2006-12-08 Bike Path Terror – Downtown Express


Bike path terror


One would think bike paths are safer than city streets for bicycles. And one would hope a bike path that’s clearly separated from the street by a planted median with a low wall, such as the Hudson River bike path, would be even safer. But, tragically, just within the last five months, there have been two bicyclists killed on the Hudson River bike path.

The path is certainly safer than the city’s streets, but the recent tragedies make it obvious it is not safe. We understand why cyclists get little sympathy in this city – many often violate traffic laws, scaring and injuring pedestrians. There is no excuse for this behavior, but if the city committed to building the kind of biking systems common in European cities, it would not be a boon to safety, it would also have environmental benefits by reducing the amount of death.

The first bike path death, of Dr. Carl Nacht in June after being struck on the path at W. 36th St. by a tow truck from the Police Department tow pound, highlighted one problem with the path — that it’s not a bona fide greenway, since it’s intersected at numerous points by crossing car traffic.

When Eric Ng, 22, died last Friday, however, in a collision with a driver speeding down the Hudson River bike path after drinking at an office party at Chelsea Piers, it cast a spotlight on another extremely dangerous condition: The fact that cars can — and do — drive onto the bike path. And, according to reports, cars are doing so more frequently.

Construction of the Tribeca section of the Hudson River Park brings more vehicles across the path. And getting municipal uses to quickly leave the waterfront isn’t easy, as can be seen by the Sanitation garage on Gansevoort Peninsula. But now the waterfront is being reclaimed for parks and greenways and, for bikers at least, this dynamic is causing a dangerous conflict.

Raising new fears is what happened to Ng. We’re glad to hear the Hudson River Park Trust is working with other agencies and Transportation Alternatives to find some immediate solutions so that cars don’t ever get on this bike path again.

For certain, more markings and signage are needed. And perhaps some new barrier system is needed other than the bend-down yellow bollards located currently only at a few spots on the path. With more commercial uses planned for the waterfront at Pier 57 and possibly Pier 40 — bringing more drivers, attending more parties and functions where alcohol will be served — this serious situation must be addressed, quickly.

A safe Lower Manhattan connection from the Hudson to the East River path has been talked about for too long with little action. The East path has it’s own share of problems and city planners should look carefully at the West Side problems as they design the new East River waterfront Downtown.

It shouldn’t have taken deaths to prompt action, but it will be an even greater tragedy if inadequate solutions are proposed to prevent the next Eric Ng-type death.

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