by Barrett Seaman –
The bicycles are coming, they’re coming to town. If you believe the Route 9 Active Transportation campaign pitch, they will be coming over the new Mario Cuomo Bridge or up from the city by the thousands—and the rivertowns will need to prepare for them by building a bike lane along Broadway (Route 9) from Ossining all the way down through Hastings-on-Hudson.
The catalyst driving this campaign is the addition of a 12-foot-wide dedicated bicycle/pedestrian pathway, referred to as the “Shared-Use Path,” along the north span of the new bridge. With the pathway comes the expectation that the cyclists who use it will need someplace safe to ride once they reach the shore.
The Thruway Authority has demonstrated its enthusiasm for the biking culture by throwing in $150,000 towards building a consensus in the affected communities. On the eastern shore of the Hudson, the villages themselves—Sleepy Hollow, Tarrytown, Irvington, Dobbs Ferry and Hastings—formed a consortium to explore what will have to be done to accommodate a bike lane, bolstered by the state grant and the implicit promise that the state will eventually approve what is an ambitious—and ultimately expensive—project along what is a highly-traveled state road.
With support from a contingent of bike aficionados from around the lower Hudson Valley, the villages hired Nelson Nygaard, a national transportation consulting firm with offices in New York City and elsewhere. The firm has done work in Westchester in the past, most recently with Ossining and the county-wide Bee-Line bus system.
The “Route 9 Active Transportation Conceptual Design Plan,” as the campaign is called, has been out polling residents, merchants and government officials for their views on how to create a protected bike lane through Broadway’s diverse environments and still allow easy access to shops and schools as well as to the new Tappan Zee Bridge bike path. They also hope to improve sidewalks, crosswalks and intersections in order to enhance safety for pedestrians, and to make bus stops more accessible and attractive.
From June through October, the Active Transportation team held four public information events. That process will continue online going forward. For its part, the Thruway Authority held a similar event at Tarrytown’s DoubleTree Hotel where they displayed their ideas for linking the new bridge bike path to Broadway.
“Residents and visitors alike are challenged to navigate along or across most of the corridor by bus, bike and walking due to a steady stream of 4,000 to 75,000 vehicles per day, long distances between protected crossings, poor wayfinding, and missing sidewalks,” concluded Nelson Nygaard’s preliminary analysis of the project. The complexities and potentially conflicting interests involved are evident beginning right at the point the bridge’s Shared-Use Path meets Broadway.
The proposed 270-ft. bridgeway for bikes and pedestrians that parallels Broadway as it crosses over the Thruway is simple enough, but how to get bikes and walkers through the thicket of public buildings that surround the intersection is not. Within a quarter-mile radius, there is a shopping center, a large office building, the Jewish Community Center, the DoubleTree Hotel, a newly-expanded Honda dealership and service center and two heavily-used on/off ramps to the Thruway. Traffic back-ups are routine during both morning and evening rush hours even before the addition of light-regulated crosswalks as proposed in the Thruway Authority plan.
Listening to the comments from attendees at the DoubleTree information session, the state’s project manager, engineer Dan Capobianco acknowledged the “competing interests” his team has to wrestle with. The bike advocates were present as well as some local merchants, but no one there spoke for the drivers. “Generally, we don’t see commuters here,” said Capobianco, “and we haven’t even talked about the property owners.” Still, the Thruway Authority hopes to nail down plans for the intersection this winter and have the project completed in 2019.
Proponents hope that the continuous shared-use lane will make it safer for bike riders and attract more of them—as tourists, as commuters and as local residents availing themselves of the opportunity to do more without a car. By improving sidewalks and crosswalks, they hope to make the area safer for pedestrians of all ages. And they hope to make bus stops more accessible and attractive. The net effect, they believe, will be to calm automotive traffic, both by slowing it down and by reducing it by attrition as more people turn to other modes of transportation. From the public sessions, what the group is picking up, says Andrew Ratzkin, a member of the steering committee from Hastings, is a “consistent desire to have Broadway safer, calmer and less dividing of east and west sides.” The strategy is “to create a virtuous cycle in which people are made more comfortable crossing Broadway, which in turn will slow traffic.”
The villages themselves, sponsors of the study, have begun to weigh in. Irvington Village Administrator Larry Schopfer recognizes “the competing concerns that need to be vetted in some public fashion.” His sense is that many would agree that reducing the lanes on Broadway from four to three with a turning lane in the middle as a way to make room for bikes would be a good thing—at least in Irvington. But like many, he is concerned about traffic back-ups in peak hours. Irvington trustees have generally indicated they want to first see specific recommendations before deciding.
Tarrytown Village Administrator Richard Slingerland reacted to the preliminary analysis in a message to Nelson Nygaard by acknowledging the importance of pedestrians and cyclists to the village but also expressing concerns about the potential loss of parking availability that the addition of a bike lane would almost certainly entail. “As a balance, parking is a vital resource that is in high demand in all municipalities around Westchester, including the Village of Tarrytown,” the administrator wrote. The village, he continued, “has concerns about the elimination of parking along Route 9 that would replace the parking with a bicycle lane.”
Dan Convissor, who founded the grass roots group Bike Tarrytown, has informally surveyed businesses along the route and says that of the 22 he has interviewed, 11 are on the record as being in favor, six said they are in favor but “don’t want to be political;” three are interested but are concerned about parking and two are “on the fence.”
While some merchants see the increase in bike traffic as good for business, others are less sure. Kevin Kaye, owner of Tarrytown’s On Track Sports Center and co-chair of the village’s Chamber of Commerce, says he would “like to be positive about it, but like most people in our community, our main concern is parking.” Area merchants, said Kaye, are only now “starting to get a little more vocal.”
The areas of concern, according to Nelson Nygaard’s data, are concentrated around the major intersections: Beekman Avenue to the high school in Sleepy Hollow, the stretch of Broadway on either side of Main Street in both Tarrytown and Irvington, and the double intersection of Broadway with Ashford Avenue and Cedar Street in Dobbs Ferry high on the list (see map).
While results of the Nelson Nygaard study will be published in the spring, approval of—and most especially funding for—whatever the consortium decides it wants to do is yet to be determined. As Dru van Hengel, a principal on the project for Nelson Nygaard who grew up in Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow, acknowledged, “We’ve got our work cut out for us.”