WASHINGTON HEIGHTS — A cycling group is pushing the Port Authority to make the George Washington Bridge friendlier for bikers and pedestrians by doubling the width of the paths by extending them out over the water.
The bridge currently features two shared-use paths, one each side, which range from 10-foot-10 to 6-foot-7 in the narrowest parts. In the coming decade, the paths will be removed and reinstalled as part of $1.03 billion project to replace all of the suspension cables that support the bridge’s main span.
However, the Port Authority does not plan to widen the paths, which do not demarcate cyclist and pedestrian lanes, despite the fact that the smallest portions of the paths are a foot narrower than the minimum width recommended by the state and federal governments.
The New York Cycle Club, which has more than 2,000 members, is trying to gain support for a proposal to expand the paths to 14 feet, the width recommended by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials for paths with a high volume of users.
The paths would be cantilevered out over the water.
The path on the Williamsburg Bridges already meets this standard, as do many sections of the path on the Brooklyn Bridge.
In a presentation to Community Board 12’s transportation committee earlier this month, club president Neile Weissman pointed out that the George Washington Bridge is the only cyclist-friendly connector between two of the most most heavily biked roads in the country: the Henry Hudson Greenway and New Jersey’s Route 9W.
At peak times, there are more than 500 people using the paths each hour, Weismann said. His estimate was based on a count that the club performed using guidelines from the Federal Highways Administration.
Those same guidelines show that the paths currently offer a poor level of service because they are at capacity during peak times.
Weissman said the club expects conditions to worsen as both New York and New Jersey expand their bike infrastructure, with the goal of increasing bike travel from about 1 to 6 percent of all trips in New York City.
“This is where the region wants to go,” Weissman said in terms of the increased ridership. “It’s incumbent upon the authority to support that.”
The group is proposing to designate one path for pedestrians and the other for cyclists. Because the paths are sometimes closed for long periods for maintenance projects, it is important that both sides be expanded, Weissman said.
The Port Authority has agreed to make some improvements to the paths, including replacing the stairs that lead to the northern path with an ADA-accessible ramp and removing a hairpin turn on the Manhattan ramp leading to the southern path.
However, a Port Authority spokesman said that widening the paths would add significant cost to the $80 million project to improve cyclist and pedestrian access to the bridge. In addition, the proposal would pose engineering challenges under the bike group's recommendation, which includes cantilevering the paths out over the river.
Community Board 12 passed a resolution in support of the group's plan to widen the paths at its full board meeting on Tuesday.
Weissman said the club’s next step is to work with politicians in the areas surrounding the bridge.
He acknowledged that their plan would increase the Port Authority’s costs, but said the proposed cable rehabilitation provides the best opportunity to make this improvement.
“This is a once-in-a-lifespan opportunity,” he said. “This is it. Whatever happens over the next 10 years, there will never be a better, cheaper time to do this.”