On June 11th, Janet Martinez was riding her bike on Route 9W in Upper Grandview, New York when she was struck by a car and killed. Route 9W is famous with New York City cyclists, it’s the land bridge that connects Manhattan to the suburbs and provides for a scenic and pleasant ride complete with some rollers and great climbs and downhills.
For the most part, Route 9W is part of Bike Route 9, the state designated bicycle route that runs all the way upstate. Bike Route 9 is a 350 mile series of roads that’s also part of the Hudson Valley Greenway. There are a few places where Bike Route 9 diverges from Route 9W, and one of them is in the area where Janet Martinez was killed.
This last week local assemblywoman Ellen Jaffe’s office held a sign-planting ceremony where they (along with the bike club that I founded but no longer run) and NYSDOT put up “Share The Road” signs along 9W. The state, in this Patch article says that they identified “20 locations along the biking lane and 9W corridor…that could use new biking signs.”
Unfortunately that action is a mere token, and it only serves to highlight the problem.
The problem here lies with both the design of the roadway and the DOT system. As it stands, this section of Route 9W should not be ridden by bicycles.
I say this as a staunch advocate for cycling, as the founder of a bike club and as a cyclist myself. I’m not saying that bikes shouldn’t have the right to ride there, I just think that in its current state Route 9W from Sparkill until Nyack is a death trap.
Generally a “Share The Road” sign is placed in a spot where the right of way between auto and cyclists becomes confusing. Areas where the shoulder is narrow and motorists (who don’t realize that cyclists are allowed to ride to the left of the shoulder) are prime candidates for these signs, as are spots where the vehicular speed limit is raised. Twenty locations for these signs in a small span means that the road just isn’t safe.
For much of this part of Route 9W there is no shoulder at all. In many other places the shoulder is covered by foliage, forcing a cyclist to move out into traffic.
The speed limit, while posted at 40 MPH is rarely obeyed. This road is the major commutation corridor for residents heading to the George Washington Bridge as it provides a relatively straight shot to the Palisades Parkway. Despite rows of residences alongside Route 9W the speed limit is kept at 40. As a frequent driver of that route I’m particularly aware that 40 feels slow and that most people drive much faster on the road.
Thanks to New York’s less-than-stellar record with road maintenance many parts of the road are crumbling and this is especially true on the edges of the road. All along 9W houses jut off at odd angles as builders grappled with the extreme gradient of a mountain that’s foundation for many dwellings. Driveways and bisecting roads often exceed twenty-degree angles and often have cars coming out or turning swiftly to enter the stream of traffic.
Bike Route 9 itself dives down before this section and runs along River Road/Piermont Avenue for a scenic jaunt along the Hudson (which in itself has a host of issues). Many cyclists don’t realize that Bike Route 9 has turned away from Route 9W and other cyclists don’t care.
Regardless of the power of a Share The Road sign (or lack thereof) there just should not be bikes on this part of 9W. Not with the current speed limit, not with the current state of the road. While all roads should provide fair access to cyclists, many just don’t. This part of the country is especially problematic as many of the roads were created in the days of carriages or early slow-moving cars. The infrastructure leaves cyclists vulnerable and open to serious bodily harm.
Then of course there was this ridiculous quotation from NYSDOT Acting Regional Director Bill Gordon, who (in my opinion) should be fired for this logical jump. “We do a study when we look at speed limit requests,” he said when questioned about the several studies that have been done to decrease the speed on 9W. “You have to look at enforcement opportunities. A road like this is tough because it is tough to pull anybody over on. There is no shoulder…. Just putting a 30 miles per hour speed limit down doesn’t mean that everybody will go 30 miles per hour.”
Wait, what? The road is too difficult to pull over speeders, what with the lack of shoulder and the high speed traffic all around. So let’s leave the speed limit high so we don’t have to pull them over. Even though a lower speed limit would give more braking and avoidance time, and even though it would increase the chances that a cyclist might not die in an accident like this one, let’s not do it because there’s no shoulder to pull over offenders.
That’s like saying that there’s no place to arrest a bank robber at a small branch, so let it be legal to rob the bank.
This sort of rampant stupidity gets me furious. Any place where a speed limit can’t be enforced because of the poor condition of the road should by definition have a lower speed limit. That should be one of the criteria. Ridiculous.
Yes, everyone should share the road. No, they don’t always do so. Putting in a sign to warn motorists without making plans to improve the life threatening conditions being maintained by the state don’t solve the problems, and they don’t make Janet Martinez any less dead.
But people like Gorton can put up Share The Road signs on stretches of roads that are known to have no shoulder and are known to have speeders, and feel that the problem is solved. It’s not solved, it’s just brushed under the rug.