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The Real Reason We Can’t Bike Over MTA Bridges – Streetsblog New York City

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The Actual Cause We Can’t Bike Over MTA Bridges – Streetsblog New York Metropolis

In defiance of regional will increase in bicycling and strolling, the MTA is once more cannibalizing a bridge sidewalk to create one other car lane.

In February 2020, MTA Bridges and Tunnels announced building of a $48 million ramp connecting the Manhattan span of the RFK (Triborough) Bridge to the northbound Harlem River Drive. The diagram of the challenge exhibits the brand new ramp crossing over the span’s northern sidewalk, completely severing the sidewalk from its Manhattan endpoint.

Though cyclists and pedestrians will nonetheless be capable of cross the bridge on its southern sidewalk, they’ll have half the area and comfort they’d earlier than; there’s additionally way more chance of closures due to building or emergencies.

Ed Ravin

That is hardly the primary time the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority (the company identify of MTA Bridges and Tunnels) has achieved away with sidewalks on its bridges. It’s not even the primary time the authority has eliminated sidewalks from the Triborough Bridge. In truth, the TBTA started narrowing or eradicating sidewalks upon finishing its first bridges within the late Nineteen Thirties.

The Harlem River Drive ramp challenge exhibits the TBTA’s priorities: For $48 million, it should shave round two minutes from the typical northbound driver’s journey. In a nod to environmental issues, the company claims that the ramp will forestall “2,500 tons of CO2 equal emissions,” and that Harlem residents whose streets are clogged with bridge visitors will one way or the other be safer and breathe simpler. But these claims don’t compensate for induced demand, a phenomenon by which newly widened roads quickly fill with visitors that springs as much as reap the benefits of the quickly sooner route. The TBTA ought to be intimately accustomed to induced demand: All of it however invented it in 1939 when it constructed the Whitestone Bridge and seen the close by Triborough Bridge did not see much reduction in traffic.

Lately, each different regional bridge-building company added good issues for bicyclists and pedestrians into their main initiatives. The N.Y. State Thruway Authority’s substitute for the Tappan Zee Bridge included a bicycle/pedestrian path. The Port Authority rebuilt the Goethals Bridge with a 10-foot-wide bike/ped path and has designed substantial sidewalk enhancements into the upcoming rehab of the George Washington Bridge. The NY State Division of Transportation’s substitute Kosciuszko Bridge sports activities an expensive 20-foot-wide bike/ped path.

Sadly, the TBTA can be the one native company that prohibits bicycling on bridge sidewalks and harasses bicyclists by ticketing them for not strolling their bicycles on the mile-plus journey throughout the RFK Bridge.

A gate narrows the shared path on the George Washingon Bridge. Photo: Ed Ravin

A slim shared path on the George Washington Bridge. Picture: Ed Ravin

The TBTA claims the five-foot-wide paths on the RFK and Marine Parkway Bridges are too slim for protected bicycling, and has repeatedly referred to the fashionable customary of 10 ft width for two-way bike paths. However the RFK Bridge’s two, five-foot paths would have met that customary, in the event that they had been signed one-way for bicyclists (and if the TBTA hadn’t eliminated considered one of them). Bridges constructed within the Nineteen Thirties aren’t anticipated to fulfill fashionable requirements — the George Washington Bridge’s sidewalk path can be 5 ft huge for 100 yards or so on its Manhattan aspect, and never a lot wider the remainder of the best way. Nonetheless, that path’s peak utilization is greater than 500 bicyclists and pedestrians an hour, way more visitors than TBTA bridge sidewalks see on most days. Though not best, the GWB instance proves that compromise is feasible if a bridge authority desires to allow bike driving.

Additional, the TBTA’s Cross Bay Veterans Memorial Bridge has a 10-foot-wide sidewalk, however bicycling is banned on it, too. It prompts the questions: What causes the TBTA’s dislike of all issues not motorized? And why is the company so resistant to vary?

These questions can solely be answered by wanting again to the formation of the TBTA. As Robert Caro documented in “The Power Broker,” grasp planner Robert Moses created the TBTA for 2 essential functions: to construct bridges and to create a perpetual cash machine, insulated from practically all types of oversight, to function his private public-works division and energy base. TBTA bridges together with regional highways (additionally supervised by Moses) enabled the enlargement of motor-vehicle dependent, segregated suburban communities and the transportation-based perpetuation of white supremacy.

To start out the cash machine, the TBTA bought bonds to finance its first bridge, promising to pay the bondholders from toll income. Slightly than repay the debt, the TBTA would suggest toll-backed initiatives and borrow much more cash. As a result of state regulation barred impairing current contractual obligations (i.e., the toll-backed bonds), debt turned a type of energy. The extra debt the TBTA bought, the extra its future was assured as a building and toll-collecting company with a purpose to service the debt. The Triborough Bridge, Henry Hudson Bridge, and Whitestone Bridge all wildly exceeded their visitors predictions: Robert Moses had created a hearth hose of money and had no intention of relinquishing it.

This juggernaut was reined in solely by some sleight-of-hand by Gov. Nelson Rockefeller and his brother, Chase Financial institution head David Rockefeller, who in 1968 engineered the takeover of the TBTA by the MTA. The TBTA beneath the MTA had a brand new function: Surplus toll income now would help the subways, buses, LIRR and Metro-North commuter railroads. With out spare money for big-ticket initiatives like bridges, the TBTA as an alternative targeted on lesser works like upkeep, rehabilitation and shoehorning in new lanes from time to time to make their bridges extra engaging to drivers and enhance toll income.

However bicyclists and pedestrians haven’t paid TBTA tolls because the Nineteen Fifties. No cash, no respect, it appears. Current TBTA historical past is stuffed with insults to bicyclists and pedestrians: Sidewalks on the Triborough Bridge had been left to rot within the Nineteen Eighties and Nineties; concrete spalling and momentary metallic plates had been frequent. A challenge round 1991 to develop the Henry Hudson Bridge toll plaza destroyed the Inwood Hill Park path that led to the bridge sidewalk. For the subsequent few years, path customers needed to clamber round Jersey limitations and ornamental plantings (see photograph). And in 1999, the TBTA’s most closely used footpath, on the Marine Parkway Bridge that connects bicyclists and pedestrians to Rockaway’s seashores, was closed for building whereas the TBTA added a car lane and relocated and rebuilt the sidewalk — to the identical slim width as the unique, bicycling nonetheless prohibited.

In 2004, the TBTA closed one of many two sidewalks on the Triborough Bridge’s Queens span with a purpose to cannibalize it for visitors lanes. Main capital initiatives on the Verrazano and Henry Hudson Bridges that might have included bicycle/pedestrian enhancements shut them out as an alternative. The TBTA has carried out two research on including a path to the Verrazano, nevertheless it refuses to launch the second examine to the general public, a lot much less act on it.

Expertise exhibits that solely the governor and Legislature have any main affect on the TBTA. Enhancing bike/ped entry to TBTA bridges would require grassroots effort to influence the politicians who can change the TBTA’s priorities. In the meantime, on TBTA bridges, cash talks — and bicyclists stroll. Assuming there are any sidewalks nonetheless left to stroll on.

Ed Ravin (@VeloTraveler), a long-time bicycling and livable-streets advocate, is a previous board member of the 5 Borough Bicycle Membership and Transportation Alternate options.


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