July 7, 2006--Reports in the last hour that Jordanian backed bombers planned to blow up New York's Holland Tunnel have been ignoring the important impact such an event would have on New York and the entire northeast. A report by the NY Daily News, and perhaps the terrorists themselves, have focused on the potential flooding of the Wall St. area had Al Qaeda sympathizers allegedly backed by the recently deceased Abu Musab al-Zarqawi been successful in their aims.
The danger of such an event is far greater than the flooding the terrorrists have planned for. Just the fear alone of a possible attack can have a paralyzing effect on transportation in the entire northeast. Imagine 20 percent of the tunnel users redirecting themselves instead to the George Washington Bridge to travel between New York and the rest of the east coast. Currently the bridge is at capacity, at times with traffic backed up on IS- 95/ 80 --stalling all interstate traffic for hours. Imagine if the number of people who chose to switch the way they have traveled either temporarily or permanently came to more than 20 percent of tunnel users. What we would have is a completely stalled interstate transportation system and the myriad problems that would bring.
Then imagine that terrorists are successful in carrying out their plot through one of their multifarious cells. That's 100 percent of the interstate traffic diverted to the GWB and the Tappan Zee Bridge. A physical impossibility, and far more significant perhaps than flooding parts of lower Manhattan.
The possibility that misdirected terrorists could destroy the tunnel and the bridge have always hung in the back of the minds of many commuters as they chug along every day on their trips back and forth to the city. The recent strengthening of the GWB cables with a bomb-strength protectant that would send the force of an explosion outward would only serve to preserve the bridge's structure in the event of a terrorist strike: the force would still bring the bridge down possibly 20 feet according to experts knowledgeable about the technology. In such an explosion, likely everyone on the bridge would perish. Bridge and tunnel users often complain that police inspections of trucks and cars entering either crossing are negligible.
But again, the effect on interstate movement would be so debilitating as to bring the entire northeast to a close standstill. Imagine, no food, supplies, trucks, and people able to cross from west to east without significant delays and costs. That would choke off New York City, Westchester, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Long Island, from points west and vice versa. It would create massive problems with connecting transportation such as the LaGuardia and Kennedy Airports. Commerce--which thrives not only on goods but also on people--would cease to be what it is.
What little this has to do with cycling may one day turn out to be a lot. Under those circumstances, would these narrow-minded bridge and tunnel authorities finally build convenient and easy to access bicycle facilities, so that trucks and buses have the opportunity to pass along these crowded routes? Would motorists finally take their bikes to cross?
This summer again, like last summer, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey has chosen the prime months of June through September to close the south pedestrian walk along the George Washington Bridge. Understandably the walk needs to be closed for construction. But once again PANYNJ has done absolutely nothing to improve access on the north side where cyclists and peds have to climb up and down 6 sets of stairs carrying their bikes, often tripping and falling with their cleated shoes. Why hasn't the Port Authority used the nine months when the north walk was closed to add essential ramps to ease their transitions?
On a normal weekend day, more than 1500 cyclists cross the bridge in one direction. On Saturday July 1, cyclists said they had to wait at the bottom and top of the stairways in line in order to climb or descend because it is necessary to use the handrails so they would not fall while carrying their bikes. The closure is likely to add motorist traffic as cyclists, weary of the ridiculous trip, take their cars with their bikes in order to cross.
Tony Ciavolella, spokesperson noted that "the bridge is FREE to cyclists," suggesting that they should not complain since they don't pay a fee to cross. "That's ridiculous," said one cyclist when told of the spokesman's comments. "We ride across causing no pollution--they should thank us for crossing on bikes," she argued.
Currently motorists pay $6 to cross the bridge, as do the informal Spanish transit buses that can carry more than 30 people at a time, bringing the cost per person to about 20 cents.
That being the case, the Port Authority should accommodate cyclists in the same easy access way they do cars--with direct, street-level entry points, cross-over bridges to bike paths, and 24-hour access. And they can charge even more than the 20 cents--how about 25 cents using a coin-operated turnstile.
And start treating interstate transportation with the 21st century thinking it deserves.
(Photos: Courtesy of Palisades Interstate Parks Commission: Photo 2: The GWB under construction in 1931).