Health and active-transportation advocates secured a major success in their work to close gaps in the most heavily used bikeway in the United States and thereby not only improve safety, but also health opportunities for thousands of New York City residents.
Manhattan’s Hudson River Greenway, which is a continuous 11-mile route on the West Side of Manhattan between Battery Park and the George Washington Bridge, sees nearly 7,000 bicyclists a day. In addition, it is used as a safe, well maintained space for walkers and runners. Residents on the East Side of Manhattan have not been as fortunate.
There, bicyclists, runners, and walkers have used a patchwork greenway of pathways and routes, and are often forced to detour onto traffic-filled city streets. But that is starting to change thanks to a $100 million appropriation that will connect two sections of the Greenway and close the gap along the East River between East 38th and 61st Streets.
“Our overarching goal is that people should have access to a safe place to walk and bike – no matter where they live. Unfortunately, that hasn’t existed on the East Side but it will,” says Robin Vitale, vice president of health strategies in New York City for the American Heart Association, which helped lead the campaign for the appropriation.
The new section of the Greenway will be built over pylons on the East River that originally supported a temporary roadway used while repairing the FDR Drive. Construction is expected to start in 2019, and it is scheduled to be opened in 2022.
Vitale says that New York City Council members prioritized funding for the project due to its overall public-health benefits as well as neighborhood and safety benefits. When completed, it will give residents and workers of the East Side much needed access to active living opportunities.
For example, despite its proximity to Central Park, East Harlem is isolated from parks and open space by busy roads and other barriers and is among the neighborhoods with the poorest outcomes when it comes to children’s health as well as premature death rates. While advocates see the completion of this section of the Manhattan Greenway as a major step forward, they also view it as a beginning. They are already working on efforts to close two other gaps in order to help complete the loop.
“Bicycling has increased dramatically in New York City – which is great,” says Greg Mikhailovich, the director of grassroots advocacy for the American Heart Association in New York City, who was formerly with Transportation Alternatives, a New York-based, nonprofit walking and biking organization. “But the number one reason people consistently give for not bicycling in the city is not feeling safe riding in the street.”