Greenways are fueling a surge in cycling in New York City. Cyclists love them because greenways are car-free paths where they do not contend with dangerous and unpleasant traffic. They are also popular with politicians, including Mayor Bloomberg, who has proposed the ambitious Manhattan Waterfront Greenway.
Greenways and the four East River bridges are the backbone of the NYC's cycling network. In the last ten years, the number of daily cyclists in the city has increased by 30,000 thanks in part to the creation and improvement of these car-free walking and biking routes. In 1993, there were 59 miles of NYC greenways. Today, there are 90 miles.
The Hudson River Greenway stands out as an example of the power of greenways to encourage cycling. According to the Department of City Planning, from 2000 to 2001 there was a five-fold increase in weekday cycling on the greenway-from 157 cyclists over six hours to 777-though in 2002 T.A. counted as many as 200 cyclists in one hour. Remarkably, use has grown despite key gaps in the greenway. The twelve-mile long, traffic-free path connects the populous Upper West Side with Midtown jobs and Downtown activities.
Car-free routes in any part of the city encourage people to bicycle. Most trips, bike or otherwise, are not to work, which means that greenways that link residential neighborhoods, parks and cultural attractions are as important as those that connect work and home. Paths like the Brooklyn-Queens Greenway are important because they encourage recreational cycling, and the jump from recreational riding to riding to the store or to work is easier to make than the one from taking the subway or driving to work to riding to work. The key to encouraging people to make that jump, as with bike lanes, is to make greenways that are well connected to each other, bridges and major cycling thoroughfares.
If and when they are built, Manhattan's East River Greenway (and the rest of the Manhattan Waterfront Greenway) and the Brooklyn and Queens Waterfront Greenways will also bring out streams of cyclists, especially since they will connect to the City's four East River bridges. However, until there is serious political support to secure funding and land, these paths will remain a patchwork of discontinuous paths, bike lanes and marks on maps.
The big question for cyclists is how much of the ambitious network of planned greenways will be built in the next decade.
Completed NYC Greenways
Planned NYC Greenways
NYC Greenway Background
This year is the tenth anniversary of the City of New York's nationally recognized "Greenway Master Plan." Produced by NYC's Department of City Planning, it outlines a 350-mile system of "pathways for non-motorized transportation along natural and constructed linear spaces."
A greenway is a multi-use path that is physically separated from on-street vehicular traffic. Greenways are an integral part of the city's bike network and should connect to bridge paths, bike lanes and transit stations. As yet, none of NYC's greenways are connected to bridges. The City should install on-street bike lanes and directional signs between the Hudson River and East River greenways and the four East River bridges.
New York's greenway construction and planning is funded through the U.S. Department of Transportation's Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program, which aims to encourage bicycle commuting and reduce automotive emissions; it is up for renewal in this year's Federal transportation bill.
Make Parks Dept the Greenway Sheriff
Though City and State agencies are adept at greenway planning and construction, they do not do so well when it comes to keeping paths safe, orderly and open. The intense competition for space between fast and slow, wheeled and non-wheeled and stationary and moving path users requires smart and consistent rules of conduct as well as effective education and enforcement. City Hall should charge the Parks Department with appointing a Greenway Director to set the rules and ensure that other City and State agencies and public entities, like the Hudson River Park Trust, follow them.