State Awards $2.9 Million for RIOC’s New Helix Bike Ramp

April 30, 2017

It’s official; Roosevelt Island is getting a bike ramp! The ramp will offer an alternative way for cyclists to access the Roosevelt Island Bridge connecting us to Queens. Bicycle riders will no longer have to choose between sharing the steep, curvy Helix road with cars or squeezing their bikes into a Motorgate elevator.


“The Roosevelt Island community has long been waiting for a bike-only ramp to allow cyclists an easy and safe connection to the Roosevelt Island Bridge. Thanks to Governor Cuomo, nearly $3 million in federal dollars is being allocated to this ramp so the connection can become a reality,” said Congresswoman Carolyn B. Maloney. It’s great that the state, federal government, and community are working together to make Roosevelt Island a safer, more accessible place.”


Across the State


The ramp, which is intended exclusively for cyclists and pedestrians, is one of 81 projects included in a $112.2 million award to support bicycle and pedestrian enhancements and improve air quality across the State. The funding is made available through the Federal Highway Administration and administered by the New York State Department of Transportation (DOT). 

A rendering of one possible concept for the bike ramp.


Selected through a competitive solicitation process, awardees presented plans to increase options for non-vehicular transportation, reduce vehicle emissions or traffic congestion, or both.


Other exciting projects around the state include: $3.3 million to the city of Yonkers to convert an abandoned downtown spur of the Old Hudson Railroad into a 2.2-mile multi-use pedestrian trail, $5 million to the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority to purchase compressed natural gas buses, $2 million to the Capital District Transportation Authority to implement a bikeshare program, and $400,000 to the City of Jamestown to develop a comprehensive wayfinding system to support tourism.


At close to $3 million, our bike ramp is one of the more expensive projects on the list. 




Some residents expressed concern with a rendering of the bike ramp released as a part of the proposal. It showed the bike ramp as a second full loop, extending down onto the east promenade. “Creating a full second loop will eliminate the views, sunlight and possible future purposes for that space,” wrote Islander Peter Blumen to the Roosevelt Island Parents’ Network and on the Roosevelt Islander Blog. He suggested instead “to build the bike lane as an inner circle or an outer circle to the existing cloverleaf, thereby eliminating need for structural support construction and, in turn, lower costs.” 


RIOC President Susan Rosenthal clarified that the renderings are not final. “The drawings do not represent the proposed design,” she said. “They were simply drawings depicting the general concepts so that we had visuals to show public officials, and so on. We will be preparing a request for proposal for an architectural/engineering firm to prepare the construction drawings.”


Plenty of Ideas


A bike ramp to the Island is not a new idea. The Western Queens Transportation Study, launched by the New York City Department of City Planning (DCP) in 2013, made recommendations for improving access to Roosevelt Island via a protected two-way bike path on the Roosevelt Island Bridge and a redesigned Motorgate complex.


Their recommended design would direct cyclists and pedestrians to East Road rather than Main Street, away from heavy bus and delivery truck use. According to the study, “It is safer, more direct, and provides a higher-quality streetscape.” 

 A bike ramp proposal from the 2013 Western Queens Transportation Study.



One reason to heed the DCP recommendation to keep cyclists off the helix and Main Street came in October of 2014 when 29-year old model and Octagon resident Anna Maria Mostrom collided with a southbound Red Bus after turning right and riding north off the helix. She was mortally wounded. 




Alternate modes of travel on to the Island are always being discussed. In recent weeks, there have been multiple rush-hour MTA problems impacting the F train, and leading to long lines for the Tram, sometimes extending all the way to Sportspark. 


At an April 25 Cornell Tech Construction meeting, Cornell Tech representatives were asked about the feasibility of creating an elevator or stairwell to connect us back to the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge. Assistant Director Andrew Winters expressed support for the idea, saying Cornell Tech would certainly benefit from having as many options as possible to get here. 


However, the DOT has not been supportive of the idea in the past. DOT spokeswoman Kay Sarlin, in a 2007 New York Times article, raised doubts about a passageway that would have to be nearly 135 feet high, saying, “‘It’s not feasible. They’d have to remove a lane of traffic to put in an elevator.’’ Sarlin said a stairway could not be installed because people with disabilities could not use it. Further, she said, since the facade of the bridge has landmark status, altering it would present a problem. Winters said Cornell Tech has gone to the DOT as well, and received the same response. 

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