Some Roosevelt Islanders, including parents, are legitimately concerned about the increasing number of cyclists on the Island, often speeding up and down our beautiful promenades. Concerns about bikes and public safety are important, understandable and should be taken seriously.
So, prior to petitioning and demonstrating against RIOC’s $14 million project to establish a safe bike ramp from the Roosevelt Island bridge onto a new east promenade bike lane, one must understand the facts at hand.
A cyclist died four years ago after a collision between the bicycle she was riding and a motorized vehicle. The cyclist was riding her bike northbound on Main Street at night. The vehicle turned left to enter the turnaround beneath the Motorgate garage. (The turnaround has since been closed to traffic.) They collided, and the cyclist was fatally injured.
This tragic and terrible incident was a major factor, among other safety concerns, leading to the decision to establish a dedicated ramp for bicycles and wheelchairs to avoid unsafe travel on the helix. The purpose of the new bike ramp is to ensure that cyclists and wheelchair riders have safe access on and off the Island.
Ever growing populations and commuters
The last census in 2010 tallied our population at 11,661 inhabitants. Since then, 480 Main Street has come online, and the Cornell Tech campus has opened. Two more Southtown buildings are planned. When all is said and done, the population will be close to approximately 17,000.
It is a fact that there are an increasing number of bikes and bike commuters on Roosevelt Island. The growth in bike riders has outpaced population growth over the last decade. This hike is observed all around the city. Whether one likes it or not, this phenomenon will continue to grow rapidly as a result of a combination of factors, including safer bike routes and a willingness by New York commuters to avoid traffic and overcrowded and delayed subways. There is also a growing leisure and fitness biking population.
The House, the residential building on the Cornell Tech campus
The 10,000 Citibikes that have been deployed to more than 600 locations have made cycling around the City possible even for those who don’t own bikes. According to City Hall, today there are more than 450,000 daily bike trips in the city, up from 170,000 in 2005, and 230,000 in 2010.
Even without Citibike stations on Roosevelt Island, one can observe an increased number of bikes as the result of younger population dynamics on the Island, additional real estate buildings and Cornell Tech. There is a willingness by Islanders to find alternative commute solutions to a single dysfunctional overcrowded subway line, a crowded tram, and crowded Island red buses at rush hours.
Roosevelt Island bikers are therefore de facto contributing to alleviate the pressure on the Island public transportation. This should be a welcome development. However, the Island 's west and east promenades are also becoming more crowded and chaotic because of this increasing Island population that includes pedestrians, walkers, runners, wheelchairs, strollers, small children at play or biking, pets on leash or without, skate boarders, bikers, squirrels and even, although illegal, motorized bicycles and vehicles.
In this environment, and without clear lanes, rules or markings on the floor, safety becomes a major concern. It is precisely to remedy this lack of order that bike and pedestrian lanes have already been beautifully designed around Cornell Tech and are planned to be established initially on the East promenade between the Roosevelt Island bridge and Cornell Tech. Additional funding should be forthcoming to allow for such lanes, signage, and markings around the whole Island.
Indeed, with the addition of two real estate buildings at Southtown, including hundreds of new apartments, the Island population will grow. Establishing separate and clearly identified pedestrian and bike lanes on the Island should be a top priority for safety. It will help regulate pedestrian and bicycle traffic and will significantly improve pedestrian safety. Speed limitations for bikes will also be instituted and enforced on the new bike lanes at crossings and dangerous points, identified by the community.
We are a small but continuously growing and evolving community. This is a fact of life. The ferry is a relief for many Roosevelt island commuters; but it also brings more more bikes to Roosevelt Island. With the ongoing modernization unfolding on the Island, a growing number of tourists is welcomed daily. These non-resident bike riders and tourists are not necessarily familiar with the Island surroundings and the absence of bike lanes and clear marking and signage for bikes become an even greater safety hazard.
Bike and pedestrian lanes make everyone, pedestrians, bike commuters and bike users alike, safer. Bike and pedestrian lanes are an imperative to protect every Islander. And they should be established quickly, for the safety of all Islanders and visitors: pedestrians with and without pets, bikes, skaters, roller-blades, wheelchair users, stroller riders, young and less young, children, and families irrespective of how they move around and enjoy our beautiful Island.
*This represents the personal opinion of RIRA Vice President David Lawson.