79th St. Rotunda plan slammed as unsafe for bikes

Upper West Side resident Dan Glassman decides to take his bike underneath the 79th St. rotunda to get to the Hudson River Greenway on June 9. (Photo by Alejandra O'Connell-Domenech)

BY ALEJANDRA O’CONNELL-DOMENECH | The Upper West’s Community Board 7 voted to reject the Department of Transportation’s $200-million redesign for the 79th St. Rotunda on the grounds that the plan is unsafe for cyclists and pedestrians.

The Robert Moses-built multilevel structure, features an underground parking garage, a restaurant with outdoor seating and the roundabout. For years, cyclists have had to weave in and out of cars on the roundabout to access the Hudson River Greenway, one of the most used bike paths in the city. Along the sides of the rotunda are two sets of stairs and wooden ramps. Many less daring cyclists will use the ramps to reach the restaurant below the roundabout and then walk their bikes to the Greenway. The roundabout also serves as a turnaround for the M79 crosstown bus.

In its resolution, the full board of C.B. 7 said D.O.T. should create a “physical protected separation” between drivers and cyclists in the traffic circle, increase signage and install “tactile warning treatments, such as rumble strips,” on the circle.  

In May, the community board  voted to approve the project with conditions, most notably that D.O.T. create a safe path for cyclists wishing to use the top of the rotunda to access the Hudson River Greenway. 

A cyclist navigates traffic on the 79th St. Rotunda on June 9. (Photo by Alejandra O’Connell-Domenech)

But after a contentious beginning to the June 7 meeting, the board decided to change the semantics of their resolution to say they now disapproved the project, unless a number of modifications are made to the redesign plan.

A rendering of the 79th St. Rotunda with the proposed painted bike lane. (Courtesy Department of Transportation)

Bicycling activists present at the meeting considered the vote a win, despite the community board’s advisory position — the thinking being that it will force the D.O.T. to come back with a safer scheme for cyclists.

Cycling activists and community members developed several proposals, including incorporating Jersey barriers, for alternate bike-path designs. But, according to the bike activists, D.O.T. has rejected each one and has repeatedly pushed a painted bike lane only. 

Upper West Side resident Dan Glassman decided to take his bike underneath the 79th St. Rotunda to get to the Hudson River Greenway on June 9. Many cyclists take the ramps through the rotunda’s cafe to avoid biking through the traffic roundabout. (Photo by Alejandra O’Connell-Domenech)

“We are asking D.O.T. to return to the drawing board and create something that is truly fabulous,” said Lisa Orman, director of Streetopia Upper West Side, who spoke against D.O.T.’s current plan. Orman, along with a handful of other bicycling activists, donned a black T-shirt with a large image of a skull to further drive home the point that fewer protected bike lanes mean more cyclist deaths.

“A person is injured every two hours,” said Andrew Rosenthal, an activist present at the meeting, referring to city cyclists. “This is not the way it has to be.”  

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