Bikes were my primary means of transportation in Brooklyn for a quarter-century – I was an almost-daily cyclist. I wouldn’t have been able to accomplish my tasks/errands/commuting to school/work without a bike.
I avoided arterial roads, which have chaotic traffic with impatient drivers and many trucks, and took side streets whenever possible. I was a member of Transportation Alternatives, and was awaiting the day when there would be an expansion of protected bike lanes and bike paths, such as the one on Ocean Parkway. I welcome the expansion everywhere of the bike network on streets and roads, especially the protected version – whose planned buildout is currently at only 9%.
Some streets – particularly arterial roadways used for emergency vehicles – may not be suitable even for unprotected bike lanes. But, generally speaking, I believe that bikes should be able to go where cars go. Even though I may feel uncomfortable riding on an arterial road such as 21st Street in Queens, some cyclists don’t have a problem with a narrow space between heavy traffic and parked cars whose doors might suddenly fly open.
Roosevelt Island’s helix ramp is a traffic challenge. It’s a narrow, two-way spiral, with limited sightlines and no shoulder. There’s no room for a sidewalk, and pedestrians aren’t permitted. There isn’t room for a dedicated bike lane. The ramp is barely able to accommodate motor vehicle traffic. Oversize and long trucks need to be escorted. It’s also our only land route to/from the Island – including, of course, for emergency vehicles.
The ramp was designed for only vehicular traffic. All others were supposed to use the escalators, elevators, or stairs. But the escalators are no longer in service, the elevators can’t accommodate large motorized wheelchairs or tandem bikes, and not everyone can carry a bike up the stairs.
Concerned about safety on the ramp, the RIRA Public Safety Committee presented a resolution, tabled at Wednesday’s Common Council meeting, restricting ramp access to motor vehicles only. The resolution isn’t anti-bike – It’s a recommendation to RIOC’s Public Safety Department that, because of safety concerns for both cyclists and motorists, the ramp be off-limits to bikes, as it currently is to pedestrians.
If bikes are not ultimately banned from the Island’s helix ramp, RIOC should paint sharrows (bicycle images) on the pavement to remind motorists to share the roadway with cyclists. (Of course, sharrows would not straighten out the spiral, improve the sightlines, widen the roadway, or add shoulders.)
Since the ramp isn’t currently off-limits to cyclists, Bike New York – which is providing a wonderful service in teaching safe cycling, distributing helmets, and so on – is including instruction for Islanders on how to ride it as safely as possible.
Even if bikes are ultimately banned from the ramp, most cyclists will continue to use it, as will people in motorized wheelchairs, because the alternatives (elevators, stairs) aren’t practical or efficient. With that in mind, perhaps RIOC should expeditiously ask the Department of Transportation to consider adding an ADA-compliant, dedicated bike/wheelchair/pedestrian ramp between the bridge and the promenade. Mayor Bill de Blasio has made Vision Zero – roadway safety – one of the goals of his administration. Maybe the City will build such a ramp.