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Earth Matters: How To Bike and Walk Better…and Safer

Earth Matters focuses on conservation, sustainability, recycling and healthy living. This weekly series is brought to you by Maria Luisa Boutique, Strawtown Studio and Dying To Bloom, a natural burial boutique for humans and pets.
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by Susan Hellauer

There’s something going on in Nyack (and environs) to envision a safer way for us, our kids, and our visitors to walk and bike. Many of your neighbors are in on this important task. Are you?

It’s called the Greater Nyack Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan and it’s funded by a $120,000 grant from the New NY Bridge Project’s Community Benefits Program. The Village of Nyack is administering the development of the plan, which is being carried out by Fitzgerald & Halliday, Inc. (FHI), a transportation planning and engineering consulting firm, with support from Street Plans, which styles itself as stewards of the “Tactical Urbanism” movement.

Though spearheaded by Nyack, it’s a joint effort by the three Nyack villages and the Nyack School District. Why now? Our villages and parks have always attracted cyclists, hikers, walkers, and other outdoor and culture enthusiasts. With the new Mario M. Cuomo Tappan Zee Bridge nearing completion, their numbers are about to increase dramatically. This planning process looks at ways to keep all walkers and cyclists—residents, schoolchildren, and visitors—safe, healthy, and happy, while supporting public health, a cleaner environment, and the local economies.

Want to learn more? There’s a public meeting on Tuesday, June 12 at 7p in the Nyack High School auditorium where the villages’ consultant will share their findings and present initial recommendations from their six month study of the Nyack river villages, Valley Cottage and Upper Grandview.

A community speaks

Data collection for the study started with the really bad stuff: a “crash map” of the study area, obtained from the New York State Department of Transportation (DOT), showing 52 bike- or pedestrian-vs.-vehicle collisions from 2015-2017 that caused injuries or fatalities. There have been two additional car vs. pedestrian fatalities in Nyack this year as well.



Pedestrian and Bicycle Crashes in 2015-2017 in the Greater Nyack Bike/Walk Master Plan Study Area. Data from the NYS DOT. Map courtesy Fitzgerald & Halliday Inc.


For community input, an FHI project team has been working closely with a steering committee of 17 local stakeholders—public officials and representatives from local organizations, advocacy groups, businesses, and other groups in the study area. The study team also gleaned information at Nyack High School, and from visitors and locals at last April’s Earth Day celebration in Nyack. From last February to mid-May, 400 additional observations were collected via an online mapping tool, where residents and other road users could “pin” locations that are particularly dangerous for walkers or cyclists.

FHI’s Master Plan will use the collected data to present recommendations to improve pedestrian and bicyclist safety with infrastructure upgrades and non-infrastructure programs. The hope is to improve connections between key destinations in the school district, and to improve communication among all users of Nyack’s streets and sidewalks.

They have built it, and . . .

It was a no-brainer to request funds for this study from the New NY Bridge Community Benefits program. The new bridge, projected to be completed in December 2018, will include a bike and pedestrian Shared Use Path (SUP) on the north span. This SUP will connect to the Esposito Trail, which in turn will connect to a new bike path along South Franklin Street, before turning on Artopee Way. The new bike lane is part of Nyack’s $1.5 million TAP grant streetscape project. “When completed, you will be able to ride from downtown Nyack into Tarrytown without having to share the road with cars, said Dave Zornow, chairperson of Nyack’s TAP committee and the Greater Nyack Bike/Walk Master Plan. “That’s seven carbon-free miles from the village across the river to Metro North or other destinations in Westchester,” he said.

carbon budget

Rendering of new bridge shared-use path. Rendering NY State Thruway Authority

Whatever you think of those weekend waves of antique hunters and bike tourists now, there will be many more visitors via the SUP before long. How many? Well, no one knows exactly, but Zornow pointed out that Poughkeepsie’s Walkway over the Hudson draws about 500,000 visitors per year. “If we guess conservatively, and get even 10% of that number, that’s another 50,000 more visitors annually,” he said. “It will be great for our local businesses and property values, but we need to plan now how to safely move them around without needing to drive everywhere. Let’s not wait to become a tourism train wreck.” FHI’s previous experience working on similar, successful plans in the Northeast was one of the reasons their firm was chosen for this project.

Infrastructure improvements to streets, sidewalks, crosswalks and bike lanes also benefit residents and their families, helping to keep our children, our seniors, and those with special needs safe. And there’s more to it than accident prevention. The Rockland County Board of Health has encouraged municipalities to pass Complete Streets initiatives, to assure access to local destinations by foot, bike or public transport for everyone, including those who are physically or economically challenged. “They want jurisdictions to focus on creating infrastructure that encourages walking and biking for all, to promote healthy living and fend off chronic problems like diabetes and childhood obesity,” said Zornow.


An Earth Day outreach by the Master Plan study group included a temporary protected bike lane in downtown nyack. Photo courtesy Greater Nyack Bike/Walk Master Plan

It’s essential for the residents and visitors of the Nyacks that we have safer zones for walking and biking. During the warmer months, we respond to an average of four bicyclists struck each month. As recently as two weeks ago, we had the unfortunate task of responding to a tragic incident at Broadway and Main Street, where a pedestrian was struck and killed by a motor vehicle driver while she was crossing the road. We are in full support of any plans to reduce injuries and make the village as safe as it can be.

                                                           Paul Morer, Captain, Nyack Community Ambulance Corps

The new “road diet”

“If you look at the statistics from the DOT ‘crash map’ and do the math, it’s about every three weeks someone gets hit by a driver,” said Zornow. And of all the concerns expressed by study participants—from the steering committee, the interactive map,  the public, and most recently, at a comprehensive plan meeting in Upper Nyack—there’s one consistent theme: People think that “other people” drive too fast.

That’s not just an scary inconvenience. Statistics show that the average risk of death (depending on age) reaches:

  • 10% at an impact speed of 24.1 mph,
  • 25% at 32.5 mph,
  • 50% at 40.6 mph, 75% at 48.0 mph, and
  • 90% at 54.6 mph.

“In a community like this, where everyone you see is ‘two degrees of separation’ from you, why are people in such a rush when, really, they’re threatening their friends and neighbors,” Zornow said.

traffic calming

Traffic-calming and pedestrian safety projects like this one in Queens are part of the New York City Vision Zero Initiative. Pedestrian fatalities dropped 32% in NYC in 2017. Photo from NYC DOT via Facebook

Transportation design professionals use a number of techniques, including “road diets,” to achieve traffic calming. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) says road diets are a low-cost solution that addresses safety concerns and benefits all road users by reducing the number of lanes or the width of existing lanes to induce drivers to slow down. The FHWA cites stats that say road diets can reduce crashes by as much as 47 percent. It can include everything form re-striping existing streets to adding bike lanes or a landscaped median strip.

Good bike/pedestrian design requires three “E’s.” Enforcement requires the cooperation of police to make sure laws are being obeyed. Engineering can help slow traffic and save lives, using infrastructure to prevent problems. And Education uses outreach, improved signage, and understanding the rules for all road users. The Greater Nyack Bike Walk Master Plan project is looking to their outside consultant for recommendations on how to use the three E’s to improve connections between destinations in the village, to encourage more people to get around without driving, and to make it safer to walk and bike.


Master Plan consultants FHI and steering committee members met with Nyack High School students earlier this year for a “Lunch and Learn” on urban planning, and to gather input at biking and walking to school from students. Steering committee chair Dave Zornow stands at left. Photo courtesy Greater Nyack Bike/Walk Master Plan

Nyack biking culture features long distance weekend road riders, going from the George Washington Bridge to Bear Mountain. These riders can be intimidating to those who just want to cruise around town, or down by the water. The Master Plan’s proposals for better access and separation between these two groups will ease the tension, and be better for everyone. Education, rules, and good signage will pave the way and keep everyone moving along smoothly.

                                                    Matt Poole, owner and operator of 9W Bike Shop

Where to?

The next step is to hear what the consultants recommend as they wrap up their study, which is what the June 12 event is all about (see box). Then community and elected leaders can decide what parts of the plan to move ahead with, and can hash out a timeline.

And once these improvements begin to bear fruit? Maybe they’ll help us shrink our waistlines and our carbon footprint by doing more errands on foot, or on our bikes. Maybe the Tarrytown Metro-North station will need Amsterdam-style bike racks. Maybe our children will be more independent if we trust that they can get themselves to school, or the park, or a babysitting job safely by walking or biking. Maybe people like me (and at least 60% of all bike owners, according to some studies) won’t feel that they have to drive their bike to some car-free park or trail to avoid an accident. But it won’t happen unless we make some noise, and now is the time.

You can still “drop a pin” or two on the online mapping tool, or leave a message on the Master Plan website. And you can show up for the June 12th presentation, and become part of the solution.

A Greater Nyack Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan public open house will be held on June 12 at 7-830p at the Nyack High School.

The project team will present preliminary recommendations and study findings, and offer an opportunity for discussion and feedback from the community. It’s the culmination of the six-month study, to say: This is what we’ve heard from our steering committee, our outreach efforts, from all the statistics, as well as information gleaned from the comprehensive plans of all the municipalities involved.

Editor’s note: in addition to being a cyclist and a bicycling advocate on the Greater Nyack Bike Walk Master Plan project, Dave Zornow is publisher of Nyack News And Views.

biking in nyack

Thoughts like this one from residents and visitors on biking and walking in Nyack were collected at the Master Plan Earth Day Outreach. Photo courtesy Greater Nyack Bike/Walk Master Plan

Learn more:

  • The Greater Nyack Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan
  • An Orangetown Bike Study, also funded by the New NY Bridge Community Benefits program, is underway now to help the town respond to a projected influx of cyclists on the new Mario M. Cuomo TZ Bridge Shared Use Path (SUP), and to support local cycling as well.  Its goal is to create a vision for an accessible and connected local bicycling network with extensive input from the community, including residents, business owners, neighborhood associations, and other key stakeholders.
  • Pedestrian and cycling improvements to North and South Broadway and South Franklin Street, are already planned as part of the the Village of Nyack’s Federal TAP (Transit Alternatives Program) grant initiative.
  • Rockland County Complete Streets program is an initiative encouraged and supported by the National Complete Streets Coalition, with a goal that “everyone, regardless of age, ability, income, race, or ethnicity, ought to have safe, comfortable, and convenient access to community destinations and public places–whether walking, driving, bicycling, or taking public transportation.” Several county municipalities have passed their own “Complete Streets” resolutions.

Earth Day cyclist tries out a one-day bike lane in Nyack. Photo courtesy Greater Nyack Bike/Walk Master Plan

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Earth Matters  focuses on conservation, sustainability, recycling and healthy living. This weekly series is brought to you by Maria Luisa Boutique, Strawtown Studio, and Dying To Bloom, a natural burial boutique for humans and pets.

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