When bike share was unveiled in NYC in the spring of 2013, it brought me a new, steady source of cheap fun and excitement. For a buck or two more per month than the cost of a Netflix subscription, I suddenly had access to a bicycle in Manhattan without having to ride one there or to lug it on the train from Queens.
I quickly learned that bike lanes on Manhattan’s interior avenues and streets below 59th were too risky to navigate most hours of the day. I then tried all the protected lanes and paths with little to no interaction with vehicular traffic and settled on a favorite routine.
Hands down the best place (until about four weeks ago) to ride a bike in the city was up and down the bike path that runs parallel to the Hudson River on Manhattan’s west side.
Depending on which way the wind is blowing, I grab a bike at either 82nd and Riverside – or – on Chambers near Stuyvesant High School. The five and a half mile ride between the two spots fits nicely into the time limit one has to consider when pulling a blue bike share bike from the rack. Even at lollygag pace, I can cover that stretch in about 40 minutes.
The max without incurring a fee is 45 minutes.
That point-to-point bike ride has been my routine now at least a few days a week since bike share expanded on the upper west side a couple years ago. Before that, the rack at 59th and 11th near John Jay College was my northern-most launch or finish.
Exercise isn’t really the main point, rather I like the adrenaline rush of riding in the city without risking exposure to avenue traffic. It’s a fun excuse to get out of my neighborhood and into the hustle and bustle.
The Halloween truck attack that killed eight riders on the lower portion of the trail changed that. Rather than respond by sealing off vehicular access to the trail at entry points like the one used by the killer at Houston Street, the city and state have placed concrete barriers along many stretches of the center line of the already narrow path.
Each time a rider reaches those now-crimped lanes, one must slow considerably to merge into a path barely wide enough for a two-wheeler while making sure to be laser-like with one’s straightness to avoid contact with the concrete wall. It’s not a stretch to say the path is more dangerous now than it was before the oddball drifter implemented a plan that could have aimed at a lot more sitting ducks if max fatalities was the goal.
The new barriers have ruined a great thing. They’re ugly and unnecessary in spots if the focus is purely on access to the path. They are in most cases an extra layer of protection that go a step too far given what it does to the heavily used and appreciated recreational public resource.
The biggest conundrum for planners as I see it are the handful of spots west of the path – like the cruise ship terminal, ferry piers and the sports complex in Chelsea that currently rely on vehicular access for their respective businesses. Perhaps you tighten access or eliminate vehicles altogether to those areas. Obviously, there would be resistance.
I disagree with the bike advocate who said via tweet that the center-line barriers are “security theatre.” That’s not fair, really, because the barriers do in fact prevent a vehicle from driving on the path. It’s not theatre. It bolsters the response to a horrific attack which is what government does. What I’m arguing is that the bike path is really important to a lot of people and there’s a tradeoff to be made on the security side that users of the path should have a voice on. I would support removal of the barriers down the path’s center line in exchange for an up-front announced statement of risk when the path goes back to how it was.
We can’t keep ruining good, fun things we have in an environment full of threats by implementing quick, automatic responses that coldly aim to shut down a repeat of the same attack.
We can’t keep using a sledgehammer to solve our security gaps when a scalpel might be more in order.
A couple hours after the attack, the Mayor and Governor both agreed it was in the best interest of the city to go forward with a Halloween parade a few blocks from the bike path carnage. More than a million people showed up. Both elected officials talked about not letting the terrorists win – and getting on with daily life.
The concrete barriers down the center line of the bike path hand victory to terror. They should be taken down so the bikes can roll on as they did before.
-On a somewhat related topic, NYC mayor Bill deBlasio’s laudable Vision Zero program to eliminate pedestrian deaths has started using a new tactic that I believe is deeply flawed. Known as “pedestrian head starts,” street lights across the city are being reconfigured to flash walk signals to people several seconds before same direction vehicular traffic is given the green light. In my neighborhood, some lights have this feature – others do not – leading to confusion and distrust about the inconsistent ground rules for those crossing the street (and for drivers). The front-end buffer leads some street-crossers to think (it appears) they have that same luxury on the back end which is not always the case unless you know how each light is set up. The apparent goal of bureaucrats who like this concept is to prevent the left-turn rush jobs you see all the time from drivers who dart left as the light is changing to beat oncoming traffic (a huge threat to pedestrians). The Times recently wrote a gushing piece about head starts but it seemed completely disconnected from consideration of the mind games the unpredictability of it all plays on people crossing the street. If the city is gonna continue with this hybrid approach to implementation, it should post signs which make clear which lights offer head starts – and which do not.
-I attended last Sunday’s off-Broadway performance of Downtown Race Riot at the Romulus Linney Courtyard Theatre. My interest in the play piqued a day before while reading a Q and A in the paper with Chloe Sevigny. I enjoyed Sevigny’s TV acting work covering three seasons of Bloodline and was excited to see her in a small venue. I bought a “partial view” seat in the upstairs mezz for $48 (including service charges) and arrived early to take my position. The formal “opening night” for the show isn’t until December 3 but this was the run’s 13th performance in preview mode. Sevigny’s face is on the promo posters and she’s the obvious draw but it turns out she doesn’t have the most lines nor is she the most interesting character. The entire play is set in the Greenwich Village apartment she shares with her son and daughter. There are three scenes on the stage and the action alternates between them. Capacity at the theatre is about 200 and there were probably 40 or 50 empty seats for the show I attended. I didn’t like the show. Sevigny’s character is a junkie who offers wisdom to her son and his friends before she gets high. Her accent deviates between NYC and something 200 miles north. There’s gratuitous humping and weird, distracting deployment of simulated soap opera TV audio and the Elton John number Tiny Dancer. The young cast surrounding Sevigny (especially Christian DeMeo) are convincing in their given portrayals but the audience wants out of that apartment for some fresh air. They want to see a glimpse of the impending conflict in the park – not something that culminates in a bad wrestlemania pin job and a stage light fade-out. When the cast lined up for the final bow, there was a pause in which I think the actors wondered if the audience would offer more than just polite applause. I understand Sevigny’s desire to wedge in some live stage time in between her often brilliant, edgy and dynamic film and TV roles but she spends a good chunk of the play laying in bed playing a dead-end dope. It seems like a waste for an actor in her prime to blow a couple of months on a project like this.