Saturday, March 24, 2012

BBB's "50-Cent" Bridge Toll Revived by Schwartz

Riders coming across closed lower level GWB in 2011 Gran Fondo (c) Benepe
The fifty cent toll for cyclists that Benepe's Bike Blog proposed to teh Port Authority and Elliot Spitzer in 2006 has been revived under the man who helped coin the term "gridlock."

CBS reported on their blog Friday that Sam Schwartz is proposing the same 50-cent crossing toll for bicyclists that were first proposed right here.

We haven't seen the plans yet, and though the media is waxing hot on its "green component," we don't know if they include any of the concomitant improvements on cyclist byways and connections that we originally asked for.

The proposed bicycle toll was part of a bigger plan that Schwartz is proposing to cover motor vehicle tolls, and create funding. But when it came to bicycles the only difference is that Schwartz's proposal covers the East River, and ours referred to the Hudson River.

To complicate matters cyclists have noted on e-bikes, the electronic exchange in New York that was created by Danny Lieberman--that 50 cents is a gross over-calculation of the expected contribution that cyclists should pay.

According to cyclist and advocate Jym Dyer,  John Holtzclaw who worked on the Sierra Club's campaign against sprawl came up with a calculation for the fair charge for a bicycle crossing the San Francisco Bridge in 1998.

Using a calculation for the damage made to the bridge by speed and weight, he found that if bicycles were charged one cent, ($.01) it would  be the equivalent to charging a 4,000 pound SUV $8,000. (See calculation below). Therefore charging 50 cents for a cyclist would mean we should charge the equivalent $400,000 per trip to the SUV driver.

But if any of these changes are made, will they really be made for cyclists? We have our doubts. 

When we first wrote our letter to Kenneth Ringler, Executive Director of the Port Authority, copying Elliot Spitzer and then Gov. Pataki asking for changes, and proposing a crossing fee, Spitzer was a New York State gubernatorial candidate.

At the time we were really teed off about the rotten conditons for cyclists on the George Washington Bridge, which is one of the most heavily traveled bridges on two wheels between New York and New Jersey.

We only got an answer from Spitzer, not from the other two officials--Ringler and Pataki, who never seemed to pay much attention to cyclists.

But our suggestion, which appears to not have been attributed either by CBS, NY Times or Sam Schwartz, came with sensible requirements. Such as, ramps and byways that actually connect to the bikeways to and from the bridge on both sides.

In the case of the GWB, the pathway leading to the New York side dumps cyclists off onto a dangerous roadway with speeding cars. The transiton to the one safe bikeway along the river, the Hudson River Greenway, is hazardous, treacherous, inconvenient, not marked, and frankly an embarassment.

Considering all of the elaborate highway connections that are built through many layers of air for the millions of cars and thundering trucks, all of them spewing gasoline particles into the air--it strikes one as slightly ridiculous that not even the simplest of connections could be built for cyclists so they could travel on safely to their destination.

Mind you, this has been going on for years. When the Port Authority--which is in charge of the bridge, had to make anti-terrorist changes to the bridge span, they shut off the south walk for long periods of time, leaving cyclists to walk up and down urine-stained steps, most of them so impossibly slippery and long, that normal people just turned around when they saw what they were up against.  Stalwart racers who just had to get to the other side to get their weekend ride in slipped down the stairs in their cleated shoes.

What's more, in 2001 or 2002, the powers that be at the PANYNJ (not sure who made this behind-the-scenes decision,) decided to close off the bikeway from 12 midnight to 6 am, effectively cutting off pedestrian and bicycle traffic completely at night.  The move was ostensibly for security reasons, which none of us could ever fathom considering that a truck driver carrying a bomb to the middle of the bridge would be a lot more effective than a bicyclist or a pedestrian.

Once again, as publishers of a local bicycle blog and now CyclistsInternational, we can't claim to know the secret desires of ALL cyclists. But this we can be sure of: Those we spoke to agreed that the bridges coming into and out of Manhattan with few exceptions do not adequately, safely,and  efficiently deliver cyclists to the other side in a manner that is equal to the way motorised users are. Therefore, it is imperative that before --before--any monies are paid by cyclists these changes must be made.

Of course, none of the improvements we asked for in the letter--now over 5 years ago, have ever been made. Will they be made this time?

Below are reprinted for your convenience, the letter and original post.

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

reprinted from
By John Holtzclaw

The damage to roadways from motor vehicle traffic in the
standard formula used by engineers is the speed x (axle
loading) to the 4th power.

Speed on GG Bridge:
bicycle -- 10 mph
SUV -- 50 mph
ratio SUV/bicycle = 5

Axle loading:
170 lb person on 30 lb bike -- 200 lb
SUV -- 4000 lb
ratio SUV/bicycle = 20
20 to 4th power = 160000

So SUV damage = 5 x 160000 = 800,000

To be fair, bicycles should be charged the same rate as cars
for the damage they cause.  Charging bicycles 1 cent = $0.01 is
equal to charging SUVs $8,000.  If bicycles were charged 1 cent
for every 10 bridge crossings, SUVs would be charged $800 per
crossing.  While there isn't an equivalent formula estimating
pedestrian damage, if it is conservatively assumed to be 10
times that of bicyclists, a 1 cent charge to pedestrians is
equal to charging SUVs $800.

1 comment:

AdamDZ said...

I'm not paying bike tolls. Most insane idea ever. We're already saving the city money by causing less damage to the infrastructure. Cycling should be encouraged, not penalized. Plus, you know very well how this will work: the city will take our money and we'll get squat in exchange.