Bikers pan Rotunda plan

The West 79th Street Rotunda reconstruction project, scheduled to begin next year, will include work to resurface and reconfigure the street-level traffic circle. Image: Google Street View
Cyclists push for safety improvements in 79th Street restoration project
By Michael Garofalo

West Side cyclists are concerned that the impending overhaul of the West 79th Street Rotunda will leave bikers vulnerable as they navigate the Rotunda’s traffic circle, a key access point to the Hudson River Greenway.

Department of Transportation officials presented an update on plans to reconfigure the heavily trafficked roundabout, which includes two ramps for vehicles exiting and entering the Henry Hudson Parkway, at a Dec. 17 meeting of Community Board 7’s parks, preservation and transportation committees.

Under the DOT’s plan, cyclists would share the circle’s single traffic lane with vehicles and buses. The lane is 18 feet wide — 6 feet wider than a standard lane — to accommodate MTA buses, which use the circle to turn around on 79th Street.

Cyclists would be discouraged from using the shoulder on the right side of the travel lane, which would be covered with a textured red surface. By riding in the vehicle lane rather than the shoulder, DOT officials explained, cyclists will be more visible to cars entering the circle from the Henry Hudson Parkway’s southbound off-ramp.

Several community board members and residents at the meeting expressed misgivings with the DOT plan, many of them citing their preference for a dedicated space for bikers and pedestrians at the site rather than a shared lane.

Andy Rosenthal, who lives nearby and regularly uses the Rotunda as a pedestrian, urged transportation officials to install barriers around the circle to create a protected lane for cyclists and pedestrians. “Give the bikers a safe place away from the cars and buses,” he said.

Asked by community board members whether installing a dedicated bike lane at the circle would be feasible, Joannene Kidder, executive director of community affairs at the DOT’s Division of Bridges, said, “Our cycling experts have determined that that is not ideal, and therefore it is not in the current design.”

A number of attendees identified the southbound entrance ramp to the Henry Hudson Parkway as a dangerous point of conflict, where drivers accelerating onto the ramp to anticipate highway speeds often do not expect to see cyclists and pedestrians in their path.

“This is one of the main entrances to the busiest bikeway in the United States and it’s really not good,” said Mark Horton, who lives nearby and navigates the Rotunda by bike on a regular basis to access the Hudson River Greenway. “Given that we’re doing a big construction project in this day and age, it’s kind of a shame that we would be spending this sort of money to do almost nothing.”

Roberta Semer, the chair of Community Board 7, noted that the board has requested that the DOT install protection for all Upper West Side bike lanes. “It’s not an ideal situation,” she said. “The problem is that people were not riding their bikes for work or for recreation when the Rotunda was designed.”

“I think signage on and off the parkway, signage around the circle and enforcement are going to be the key factors,” Semer added.

Along with improvements to the traffic circle, the Rotunda renovation project will also include improvements to the 1937 structure’s masonry, installation of ADA-compliant ramps and restoration of the fountain and other facilities in the pedestrian plaza in the rotunda’s interior. Construction on the $150 million project is expected to begin next year, with a target completion date of 2022.

City officials will return Jan. 10 to present additional updates to CB 7’s parks and preservation committees on outstanding issues regarding the staging of equipment during construction and the site’s landmark status. An advisory vote on the proposal by the full community board is expected to follow in February.