Sucking up to authority takes a deep dive

RIOC's $14 Million bike ramp boondoggle flips Common Council off a cliff

David Stone

Never a fan of the RIRA Column with which past President Jeff Escobar helped the Main Street WIRE build ad space without value, I still found Escobar honest and concerned with facts, if dull as a pile of weeds. But the latest piece, by RIRA Vice President David Lawson, although just as boring, is neither honest nor worried about facts.

David Lawson campaign photo.
David Lawson campaign photo.

It's deflating those of us who hoped for better from the recently elected, reconstituted Common Council to see its media platform used - or, rather, misused to curry favor with RIOC's spectacularly bad plans for the world's most deluxe bike ramp here on Roosevelt Island..

Coming out full throttle in favor of RIOC's hopelessly misguided, wasteful commitment of 14 million in taxpayer money, Lawson starts out with something he apparently believes is obvious. It isn't.

"Some Roosevelt Islanders, including parents, are legitimately concerned about the increasing number of cyclists on the Island, often speeding up and down our beautiful promenades," he says.

Who says there's an "increasing number of cyclists?" Where's the evidence? He goes on to make this claim repeatedly as justification for supporting waste without once demonstrating it's true in any way.

"The growth in bike riders has outpaced population growth over the last decade," he claims without noting that it would almost have to since population growth has been nil or less. (He does eventually deal with that, though, by making something up out of thin air.

Since no one fact-checked the article, I decided to run a test of my own, taking a quick inventory of activities on a sunny winter day along Main Street, from the Octagon to Cornell Tech. 

RIOC's $14 Million bike ramp boondoggle flips Common Council off a cliff

I counted dozens of people out walking, a pair sidewalk sweepers, several women pushing strollers, a motorized scooter and, as usual, not a single bike. The only bikes you normally find on Main Street are the motorized kind, deliverymen mounted on them.

"However," Lawson continues with his fictionalized version of Roosevelt Island reality, the island West and East promenades (sic) are also becoming more crowded and chaotic because of this increasing island population, including pedestrians, walkers, runners, wheelchairs, strollers, small children at play or biking, pets on leash or without, skate boarders, bikers, squirrels and even, although illegally (sic), motorized bicycles and vehicles."

Let's be clear. Facts show that population growth is not "increasing." It's been nil or even negative since the last census, making it impossible to contribute to Lawson's fanciful description.

If there's an increased hazard, it comes from RIOC staff too lazy to go anywhere on foot, burning up fossil fuels with its vast inventory of cars, trucks, and utility vehicles, up and down the promenades.

Lawson worries about squirrels in the mix? Really?

I walk the East and West Promenades regularly. I don't see bikes. I see joggers. I see friends out for exercise walks, a few people using muscle-building equipment near Octagon Field and others enjoying the waterside views in comfortable, recently installed benches.

Seldom do bicyclists cruise by. Check for yourself, and if you believe the volume of bikes you see warrants $14 million of my and your money, The Daily would love to publish any argument that starts and ends with facts.

Lawson wants RIOC to spend a pile of cash, not on improving Main Street's appearance or usability, but on a redundant ramp for a very few cyclists.

Roosevelt Island Bridge offers easy street access via the Motorgate ramp.
Roosevelt Island Bridge offers easy street access via the Motorgate ramp.
Roosevelt Island Daily file photo.

While we're at it, elected officials, like Assembly Member Rebecca Seawright, ought to face a town hall to explain her support of this ridiculous project - because, as anyone who witnessed how few showed up for a public tour last month, residents are not with her or RIOC on this one. It's a boondoggle, and just about everyone besides Lawson and the Common Council knows it.

If you want to get a perspective on how deeply foolish this ramp idea is, consider this. In 2010, RIOC rebuilt the entire Tram system, new cabins, cables, engines, platforms, etc. for just a little more, $15 million, a comparison that makes the bike ramp concept verge on lunacy.

Lawson gets worse. 

"So, prior to petitioning and demonstrating against RIOC’s $14 million project to establish a safe bike ramp from the Roosevelt Island bridge onto a new east promenade (sic) bike lane, one must understand the facts at hand," Lawson writes, then goes on to ignore some and fabricate others.

(Note: the now fully online WIRE seems to have abandoned proofreading along with fact-checking.)

To buttress Common Council's support for throwing away $14 million, Lawson reminds us of an accident that killed Anna Maria Mostrom in October 2014. Mostrom collided with a Red Bus making a left into a stop set up as a turnaround at the Motorgate sidewalk entrance. 

But that had nothing to do with helix bridge access, and RIOC responded effectively to the hazard, eliminating the Motorgate stop, replacing it with more sensible space under the portico at 10 River Road.

So, if there's a case to be made for the world's most luxurious bike ramp, why use something completely unrelated to make your point?

RIOC's klutzy sign array could do a better job of alerting car drivers to sharing lanes with bicyclists... for free.
RIOC's klutzy sign array could do a better job of alerting car drivers to sharing lanes with bicyclists... for free.
Roosevelt Island Daily file photo.

Is it because the helix is really not a hazard? Bicycle riders, cars and trucks have shared the ramp for decades, and it's impossible to find evidence of a single serious incident. Those exist in fantasy only, and the helix is neither heavily used nor crowded.

Moreover, nervous cyclists can always catch an alternative elevator ride without going out of their way, and they also have an easy coast down the Motorgate ramp to the street, if they wish to use it.

The gold standard bike ramp RIOC proposes is off the charts unnecessary and a waste of money useful for other needs. Maybe RIOC could repair the bum heating and cooling system they stuck RIVAA with when they ran away from retail management, without dipping into skimpy Public Purpose Funds.

And there's another thing... 14,000,000 smackers for a bike ramp and 150,000 for our nonprofits? 

RIOC, what the hell are your values? 

If that isn't enough to show that Lawson doesn't have a clue, his core argument doesn't rise to the level of nonsense. 

"The last census in 2010 tallied our population at 11,661 inhabitants," he writes, with a rare bit of accuracy. "Since then, 480 Main Street has come online, and the Cornell Tech campus has opened. Two more Southtown buildings are planned. The current population must be close to approximtely (sic) 17,000."

17,000?!!!

That's a whopper even the now defunct Main Street WIRE would've shied away from when pitching advertisers. Even RIOC, which has a penchant for saying anything it feels like - because who's going to stop them? - never went more fictitious that 15,000.

Let's take a look at that whopper. I'll leave you to figure out how he got there because I haven't been able to.

Lawson's right. The 2010 census registered 11,661 residents. I know because, covering the story for the WIRE as a freelancer, I got the statistics straight from Representative Carolyn Maloney's office.

And he's right. 480 Main Street opened. Adding these 266 units yields an optimistic estimate of 500 new neighbors. Cornell Tech's residential House accommodates 600 more, if full.

That bumps us all the way up to 12,700, but that's not the whole story.

What Lawson skips over is that closing Goldwater Hospital, now replaced by Cornell Tech, subtracted roughly 1,000 from Roosevelt Island's census. New York City Health & Hospital's de-emphasis on long term care facilities has also left Coler with about 300 fewer beds in use than its capacity of 800.

The truth is that, in total, our current population may be less than it was in 2010, after everything's taken into consideration. 

Hudson's starting to construct Southtown Building 8, and and 9 will follow. While you might want to think about those additions, we're talking about around 1,000 new Islanders, maxing our census out at 13,000 and not even that for a few more years. 

But Lawson claims we're close to 17,000, right now. Mind-bogglingly untrue understates the case.

Lawson goes on to make a number of other claims without evidence, but at this point, it becomes obvious that he's serving something other than general public interest, leaving us shaking our heads with disappointment.

The Common Council's legacy of personal agendas and self-serving nonsense lives on.

RIOC's $14 Million bike ramp boondoggle flips Common Council off a cliff
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