Cyclists Say Plan to Reconstruct Key Area of Riverside Park Puts Them in Danger

A satellite image of the rotunda, via Google.

By Michael McDowell

A plan to reconstruct the rotunda over Riverside Park at 79th Street does not include a protected bike lane, a factor that angered some residents who attended a meeting last week.

The West 79th Street Rotunda links the Upper West Side to the West Side Highway, and offers access to the Hudson River Greenway. It also sits atop the Boat Basin Café. Officials estimate construction will start next year and last for at least four years.

An initial plan for the $150 million project—which is entirely city-funded—was presented in 2017. But even after a number of meetings, key decisions remain controversial, and unresolved.

That much was clear following a lengthy and at times contentious meeting of the Community Board 7 Parks & Environment Committee on Monday night, which was held jointly with the Preservation and Transportation Committees. At the meeting, NYC DOT and the Department of Parks & Recreation presented a fourth iteration of their plan to reconstruct the rotunda.

The project involves several structures: a bridge over Amtrak, which runs underneath Riverside Park, and the rotunda itself, which is a multilevel facility that includes a parking garage, pedestrian plaza, and traffic circle.

Particularly controversial remains the configuration of the traffic circle at the top of the rotunda, which must accommodate automobiles, the M79 bus, pedestrians, and a growing number of cyclists, who use the circle to access the Hudson River Greenway.

There is no plan for a protected bike lane in the traffic circle. Instead, the latest design proposes cyclists share a narrowed, 18-foot lane with vehicles, including the M79 bus. The M79 passes through the traffic circle about every five minutes during peak hours.

Approximately 31-feet of lane space is available, according to a design spec.

In an assertion that provoked more than a few raised eyebrows, a DOT representative stated that it’s actually safer for cyclists to share lanes with vehicles in situations where there is more complex movement. DOT also held that a protected bike lane in this space would create a false sense of security for cyclists.

Instead of a protected bike lane, DOT plans to add a “red material, a high-friction surface treatment” to pavement adjacent to the narrowed, eighteen-foot lane; cyclists will be discouraged from utilizing the red area, but will not be cited for doing so.

This plan was met with confusion, skepticism, and near unanimous dissatisfaction.

“This is one of the main entrances to the busiest bikeway in the United States…this is by no means a child- or park-friendly treatment, this is better, given the constraints you have—maybe. But we’re doing a big construction project, and in this day and age, this is almost no improvement at all and it’s kind of a shame that we would be spending this sort of money to do almost nothing,” said Mark Horton.

A cyclist in Riverside Park.

Horton stated that he traverses the traffic circle during his commute on a regular basis, and has done so for many years.

DOT did not have counts on hand as to how many cyclists regularly pass through the circle.

“I think you’ve utterly failed Vision Zero,” said Andy Rosenthal. “This Community Board, a couple of months ago, voted for a protected bike lane on Central Park West, which DOT failed to put in, and now a woman’s dead. We can avoid that here.”

Rosenthal was referring to the death of Madison Lyden, a 23-year-old Australian woman who was struck and killed by a garbage truck in August.

“You’ve got 31 feet—sounds like you’ve got plenty of room,” Rosenthal continued. “Biking has tripled in the last couple years, and it’s only going higher, as programs like CitiBike expand…There is also a lot of pedestrian traffic [in the traffic circle], which we really haven’t talked about. If you do go with this design, I think there’s something you need to do that’s a visual cue: put a crosswalk in. That’s a visual cue to drivers that something is going on here,” Rosenthal said.

“It’s a place for a potential tragedy,” added David Vassar, to murmured agreement.

“This is the legacy of Robert Moses,” a man said, shaking his head. “Why not close it to vehicles—have them use 72nd Street?” his neighbor mused.

The rotunda poses unique challenges. For one, the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD), issued by the Federal Highway Administration, specifies that bikes and pedestrians are not to use roundabouts, due to the dangers posed by vehicles using on-and-off ramps. In addition, as the rotunda is landmarked, DOT and Parks are limited in the kinds of design changes they are permitted to make.

Some notable updates are to be made: the traffic circle will be resurfaced, and the off-ramp from the West Side Highway will be narrowed from two lanes to one. Signage alerting drivers to the presence of cyclists and pedestrians will be added. But with 31 feet of space, plenty for the M79 and motorists, several people in attendance found DOT’s explanation for why it wasn’t adding a protected bike lane unconvincing.

The traffic circle at 79th Street is one of the few access points to the Hudson River Greenway and is the route mandated by DOT; adding an additional access point is problematic, given the presence of the Amtrak tunnel beneath Riverside Park and the West Side Highway.

Joannene Kidder, Executive Director of Community Affairs and Chief of Staff at the Division of Bridges, acknowledged that it would be “physically possible” to create a bike lane. But DOT cycling experts advised against it.

Other aspects of the plan are equally controversial, especially a proposed staging of construction on the 77th Street ballfields, where the West Side Little League plays its games.

Some elements of the design are less controversial.

The city will also add space on the pedestrian level, for administrative use, storage space, or possibly another concessionaire. The look of this storefront will be very similar to the 102nd Street Fieldhouse. Boat Basin Cafe kitchen exhaust fans will be moved from the pedestrian plaza to two grassy areas adjacent to the highway ramps that are not generally accessed by park users. The fountain, in the middle of the rotunda on the pedestrian level, will be restored.

The package of design changes must be approved by the Landmarks Preservation Commission.

DOT and Parks will next meet with Community Board 7 on January 10, to discuss changes and improvements related to the structure’s landmark status, before DOT and Parks appear before the LPC. An advisory vote on the design by the full board will follow, and could occur as soon as January 28.

NEWS | 43 comments | permalink
    1. Paul says:

      How can you have a “protected lane” when traffic exiting and entering the parkway has to cross it? Arguably bikers are safer to the inside of the circle than to the right side of traffic but the best bet is to avoid that area completely.
      Which is what I do when biking. There are far safer alternatives, both north and south of 79th Street, to get down to the path along the river.

    2. David S says:

      There’s a pedestrian walkway that goes from West 79th Street to the greenway on either side of the traffic circle. Why can’t cyclists simply walk their bikes on that walkway for the one minute it would take to get through the rotunda area?

      • Woody says:

        Why do cyclists always have to accommodate others forms of either vehicular or pedestrian traffic that put them at a disadvantage? Asking cyclists to get off and walk their bikes from Riverside Dr through the lower Rotunda is a very narrow-minded solution.

      • Park Walker says:

        …for the same reason that cyclists can’t be bothered to walk their bikes on east-west pavements in Central Park; you know, the ones that have big “Walk Your Bikes” signs to protect pedestrians. Impatience and entitlement. The “we got wheels and you don’t” mindset.

        • pearl says:

          Thank you!

        • Tom N. says:

          I respectfully disagree with you, Park Walker.

          With this alarming rate of global warming, in addition to the MTA’s serious problems here in NYC, bikes should be considered much more seriously at this point. If you have better solutions, you tell me. Hope you change your mindset.

          • gs says:

            Alarming rate of global warming…what rubish, Tom N. Bicyclists want all the rights of pedestrians and none of the responsibilities of vehicle operator. There’s just too many people.

      • Marilyn says:

        Excellent point!!

      • Chris says:

        I was thinking the same thing. One walkway could be converted to a stainless ramp for bikes, the other could remain stepped for pedestrians.

        • Woody says:

          Where would the bottom of the ramp be within the Rotunda? How would bikers go between the bottom of the ramp and the Greenway? What will prevent people from using the ramp for strollers and other wheeled devices?

    3. NYC Pedestrian says:

      Safety for bicyclists is important and must be given due consideration, of course. However there is a bit of unintentional irony since pedestrians are generally put at risk on the esplanade as Lance Armstrong wannabes recklessly weave through strolling walkers at high speed and little concern. Mixing racers and strollers on a narrow pathway is the prescription for tragedy.

      • Scott says:

        Yup, that pathway is just a hot mess. Everyone misbehaves. Cyclists on their gran fondo, going way too fast, pedestrians walking three abreast, people sitting on those benches with their legs fully extended out into the pathway. And everyone does what they do 100% on purpose. When I cycle I prefer taking my chances with cars.

      • Woody says:

        These overused and trite references to cyclists being Lance Armstrong wannabees are not just silly but they’re also repetitively unoriginal. Cyclists are on their bikes for many reasons, one of them being cardiovascular fitness. Mocking them with labels is generally indicative of latent jealousy at not enjoying a sport that others participate in.

        • Ish Kabibble says:

          We get it, Woody. You’re a biker. The world should revolve around you and your wants, with no consideration for anyone else. WE. GET. IT.

          • Woody says:

            It’s pretty funny to watch some of you jump to your usual conclusions which often turn out to be wrong. I”m closer to being elderly than young and am far from being a fast cyclist. I ride a clunky old street bike, not a superfast road bike that you love to demonize. So you really don’t get it.

          • Jen says:

            It is actually scary that people with Woody’s mindset are bikers. We all should be much more careful crossing the streets where bikers are allowed.

            An btw I’m riding a bike too once in a while with my 10-year old before Woody attacks me as a non-biker. I do ride the bike, except I respect the pedestrians that woody’s of this world are incapable of doing.

        • EricaC says:

          Or irritation at feeling under threat while walking for one of the many reasons people are walking.

          I agree that the references to Lance Armstrong are irritatingly unoriginal, but pedestrians also need to be accommodated. As do cars and bikes. And I’ve also been threatened more than once by bicyclists who are indeed going way too fast and assuming they own the road – so the self-righteous indignation also rings a bit hollow.

        • yourneighbor says:

          If the shoe fits, wear it.

          Lots of Lance Armstrong wannabees on the esplanade being a general menace to anybody trying to have a relaxing time on that path.

          I ride my bike down that path quite often and am offended by the way fellow bikers barrel down the path with little regard for adults and children. Extremely dangerous on nice weekends.

        • Jim says:

          I’ve had to yield over and over again to the obnoxious Woody Rambo bicyclists even though, as a pedestrian or basic guy walking my dog, I have the right of way. So my vote is to get rid of the bike lanes and let these idiots ride through traffic like the idiot I was at a younger age, just make them wear their helmet. I amsick and tired of the I can ride my bike anywhere and as fast as I want attitude. No you can’t!

        • Marilyn says:

          It wasnt mocking. It was a response to the horrible behavior of bikers.

      • Jan says:

        NO bikes in Manhattan
        Not enough room for traffic AND bikes

    4. Kat French says:

      What a waste of money to improve access for individual cars; the city should be doing everything in its power to discourage private car traffic in Manhattan. Don’t make it easier for cars to get into the city. Make it harder, make it more expensive. Cyclists should be rewarded for choosing a form of transportation that does no harm to the environment… especially those who commute by bike and reduce congestion both on the streets and in the transit system.

      • Tom says:

        It’s not meant to “improve” access for individual cars. It’s to prevent the entire existing historic structure from collapsing. The only improved access is the proposed inclusion of a bike lane there.

      • Maria says:

        Move to Europe of you don’t like it!

    5. Eva says:

      I would have much more sympathy for cyclists if they would obey traffic laws. I’m tired of being blindsided by cyclists going the wrong way on one-way streets or going through red lights.

      • Jay says:

        Funny.. you could say the same for pedestrians.

        • Jim says:

          I’ll tell you what. I will stand there and you walk into me at your regular pace. I weigh a solid 180. Then you stand there and I will run into you with my bike,say at 15 mph.

          • Estelle says:

            Hear! Hear!

          • Woody says:

            That’s your justification for pedestrians ignoring the laws that apply to them? Pedestrian actions can also create dangerous situations for cyclists and vehicles. Your twisted rationalizations don’t absolve anyone when they’re also breaking the law.

        • Julia says:

          I think that because many NYC pedestrians don’t know how to drive, they put themselves at risk. It has to be a sort of negotiation between drivers and walkers, a very careful dance.

        • Jen says:

          No, not funny. And you know why.

    6. D says:

      Eva, I was going to send in comment but you did it for me. I had a friend who was killed by a cyclist who was speeding in the wrong direction and against the traffic light. I am horrified that so so many cyclists completely ignore traffic laws, putting pedestrians in mortal danger, and are never held accountable.It’s criminal.

    7. Rob says:

      How about protecting pedestrians? The DOT hasn’t got a clue about the dangers already existing on 79th and RSD, including broken pavement on the crosswalk and a 17-second time frame for allowing the crossing of the street, not an easy task for seniors (who the DOT and the community board never seems to consider with its devotion to city cyclists. Bikers have already taken over the
      park and there is absolutely no need to provide them with access to the “bikeway” on the Hudson via the traffic circle when they can gain access to it going via the underpass on or around 81st street. Let’s consider making RSD more user friendly for our seniors before we spend any more money on accommodating the would-be Lance Armstrong’s of the world.

    8. Jason says:

      The comment sections on this website seem to have become the primary destination for the angry and disaffected of the UWS — an opportunity to rant and insult other commenters. If you are one of those obnoxious commenters, please know that the silent majority of us typically disregard your points of view. Your behavior is meritless, so no reason to consider your opinion. NYC is full of all kinds — the polite and civil, and the impolite and intolerant. The rotunda should be able to be designed in a manner respectful of cyclists as well as pedestrians. Regardless of the design, there will be cyclists, drivers and pedestrians that misbehave and endanger others. We should promote the usage of our parks, greenways, etc., as opposed to cars wherever possible. Pedestrians and cyclists should be united in that goal. Law enforcement is the answer for those that endanger others.

      • Cato says:

        Jason said: “The comment sections on this website seem to have become the primary destination for the angry and disaffected of the UWS — an opportunity to rant and insult other commenters.”

        Glad you’ve joined us! Welcome aboard!

        And then he said: “If you are one of those obnoxious commenters, please know that the silent majority of us typically disregard your points of view.”

        Hey, I’m convinced! Got any other great, persuasive Spiro T. Agnew phrases for us?

    9. Margaret says:

      Spending $150 million of NYC taxpayers money should be paying for a protected bike lane.

      Biking is a cheap, easy, healthy, green, and pleasant way to get around for short and medium distances. It’s nearly zero emissions, and if you don’t think that will be more important in five years than it is today, guess again.

      I didn’t put “safe” in my list of adjectives, because the city still treats its bicyclists’ safety like a special-interest sop to be doled out grudgingly and sparingly after impassioned outcry and maybe a couple deaths. It’s ridiculous. For $150 million, the city should be doing this right.

    10. Estelle says:

      The less bikes in Riverside Park the better!! They are a hazard to pedestrians of all ages and to dogs bith on leash and during off leash times. They have overtsken the path by the river beginning at about 101st and heading south. I no lomger walk there because it is so unsafe due to bikers. They shoukd be required to walk their bikes in that section and ahoukd be banned from the promomade level.

    11. Lisa says:

      It is insane and outrageous ti put a bike kane on Central Park West, as the park os right there! And traffic has unreasinably been banned from hte park. People need to face the t this is a dense American city — the bike lane on Amsterdam caises more pollution amd traffic congesrion for a minute number of bikers. Meanwhike the disabled are forced to hire cabs because subways don’t even have an elevator for them. Why shoukd ten bikers come before the vast number of disabled?

    12. Marcus says:

      I am a walker and believe that cyclists snd pedestrians can coexist responsibly. What must stop is the proliferation of motorized vehicles in the park; e-bikes and motorized scooters and skateboards. These are motorized vehicles, not used for exercise, and most are traveling way too fast for safety. They should be banned from city parks.