In a suburb where cars rule the road, will spending millions to create a network of bike and pedestrian paths change the way we get around town, while simultaneously fueling recreation, tourism and the local economy?
Local officials believe it would, and are planning a variety of projects building on the proximity to the North County Trailway and the Empire State Trail, as well as the Croton Aqueduct and Briarcliff-Peekskill Trailway.
A consortium of communities known as Millwood-Ossining Go has prioritized developing a pathway running the length of Route 133 as the crown jewel of a so-called “emerald necklace” of trails along secondary roads.
The hope is that a pair of federal grants totaling up to some $6 million could go toward installing either paved shoulders, dedicated bike lanes, or a sidepath on Route 133.
The grant requests follow a 2018 connectivity plan that aims to make it easier to get to commercial areas, parks and open space by using healthier and more affordable means of transportation — bicycling and walking.
That plan, developed by Ossining village and town, the Town of New Castle, and Westchester County, identified a number of secondary streets that would have some sort of dedicated road markings for cyclists and pedestrians designed to create a safer space.
Those roads — Long Hill, Ryder, Campwoods, Waller, Emwilton, Macy and Scarborough — would be grouped into categories such as those serving commercial areas, for recreational riders or advanced cyclists. Plans to create paths along those roads are awaiting funding or repaving projects.
Options for making Route 133 bike- and pedestrian-friendly are estimated to carry a price tag ranging from $2.3 million to $4.5 million, according to a state report. And that doesn’t include right-of-way or engineering costs, not to mention the inconvenience posed by construction on the busy road.
Despite the obstacles, “We haven’t given up hope that as three communities we can come up with a solution that may have to be phased in to address safe bikeability from downtown Ossining with the North County/Empire State Trail,” Ossining Town Supervisor Dana Levenberg said recently.
Ossining has already installed a bike lane along a section of North State Road, which is due to be replaced when the road is repaved, as well as sharrows — road markings designating a space for cyclists — on portions of Hawkes Avenue.
“I think in this country, cars still win,” Levenberg said. “It’s very hard to change a mindset. … We’re socialized into where cars and trucks come first, and all the rest of that is like litter on the side of the road.”
The supervisor added: “It’s hard to change mindsets and people say it’s not safe to put sharrows on roads that aren’t wide enough. I understand, but the idea is this is a suggestion. People bike here anyway. They’re already biking here. Let’s make it safer for them by making cars aware that cyclists bike here. We’re not telling people, ‘You should bike here,’ we’re telling cars, they do bike here.”
‘Cycling’s here to stay’
Not all residents who spoke during public listening sessions supported the MOGO plan.
“Some people said they just didn’t want bikes on the road because they didn’t think it was safe, but that’s not the law, that’s not the truth,” said Ossining’s Kate Marshall, a licensed cycling instructor who was active in planning the bike routes.
“I think the way to combat that is to get out there on the roads and ride,” said Marshall, a longtime member of the Westchester Cycle Club. “We know that when we are confident in our riding and in our place on the road as a vehicle, we are safer. When we’re scared, we are less safe, because then drivers can intimidate and scare us into doing things that are dangerous. Cyclists themselves need to know that they have a right to be on the road.”
The pandemic-driven explosion in cycling is gathering further momentum from the growth in e-bikes ridership — especially in the rivertowns, where riders have to climb some steep hills to get out of the river valley.
Marshall added: “Cycling’s here to stay. Cycling’s not going away. … we’re not going to change people’s minds overnight, but once people see that there’s another way of
living, there’s another way of driving, and respecting each other on the road. We’re already seeing the changes.”
Marshall occasionally leads rides from Ossining High School to the North County Trailway, and will be doing so as part of Car Free Day on Sept. 22, a global observance urging people to give up their vehicles for a day.
The Briarcliff connection
Briarcliff Manor has become a major stop for cyclists and pedestrians along the North County Trailway, especially since the stretch between the village and Millwood was improved and connected with the Empire State Trail.
Village officials are hoping to capitalize on the popularity of the trail’s entrance behind the library by installing a path through Law Park into the downtown.
A $72,550 grant for an asphalt path from the back of the park to Pleasantville Road also includes the installation of a fiber optic link to provide digital service for trail users who currently experience periods with no connectivity.
The project’s design was in the planning stages and no timeline had been set.
“Drawing trail users into our Central Business District will contribute to the continued revitalization of our downtown while building upon our three-phase downtown streetscape improvement project,” according to a statement from the village. Read more about cycling on Robert Brum’s Shifting Gears blog