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Reference > Transportation Planning > Bicycle Network Development Printer Friendly Version
A Greenway Plan for New York City, 1993

The Vision
New York City's greenways would be a system of bicycle-pedestrian pathways along natural and manmade linear spaces such as rail and highway rights-of-way, river corridors, waterfront spaces, parklands and, where necessary, city streets. They are at once the parks for the 21st century and a part of the transportation infrastructure, providing for pleasant, efficient, healthful and environmentally-sound travel by foot, bicycle or skates.

Greenways and trails are ideally suited to the flat, compact urban environment of New York City. They will be mostly hard-surface paths, paved with asphalt or concrete, although some locations may require a more natural material such as crushed limestone or a wooden walkway to protect fragile ecosystems. The system is envisioned to accommodate the broad array of non-motorized users: cyclists, joggers, strollers, people in wheelchairs, dog walkers, skaters, and bird watchers. Because the narrowness of some greenway routes may limit bicycle use, the system will complement and connect with on-street bicycle routes and the city's sidewalks to ensure continuity for all users.

Bridge and ferry water crossings will be significant parts of the greenway system, offering exhilarating views, interborough connections, and access to regional routes. Connections to Long Island, New Jersey, upstate New York, and Connecticut would allow city residents to bike or hike to regional recreation resources such as Jones Beach, Bear Mountain, and Liberty State Park. Residents of nearby suburbs and cities would also have an alternate and pleasant way to reach New York City's wealth of cultural resources. The system will include parts of two long-distance trails: the Hudson River Greenway, connecting New York City to Albany and Montreal; and the East Coast Greenway, linking cities along the east coast from Maine to Florida.

Greenways can serve a host of functions providing health, recreation, transportation, and community development benefits:

  • New open spaces reaching throughout the city, close to people's homes and work places, would allow them to explore the city's surprisingly diverse natural environment and to enjoy the intense urban character of its built environment: its dramatic skylines, graceful architecture, handsomely designed parks, and sleek bridges; and the cultural richness of its ethnic neighborhoods.

  • Offering many of the same recreational benefits as wilderness trails, the city's greenways would be a place to enjoy the sun, the breeze, or waterfront views; and to exercise, relax, and experience nature. By contributing to physical fitness, greenways can offer New Yorkers important health benefits.

  • Trails will expand transportation options by offering a more flexible and environmentally sound means of travel to work or other destinations. In areas now underserved by public transportation, people will be able to bike to the subway, commuter train, or ferry, enhancing mobility and increasing use of the mass transit system.

  • As use of these trails increases, they can help to reduce traffic congestion and air pollution. Traffic-free corridors will encourage more people to cycle by offering the less experienced or adventurous a safer and more appealing place to cycle than city streets.

  • Greenways can be natural buffers between different land uses, separating residential and commercial areas, or highways and residential neighborhoods.

  • Where they provide significant green mass, greenways can help to sustain the biological diversity of plant and animal habitats; their trees and vegetation can refresh the air and even filter runoff into streams and rivers.

  • Trails can offer modest economic benefits, raising the value of property adjacent to once idle land, and spurring small private enterprises including bicycle repair and rental shops, food establishments, and other services.

  • Connecting neighborhood to neighborhood, borough to borough, and city to suburb, these linear commons can offer a new kind of public place, bringing together the young and old, rich and poor, and people from diverse cultural backgrounds.

Realizing the Vision
Although many of the greenways are already in place or easily implemented, it will take at least ten years to complete this system. A range of issues must be resolved, design standards must be developed, precise routes must be determined, and funding must be secured to complete the system -- first the priority routes and then the remaining linkages.

Fortunately, greenways have been an integral element of the Department's open space, transportation and waterfront planning program for some time. Most important, the trails/greenway agenda was given a tremendous boost in 1991 with enactment of the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA). The program establishes a new federal transportation policy that acknowledges cycling and walking as fundamental elements of the transportation system, and it provides substantial funding for trails, bikeways, pedestrian facilities and rail-trail conversions.

In response to the federal initiative, the New York State Department of Transportation established the Metro New York Bikeway-Walkway Working Group in early 1992 to develop a comprehensive bicycle and walking plan. With broad participation by public agencies and interest groups, the committee established consensus on a preliminary greenway plan which has enabled the city to seek ISTEA funding for greenway planning and development.

In August 1993, $1 million in ISTEA funding was authorized for a Bike Network Program to be jointly administered by the Department of City Planning and the New York City Department of Transportation (DOT). Over the coming few years, City Planning will use its share of the funding to further define the greenway system including: refining the system of traffic-free bicycle routes; completing a detailed study of at least one major route; developing a model map and user guide; and designing a signage system to expand public awareness and use.

The Department will work toward linking the greenways with the on-street bicycle routes and pedestrian facilities being planned and implemented by the Department of Transportation. DOT will use its ISTEA funding to: develop and begin to implement the comprehensive on-road route system, including striping and signing designated routes; establish a regular maintenance program for bike routes; develop a public awareness program including safety information, posters and media coverage; expand its bicycle count program to provide more and better information on cycling activity and to document use of new routes as they come on line; revitalize the bicycle advisory committee; and undertake bicycle support programs such as placing bike racks and lockers at strategic locations.

In addition, 11 separate projects have been endorsed by the New York City Transportation Coordinating Committee (NYCTCC) for $3.9 million in ISTEA Congestion Mitigation Air Quality funding. Approved projects include major portions of the Hudson and East River systems in Manhattan, the Putnam Rail and Hudson River corridors in the Bronx, the Brooklyn-Queens Greenway and Shore Parkway in Brooklyn and Queens; and the Staten Island Railroad Trail in Staten Island. Other means of implementing the priority routes described below include state and city capital funds, which are contributing to completion of portions of the Harlem Beach esplanade and the Shore Parkway bikepath. Greenway segments can also be implemented as part of park renovation projects, such as Soundview Park in the Bronx, or in conjunction with highway or bridge projects, such as the rebuilding of Route 9A and rehabilitation of the Williamsburg and Manhattan bridges. Private development along the waterfront will also provide important links in the system.

As part of the greenway planning agenda, the following operating constraints and issues must be addressed if the system is to function successfully.

  • Space limitations and conflicts among the various users. A growing range and number of trail users must often fit into very narrow corridors. Clear rules of public behavior must be established to ensure safety, and standards must be established to guide the design of these paths. For example, a multi-use path should be at least twelve feet wide for two-way traffic. In areas where heavy use is anticipated, it may be desirable to separate pedestrians from cyclists and other wheeled users by creating completely discrete paths. Where the space is not sufficient to safely accommodate all users, faster wheeled users may have to be diverted to a secondary route nearby, perhaps an on-street alternative. This may be necessary along portions of the waterfront with limited space between the shore and existing structures, highways, or rail lines.

  • The problems posed by a built-up city. In some areas where streets may be the only alternative for a bikeway alignment, there are likely to be conflicts with automotive uses; for example, in industrial areas where streets are vital for moving goods by truck.

  • Maintenance and management. Resources must be identified to pay for the operation of this new recreation/transportation infrastructure and to make the spaces secure from crime. Management arrangements need to be structured in ways that recognize the variety of jurisdictions traversed by the greenways.

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