Volume 21, Number 17 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | Sept. 5 - 11, 2008

Downtown Express file photo by Jefferson Siegel

Friends of City Hall Park say almost one third of bikers pedal the wrong way on the new City Hall Park bike path, which they oppose because it is narrow and shared by pedestrians. These cyclists, however, dismounted and walked their bikes as they are supposed to do when they are going west.

Park group says many bikers go the wrong way

By Julie Shapiro

For every two cyclists who travel the right way through City Hall Park, roughly one cyclist goes the wrong way.

That’s what the Friends of City Hall Park discovered during a survey they conducted of the new bike path the city Department of Transportation installed in the park six weeks ago.

The bike path is designed to funnel cyclists from the Hudson River Greenway east toward the Brooklyn Bridge along Warren St. and then through northern City Hall Park. The D.O.T.’s decision to allow cyclists to ride through the park, at least in one direction, met with strident opposition from the Friends of City Hall Park, who say the bikes are disruptive.

After hearing the Friends’ objections, the city decided to keep the bike path in place for a 30-day trial period and then decide if changes were necessary. The 30 days were up in mid-August, but the D.O.T. is still tabulating its data and hasn’t made any decisions yet, a spokesperson said.

In the meantime, the Friends have been informally observing the park and posting results on infotrue.com/bike2, a Web site run by one of the group’s members, Rick Landman. After nearly 20 hours of observation, they logged 160 riders heading the right way, eastward toward the Brooklyn Bridge, and 70 riders heading the wrong way, westward toward the Hudson River. Cyclists heading west are supposed to dismount and walk their bikes if they travel through the park.

The Friends reported a handful of near-miss accidents, and one observer got hit by a bike’s handlebar. The observers rarely saw the Parks Enforcement Patrol officers who are supposed to enforce the rules on the new path.

Skip Blumberg, founder of the Friends, thinks the cyclists destroy the park’s peacefulness, and he said only time will tell if they make the park dangerous as well.

“I don’t know why we have to use a body count to determine that it’s harmful,” Blumberg said of the path.

City Councilmember Alan Gerson also weighed in against the path through the park.

“I’m all for bike paths,” Gerson told Downtown Express. “I myself ride a bicycle. But there’s a place for everything, and [City Hall Park] is just stupid…. It’s a narrow path. It’s an accident waiting to happen.”

Gerson thinks all cyclists should have to dismount and walk their bikes through City Hall Park.

Gerson also wants legislation that would force the D.O.T. to bring all traffic and parking changes, including new bike paths, before the community board.

In this case, though, the D.O.T. presented the plans for the bike path to Community Board 1 in June, but one week after the board overwhelmingly disapproved the path, the D.O.T. installed signs for it anyway.

The city conceived the bike path as an alternative to Chambers St., which is dangerous because of bus traffic and loading zones, but Blumberg questions whether the new path is even helping cyclists. Based on his observations, the vast majority of cyclists are still using Chambers St.

The volume of cyclists that the Friends of City Hall Park observed was far less than what the D.O.T. predicted. For example, the D.O.T. expected that 95 cyclists would use the path during the peak weekday evening rush hour, but the Friends saw only 29 cyclists in roughly the same time window one afternoon.

If the new path has done little to divert cyclists from Chambers St., Blumberg questions why the D.O.T. would keep it in use.

However, Wiley Norvell, spokesperson for Transportation Alternatives, a cycling advocacy group, said the bike path is giving cyclists a safe alternative where none existed before.

“The people who are making use of it really do need it,” he said.

Like Blumberg, Norvell observed the bike path and said many cyclists are sticking to Chambers St. — especially veteran commuters and commercial bikers. But the City Hall Park path is good for those who want the extra protection of a car-free zone and don’t mind that they have to go slower to avoid the pedestrians.

“I don’t think it’s a failing that the volumes are relatively low,” Norvell said.

The Friends of City Hall Park want the city to create a bike path on Chambers St. instead of the one in the park. The path would run along Warren St. to Broadway, turn up Broadway against traffic for a short block, and then it would follow Chambers St. to Centre St., connecting with the Brooklyn Bridge.

Norvell thinks the Chambers-Warren hybrid is “an unconventional answer” that would be hard for cyclists to use.

“You don’t want a bike route that meanders,” he said, since 80 percent of bike crashes involve turning.

The best option, Norvell said, would be a protected bike lane along Chambers St. from the Hudson to the Brooklyn Bridge, but he recognized that that would be a large undertaking for the city, since it would involve a curb-to-curb redesign of a major street. The D.O.T. would also have to remove their placard cars from Chambers St., the Friends of City Hall Park said.

Norvell said he would continue monitoring the path, but added, “We don’t foresee the same catastrophe unfolding in City Hall Park that we had heard predicted.”

Julie@DowntownExpress.com




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