New York's Quiet Greenway Explosion
Picture spending an entire day cycling around New York City and only rarely encountering automobiles. Or, think about biking to work through car-clogged Manhattan and spending all but a few blocks on spectacular riverfront paths. Consider being able to ride in the rain or with your child without worrying about dangerous drivers. How about kids riding, skating or skateboarding to school quickly and safely along leafy paths. A fantasy? Nope, these are just some of the cycling joys promised by the City's ambitious 400-mile greenway plan - some of which is already in place or being built.
Threads of Green"
Today, New York City has 72 miles of greenway routes, with another 26 miles under construction, and 80 more miles planned. The greenway network is by far the largest recipient of bicycling related funding. About $75 million in Federal, State and City transportation funds is dedicated to greenways. Yet, so far cyclists have seen only a glimpse of the future greenway network in the form of the Rt. 9A interim path on Manhattan's west side and in places like Little Bay in Queens. But, like dandelions emerging after a spring rain, miles of greenways will soon be completed in every borough. If greenway advocates like the Neighborhood Open Space Coalition prevail, the NYC greenway network will be hooked into the East Coast Greenway, which is planned from Quebec to Washington D.C. and then south to Key West, Florida. Regionally, the Hudson River section of the NYC greenway is also part of a larger Hudson River Greenway which will stretch from the southern tip of Manhattan to Albany. There are also plans afloat to link paths from the Queens border to Montauk.
Federal Transpo Funds Drive Growth
The engine behind the
greenway expansion is the billions in Federal transportation funds made
available to New York City under ISTEA in the early 1990's. These Federal
funds have special programs targeted to reduce air pollution and improve
overall quality of life. About seven years ago, a brief but intense debate
occurred among city agencies and public interest groups over how to best spend
these funds for bicycle and pedestrian improvements. Greenways, which provide
abundant recreational opportunities, expand public space and do not take road
space from the car, proved the least controversial way to spend large amounts
on non-motorized transportation dollars. However, in recent years, greenway
funding has tapered off, supplanted by demands for traffic calming and
A Century-Old Idea
Greenways - special paths for bicyclists - date back to 1895, when the Ocean Parkway bike path was created by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, who also designed Central Park. Robert Moses, the great highway builder and urban despoiler, was another greenway builder. Moses built the Belt / Shore Parkway, Bronx River, Hutchinson River, Cross Island and Wantagh Parkway paths. In fact, much of the new greenway work is rebuilding old ones that were paved over or allowed to fall into ruin. Had these historic pathways been maintained, much of the greenway network would already be in place.
The greenway network will give a big boost to cycling. How big we do not know, but the potential is huge. Beginning cyclists will have miles of car-free routes to practice on. Potential commuters who love to ride but not in heavy traffic, will have a new option. So too will casual cyclists riding to the park, to see friends or to go shopping. Eventually, the greenway network is likely to become a tourist destination in its own right; a new way to explore the metropolis. And without doubt, the greenway system will make NYC a better place to live for people of all races and classes.
Like any ambitious public works project in New York City, the greenway network faces its share of vexing problems. Money is still a big concern. Building paths on waterfronts can involve very expensive bulkhead and pier work. For instance, in Riverside Park, because of the expense of building piers, new sections of the Hudson River Greenway will be 8 feet wide despite the need for 12 feet to accommodate the anticipated throngs of walkers, joggers, skaters and cyclists. In other places, officials balk at spending two or three million to build strategic bridge path links over highways. The greenways are also slowed by the conflict between different public agencies over the use of public lands. This takes the form of everything from moving a giant pile of Department of Sanitation road salt or storage shed, to the size of parking lots at waterfront economic development sites. There is no governmental coordinating body, unifying policy or executive edict on greenways to help with these problems. This means that government greenway planners are on their own when faced with NIMBY opposition to a greenway. In The Bronx, in a case with racial overtones, a community board is stymieing a greenway that would form a new connection from one neighborhood to Ferry Point Park. Also in The Bronx, a handful of wealthy Riverdale residents oppose the creation of the Hudson River Greenway, citing a fear of strangers on foot or bikes hundreds of yards away and down a steep hill from their homes. Their opposition is odd, since greenways have been repeatedly shown to increase the property value of nearby homes.
Lastly, greenways are multi-use paths that have a hard time accommodating very different users. Cyclists do not mix well with skaters and dog walkers. No doubt as the greenway network expands, conflict between user groups will surface as a big issue. Also, as planned, some of the most important greenways are not well connected to bridges or the street grid.
Greenways: Helping to Bring Bicycling Into the Mainstream
The creation of a vast greenway network is exciting to cyclists in its own right. But the paths have a more profound importance for cycling in the city. The greenways will put thousands of prospective and infrequent cyclists into the saddle. Even if they are just riding to and from the greenway path, these cyclists will be a big cycling presence on city streets. Spurred by the freedom of riding, it's likely a fair share of these cyclists will venture onto the streets. T.A.'s challenge is to make sure the greenways do get built and that the streets are ready for the cyclists soon to discover them.
Two greenway projects, the Hudson River Greenway and the East River Esplanade stand out as having strategic importance for the future of cycling in NYC. The Hudson River Greenway will connect Manhattan's huge employment and entertainment destinations south of 60th street with the dense residential neighborhoods of the Upper West Side. The path is projected to carry 1,000 cyclists an hour during peak periods, which will make it the busiest bike path in the nation. By the summer of 2000 the path should be in place south of 72nd street. By 2005 it should extend to 155th street.
Across town, the East River / Harlem River Greenway will ultimately provide an extraordinary car-free cycling link between the East River Bridges and the east side of Manhattan. The path is nearly completed south of 23rd street and already runs from 60th street to 125th Street. With the completion of the Harlem River Esplanade in the next few years, the path will reach almost to the northern tip of Manhattan. The price tag for just the section south of 60th street is a whopping $80 million due to the need for extensive bulkhead and marine work. Another obstacle along the path's route is the United Nations, which cites security concerns in opposing a path on its riverside.
State of NYC Greenways by Borough
Greenway Path - Status* - Miles
Data compiled from various sources including: the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, New York City Department of City Planning and Neighborhood Open Space Coalition.
*Status/completion dates are unofficial estimates by T.A.