By Maria Rocha-Buschel
Waterside Plaza tenants rallied last Thursday to protest the newly-installed shared bike/pedestrian path for the East River Greenway that runs adjacent to the heliport at East 34th Street that the Department of Transportation installed within the last month.
Waterside Tenants Association President Janet Handal told Town & Village this week that there are a number of issues with the new configuration, primarily around the newly-painted lane by the heliport.
“It is a major thoroughfare for parents with children in strollers going to the United Nations International School and the British International School,” she said, noting that before the lane was painted recently it was a pedestrian path, but the new lane between 33rd and 34th Streets designates it as a shared bike and pedestrian path, making it cramped when both cyclists and pedestrians are there at once.
“It’s certainly not room for bikes going both directions and people walking,” she added.
In addition to the limited space in the lane, Handal said that there are safety issues with the placement of the lane as well, primarily due to a shipping container outside the Water Club, an event venue moored on a barge in the East River at East 30th Street.
“The shipping container is right before the heliport so bikes coming north don’t have visibility about what’s ahead of them,” she said.
Heading south from East 34th, the shared bike and pedestrian path splits off, with pedestrians going to the left and bikes going around the shipping container, but to make the left turn to continue walking, pedestrians have to cross in front of the northbound side of the bike lane, where Handal said that visibility is not good.
“The bikes are crossing directly in front of people who are going to make a left turn so it’s very dangerous,” she said.
Handal argued that since the Water Club is no longer operating as a restaurant and does business as an event space, it doesn’t serve the community interest and the DOT shouldn’t be making special accommodations for the business. The Water Club operated as a restaurant until 2017 and since the beginning of last year has been operating exclusively as an event space.
“It doesn’t make sense that they took away a lane of traffic and put us at risk for not having emergency egress when it’s just an empty parking lot,” she said. “If they were able to go through the parking lot, we wouldn’t have the loss of lane and we wouldn’t have the emergency vehicle problem or the traffic problem. We would still have the concept of the shared bike/pedestrian path. It’s really, really dangerous.”
As T&V reported last fall, the DOT had made adjustments to the plan primarily because of requests from the Water Club, revising the design so that the bike lane didn’t cut through the Water Club’s parking lot. A representative for the DOT said at a Community Board 6 meeting at the end of last August that the Water Club, which was functioning by that point as an event space rather than a regular restaurant, didn’t want bike traffic in front of their entrance.
Another issue with the redesign that Handal pointed out was related to the removal of a lane of traffic to create the protected bike lane from Waterside Plaza going north up to the shipping container at the Water Club. Handal said that she specifically has concerns about access for emergency vehicles.
“Emergency vehicles have to use that one lane,” she said. “When I was over there [for the rally], there was an ambulance stuck there that couldn’t get out. If a car breaks down, it would just get stuck.”
Handal also noted that the changes for the traffic exiting Waterside also poses safety concerns. The changes for the bike lane mean that vehicles have to complete a sharp left turn to maneuver around the barriers for the lane.
“It’s a really hard left and you have to look to the left for bikes and cars exiting the FDR and look to the right for bikes,” she said, adding that many drivers are merging the way that they used to without obeying a newly-installed stop sign.
“When bikes are going south in front of Water Club, there’s a garden with trees and the storage container, and they can’t see what’s ahead of them,” she said. “That’s going to be very problematic because people don’t know what’s there.”