By Mark Bollettieri
Despite passionate opposition, the full Community Board 7 approved a Parks & Recreation proposal to create a year-round designated bike path between West 72nd Street and West 83rd Street in Riverside Park.
The plan was approved last month by the Parks and Environment Committee of Community Board 7.
Currently, bikers and pedestrian share a riverside path known as the Esplanade (shown at left). Conflicts between bikers and pedestrians are common on the Esplanade because it is a narrow path used both by commuting bikers and strolling pedestrians. The Parks Department, however, did not have figures on how many collisions have occurred there.
The plan aims to resolve those conflicts between bikes and pedestrians by diverting bikers further inland. Funding for the project was approved as part of Councilmember Helen Rosenthal’s participatory budgeting process, where locals can vote on capital projects.
Many community members who commute by bike on the path were fiercely opposed to the plan. They are concerned that the section of the path which goes over The Rotunda, a structure in the park that supports a traffic circle, is too steep to be easily traversed.
During the winter months, others added, ice and snow may make the new path dangerous to ride. There was also concern that the new path will be unsafe because it is more remote and less populated than the Esplanade. Bicycling advocates had started a petition to keep the esplanade open to cyclists in the winter.
In the words of one cyclist: “All of the amenities that are on the [Esplanade] such as the water fountains, the bathrooms, the superior lighting, the safety in numbers are all going to be taken away from cyclists who are going to be asked to ride through a highway on-ramp off-ramp structure in order to be able to continue on their route.”
Daniel Pearlstein, who uses the path to commute, felt that the issue ought to have been studied by the Department of Transportation. “It would be remiss in such a sophisticated community as the Upper West Side not to seek out the best possible advice from the people that our tax dollars support to do this work,” he said.
Pedestrians who use the Esplanade were generally in favor of the proposal. Many said that they had stopped walking along the Esplanade for fear of being hit by a cyclist.
Mike McCarthy, a parent and West Side Little League coach, was in favor of the proposal because he fears for the safety of his children and the ones he coaches. “We’re dodging bicyclists coming from left and right,” he said. “Change is needed, and change is needed now.”
Board members were split on the issue. Some made the case that Riverside Park is intended for recreation rather than commuting, and added that nearby bike lanes exist on both Amsterdam and Columbus Avenues.
Shelly Friedman, a member of Community Board 7, proposed an amendment that would make the bike path mandatory only April through October from dawn to dusk. The vote on the amendment was tied 20-20, which means that it failed.
In the end, the Community Board passed the proposal. Construction is expected to begin in the fall of 2017.