trying to be helpful,” he said.

One cyclist who decided to stay on her bike was Jenny Lager, in her 40s, who recently pedaled along the pedestrian path on her way to work. When she passes through the Goldman Sachs tunnel, she removes her sunglasses to watch for pedestrians, but walking her bike would make her commute from Chelsea to lower Broadway too long, she said.

“It’s too much of an inconvenience,” she said of dismounting. “You’re in enough control that you’re not going to hit anybody. Everyone is careful.”

Lager said she goes more slowly through the tunnel and calls out to pedestrians so they know to move to the side.

“It’s annoying when they come through,” said Pat Zaccoli, 53, who was walking to work in the World Financial Center. “They should get off…. If two people are walking, it can be a problem.”

It can also be dangerous: Tom Goodkind, a C.B. 1 member, saw a bike hit a woman in the leg last Saturday. He said the woman stopped a group of five cyclists as they zoomed through the Goldman tunnel at over 15 miles per hour, and she told the cyclists they needed to dismount. The cyclists started yelling at the woman, and one of them intentionally ran his bike into her, leaving a mark on her white pants, Goodkind said.

The woman screamed for security, and a guard with Tishman asked if she wanted an ambulance, but the woman limped away, Goodkind said.

Ruth Ohman, another community board member, agreed that the cyclists make the path dangerous.

“I have had close calls,” Ohman said. “It was scary…. The cyclists pay no attention.”

Ohman grew up in southern California, where all cyclists registered for licenses at age 12. She thinks New York needs a licensing system, and she wants to see the police issue tickets to cyclists who break rules.

Dennis Graff, a steamfitter on the Goldman site, thinks pedestrians are overreacting.

“What do you want, a four-lane highway?” he asked as he left the site recently. “People are crybabies.”

Then he hunched over, imitating a little old lady, and called out in a creaking voice to the cyclists on the path: “You’re going too fast, sonny!”

The cyclists ignored him.

Julie@DowntownExpress.com






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