Tuesday, November 19, 2013

GWB Cable Restoration Could Disrupt Cyclists For Decade

Story by Max Almenas Photos courtesy of John Ford & NJBWC

In 2015, hundreds of thousands of cyclists and pedestrians traversing the George Washington Bridge (GWB) could experience dramatic changes if the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PANYNJ) moves forward with their cable replacement project. The 1.2 billion dollar effort, which is expected to last 8 years, will replace all 592 suspender ropes and clean all four main cables on the GWB.

The cables are 10 years overdue for replacement. But in order to replace the cables, paths to bicycle, walk, or run across the bridge will be closed or rerouted. The PANYNJ will close off the north path while the south path is repaired, and vice versa for safety precautions.

While it is not clear which path will be closed first, the north path is clearly the more difficult of the two to traverse. Cyndi Steiner, Executive Director of New Jersey Bike & Walk Coalition (NJBWC), is concerned the closures could have widespread effects for pedestrians and cyclists who utilize the GWB daily for commuting, leisure, or training for world class cycling events such as Gran Fondo New York.

"The south side is bike and wheelchair accessible,” said Steiner. “There are 171 steps on the north side spread out over more than a handful of staircases. Some of the staircases are on the New Jersey side, and some are on the New York side.”

The staircases on the north path are steep and covered with metal grating, which could be particularly difficult for cyclists attempting to carry their bikes up multiple sets of stairs while wearing cycling cleats. During inclement weather, the metal grating can provide less than perfect traction.

“So the concern is when the south path is closed, many cyclists are just not going to come across the bridge or carry their bikes up those steps,” Steiner said. “As of 2012, there are 500,000 cyclists who cross the George Washington Bridge every year. “And that number doubles every five years. That’s going to be severely limited once this project gets started.”

Everyday, hundreds of cyclists cross over the GWB onto Hudson Terrace and pedal past Strictly Bicycles with friends or in group rides enroute to 9W, the most traveled cycling route in the United States. In February, members of the New Jersey Bike & Walk Coalition, Transportation Alternatives (NYC), and New York Cycle Club attended a PANYNJ board meeting on behalf of non-motorists.

"We made them aware that this was an unacceptable situation for us. We [cyclists and pedestrians] are valid users of the bridge, we’re a constituency also, and they need to think about us,” Steiner explained. "Two weeks later, the PANYNJ contacted the advocacy groups and arranged to spend a day in April walking the north and south paths with bridge engineers, planners and operation managers."

Representatives from PANYNJ, Planning Corps,
the Institute for Transportation & Development Policy, and the engineering firm of Vanasse Hangen Brustlin, Inc. attended the meeting. They brainstormed to find solutions that could move the project forward without impeding cyclists and pedestrians.

“We had a bike with us and showed engineers what it’s like riding a bike on both sides of that bridge,” Steiner said. “And in the afternoon we brainstormed solutions mainly focused on removing the steps on the north side because that seems to be the biggest barrier.”

The groups also pointed to the low visibility at the towers, crowded ramps leading to the bridge, tight squeezes where the paths narrow at gateways, and standpipes, all which the New Jersey Bike & Walk Coalition believes is a clear and present danger for thousands of bicyclists daily.

While the advocacy groups were expecting the PANYNJ to get back to them with a set of potential designs this summer, Steiner says she expects to hear from them in the coming weeks and hopes the general public will connect with the advocacy groups to mainstream the communication channels without disrupting the efforts.

“The Port Authority asked us to keep the advocacy among the organizations that were already involved, because they said, ‘Look, we’ve never done this before, we’ve never worked with a group of advocates, this is new to us, we want to do this right,’” Steiner said. “So if you look at that list, you’ve got a recreational touring club on each side of the bridge and you’ve got advocacy groups on each side of the bridge, so we feel we’re adequately represented.”

Anyone concerned with how their cycling to and from 9W and New York City will be impacted, is encouraged to visit websites for the following organizations: New Jersey Bike & Walk Coalition, Transportation Alternatives (NYC), Bicycle Touring Club of North Jersey, and New York Cycle Club.

"Sign up for our (NJBWC) newsletter, let us know that you’re interested in updates on the bridge, provide us with any feedback or any ideas you have, and we’ll keep you informed as to what’s going on,” Steiner said. “But it does help to hear from cyclists so we can count you in our numbers.”

“We have a rough idea who our constituency is but the more numbers we have, the better when we work with the Port Authority,” Steiner added. “What we don’t want is a barrage of communication directly to Port Authority because we’re trying to abide by what they asked us to do, and that was to funnel all of the communication between the two advocacy groups.”

To stay informed on developments regarding the cable restoration project, sign up for the Strictly Bicycles newsletter.

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