Monday, October 09, 2006

Gubernatorial Candidate Spitzer and the Port Authority Respond to GWB Complaints

October 9, 2006
Last month, Benepe's Bike Blog wrote a letter to Kenneth Ringler, the Executive Director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey requesting a status update on the progress of the south cyclist and pedestrian path (letter reprinted below).

As many of you know, this more accessible side was closed all summer during peak riding season, a complete affront to the importance of cyclists in the region. The north side was opened in exchange, but numerous steps have led to accidents and severe inconvenience for cyclists. The fact that the bridge path is completely closed to cyclists from 12 midnight to 6 a.m. is also an abrogation of our civil right to equal access under federal transportation law.

We also sent a copy of the letter to New York gubernatorial candidate Eliot Spitzer, whom we suspect will be likely to support bicycle progress in New York, as well as have control over how the PANYNJ handles cycling matters if he should win the election this fall.

Included in the letter was a suggestion that the port authority charge cyclists 50 cents and then provide on and off ramps directly to the Greenway in Manhattan, and to Hudson Terrace and River Road in New Jersey. We also asked for 24-hour access, the same that cars and trucks enjoy.
While Mr. Spitzer responded to not only the immediate need for the south pathway to be opened but also the larger issues confronting cyclists on bridge crossings at the GWB and other bridges (such as overnight closures,) the PANYNJ did not even respond to the issue, treating the suggestion as if it were never made.

And while Mr. Spitzer noted that he would look into the various issues, including the accessibility of bridges to cyclists, the port authority only said that unanticipated construction, such as additional areas of the south sidewalk needing repair, were to blame for the delay. They made no mention of how they might better handle the north side stairs which have ill fitting railways and handrails that do little to help cyclists up and down while wearing cleated shoes.

One thing is certain: contact names and numbers have been supplied: Mr. Robert Durando, General Manager of the GWB Bus Station at 201-346-4005; and Terri Benczik, Client Manager of Government and Community Affairs, at 212-435-4807, both at the PANYNJ.

Reprint of Original letter:

Sept. 12, 2006

Kenneth J. Ringler
Executive Director
Port Authority of New York and New Jersey
225 Park Ave. South
New York, NY 10003

Dear Mr. Ringler:

The construction on the south side of the George Washington Bridge that has blocked the south path from pedestrian and cyclist use has proven to be an enormous inconvenience for cyclists this summer, peak bike riding season.

Several cyclists have fallen down the long, slippery steps on the north side, damaging their bodies and their bikes.

On weekends there are long wait times to go up and down the stairs to cross the bridge because of the number of cyclists crossing at one time (more than 1,500 per day crossing twice).

I have watched several cyclists turning away from the bridge because of the huge inconvenience caused by the up and down staircase, including a family of three, two adults and a baby, on bikes.

The bike railings are useless for most cyclists because they wear cleated shoes that slip on the open metal stairways, and therefore while holding the side rails with their hands, they must carry their bikes. While they hold the side rails, they must do so more than 2 feet away because of the placement of the yellow bike rails which are in the way, and completely useless to them.

In the meantime, we were told the south side would be open by September.

It is not open yet, and it is now the second year in a row where cyclists are not only inconvenienced but also endangered by the construction.

In a reply to one of my emails earlier this summer, someone on your media staff said that cyclists should be thankful for any passage at all because, after all, it is “free”.

I have done an informal poll among cyclists, and found that they would be happy to pay a toll of 50 cents —the car equivalent by weight and size—to have the same amenities as motorists: ramped entrances and exits, direct connections to bike routes and bike paths, such as the Westside greenway, and most importantly, 24-hour access.

The fact that after so many years we do not have on and off ramps directly connecting us to all important bike paths in New York and New Jersey, is incredible and prejudicial, favoring motorized traffic over human beings who are preserving the environment.

That the path is closed from midnight to 6 a.m. because cyclists and pedestrians pose more of a terrorist threat than do cars and trucks which can carry huge caches of explosives, is prejudicial and without merit. The bridge can also, at any point in time, be easily hit by a missile fired from either side of the river, along any of the walkways, parks or streets which are largely un-patrolled by the authorities.

Can we have a progress report on the status of the south side please?

Please indicate in your reply the person responsible at the Port Authority with whom I can address these short and long term issues.

I will also like to open a formal dialogue on behalf of cyclists to convert the pathways to ramps that lead seamlessly into bike paths, and the restitution of 24-hour access.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Best Regards,

Jen Benepe
President and Publisher
2157 Center Ave., Suite One
Fort Lee, NJ 07024

Cc: Gov. George E. Pataki
NY State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer

To be published later: copies of both letters.


Richard Rosenthal said...

The Port Authority claimed to me concrete work could only be done in the summer because warm weather is necessary. Uh, haven't I seen concrete work done in late March, April, May, September, and October? And other months?

The PA, through its workers, have repeatedly "mis-spoken" about when the south side would be re-opened, reflexively saying "two weeks," "two weeks," "two weeks" whenever I and others would ask.

When I asked the PA spokesman whether the PA couldn't assign a patrol car, light flashing, to lead, and a patrol car, light flashing, to follow a pack of cyclists across the main roadway a few (announced) times during the day so we could time our arrival at the bridge to meet these crossings, I was told the officers are too busy to do that. Gosh, is their dance card really so fully booked that none of them has 5-10 minutes? Don't they, in fact, routinely cross the bridge back-and forth as part of their jobs?

And most of all I wonder this: I was told by the PA spokesman the construction would benefit cyclists, that there would be tangible improvements for us in the work...although the spokesman couldn't make me understand exactly what it was. What is it, if— and I do mean IF—anything?

Eugene said...

Reasons cyclists shouldn't pay a toll on the GW bridge:

1. Cyclists don't damage the roadway like motorists do. There is an enourmous annual budget devoted to surface repair/replacement that doesn't exist with the bike path. Cyclists' "cost" to the public for bridge use is negligible in comparison.

2. It is in the the community's interest to encourage bicycle transportation rather that motorized. Free bridge crossing is one of many incentives that should be (and is) provided for a cleaner, safer, quieter, and less erosive mode of transportation.

Anonymous said...

Couldn't agree with Eugene more, a bike toll is a horrible idea, and goes against the whole spirit of encouraging alternative transportation projects.

It's also financially unfeasible. Even on a time of peak crossing there's probably only 1-2 thousand riders a day. On weekdays it has to be just in the hundreds. The PA would collect, with 1000 crossings a day at 50 cents a crossing, $500. In a 24 hour period that comes out to $20.80 an hour, before subtracting the cost of a toll taker (a union job that probably makes more than $20 an hour). Even pretending that a toll taker made only $10/hour that's a terribly small sum for the PA to take in order to make huge changes to infrastructure.

Then of course there's the matter of how to stop bicycles from crossing without a toll without stopping pedestrians (because anywhere a pedestrian could enter the walkway, a cyclist could as well.)

Cities have long turned to prohibitive pricing structures on tollways to discourage use at peak times and to encourage non-motorized transit. Instituting a toll for cyclists goes against those goals and turns the use of a bike into a cost equation.

I'm not sure which group of cyclists you questioned, but none of the ones I know would like to pay to enter the city by bike, especially since they tend to be traveling into/out of NYC for recreation (in which case the toll is oppressive) or because they can't afford vehicles (in which case it's even more oppressive).

Finally, residents of the state pay into the maintenance and development of the roadways, so we're already paying for the bridges. Tolls are designed to offset repair costs, and there are no repair costs generated by bicycle use.