City: Commuter Needs Will Factor into High Bridge Plan

A restored High Bridge will be open to commuting cyclists and pedestrians, but access time could be limited, officials said last week.

highbridge.jpgThe occasion was a "listening session" hosted by the Department of Parks & Recreation, when dozens of uptowners filed into the High Bridge Park Recreation Center at 173rd Street and Amsterdam to share visions of revitalizing the oldest bridge in New York City.

Built as part of the Croton Aqueduct, the High Bridge connects Washington Heights in Manhattan with the High Bridge neighborhood in the Bronx. It stopped carrying water in 1958, and was closed to the public completely in 1970. The Wednesday, June 20 meeting was part public input session, part celebration, as just a few months ago many in attendance would not have believed a long-awaited High Bridge comeback could be so close to fruition. But on April 22, Mayor Bloomberg singled out the project as a centerpiece of his PlaNYC reveal, and backed it up with $60 million in city funds. An additional five million will come from federal coffers — not to mention the $500 check presented Wednesday from students of Bronx P.S. 126, who chose the High Bridge as the recipient of their Penny Harvest donation drive.

"We have the funding in hand," said Ellen Macnow, who led the meeting for the Parks Department. "This is not a pipe dream anymore."

Happy as they are with the rapidly accelerated pace of the renewal, residents spoke clearly about their expectations for the project. High among them was access to the car-free bridge for bike and pedestrian commuting. Going into the meeting, the city had planned to restrict usage to daytime weekend hours, but Macnow insisted such matters remain open to community direction.

"We wouldn’t have a bridge for cars in the city that wouldn’t be open at night and only on the weekend," said Susan Murray, an artist who brought the High Bridge project to the attention of Streetsblog readers last week. Murray said she presently has to use the Washington Bridge at 181st Street, which she described as "scary" after dark.

As for getting on and off the bridge, the city plans to make use of existing park trails and bike routes, making accommodations for cyclists as necessary. Other questions centered on the installation of benches (none are planned as of now) and fencing (for safety reasons, high fences flanking the span are "something of a necessity").

Macnow said the department will likely adjust access hours based on usage, and assured residents that their wishes will be a guiding factor: "We are with you all the way. We want everybody who wants to use the bridge to use the bridge."

Streetsblog spoke briefly with Macnow today. Based on feedback since the meeting, including comments from Streetsblog readers, she said the department’s original weekends-only plan may be adjusted.

"We have a little while to figure it out," she said.

The groundbreaking for the renovation will be held at noon tomorrow (Thursday, June 27), on the terrace of the High Bridge water tower, near Amsterdam and West 174th Street. Design work is set to commence in the fall, with construction starting in the summer of 2009.

Photo: joshbousel/Flickr

  • Any thoughts on why any restriction on hours of use would be considered? … what would drive such an idea? Costs? Safety?

  • … it just seems so _random_.

  • I speculate it’s about “safety concerns” No one (including the parks department) seems to remember why the bridge was closed in the first place. It may have been due to kids throwing things off of the bridge. So there are concerns that will happen again, even though the neighborhood is completely different, the park is a much more lively and welcoming place and there is much less foolishness.

    I’m concerned that *not* having it open 24/7 will make the park more desolate that it could be with law-abiding people going over the bridge at all hours. Empty places become dangerous, if they don’t have it open people will still “jump the fence” as they do today to get over the bridge illegally. Most fence jumpers are just kids, but it’s not such a good thing when they only people around are those who are willing to break a rule or two to get over the bridge, you know?

    The closure of the bridge was the inciting indecents for the parks downward spiral to being one of the worst in the city. Now it’s well on it’s way back, the open bridge will add momentum, and the parks department should do what they can to encourage frequent use. Not get in the way.

  • Ah… good call, Susan.

    And completely correct: ban something, and then only the criminals will do it.

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    Susan, thanks for all the work you’re doing on this. One thing I’m concerned about is how well this will be connected to the existing pedestrian and cycling infrastructure. Will it be through a wide ramp, with big signs telling everyone how to get there? Or a dark, narrow, unmarked stairway littered with crack vials?

  • Andy B

    “…fencing (for safety reasons, high fences flanking the span are “something of a necessity”).”

    WRONG!!!

    If it were how come its never been on the GWB???

    I can’t stand the safety mongers out there that will ruin the beauty on a place to save us from ourselves. Often times these “safety fences” turn what should be a beautiful experience over a bridge into something more akin to traversing a cattle chute!

  • So true Andy. Nothing like making people feel like they are in a maximum security prison to bring out the best in all of us! I didn’t think of the GWB, but that’s a good example of how inconsistent this whole security fence thing is.

    Angus, I think the connection will be good. they said it would be connected to the network via a ramp. So I’m not as worried about that anymore as I am about the hours of access, and the fence: Mostly the hours of access, though. I can learn to live with a fence, though I think it will really spoil the bridge for everyone.

    We’ll need to keep a close eye on how the connection works, how will one get in and out of the parks on each side? etc.

    A 4.5 foot high nice iron rail fence should be good enough to keep the little kids safe. They want to put up some kind of 7′ high thing, maybe made out of plastic… I can see the scratchiti already…

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