Eyes on the Street: Risking Life and Limb for Greenway Access

Last Friday afternoon my wife and I walked the Hudson River Greenway from Morningside Heights north toward home in Inwood. It was nice and warm out, and after a while we wanted water, so just south of the George Washington Bridge we decided to head over to Broadway, where we could stop for a beverage before catching a train the rest of the way. We exited the Greenway at 165th Street in Washington Heights, a route neither of us had taken before. After crossing the pedestrian bridge over the train tracks and taking a trail under the Henry Hudson Parkway and through the woods, this is what we found.

gway1.jpgThe Greenway trail drops you off at this exit from the Henry Hudson Parkway onto Riverside Drive. There is no signage to indicate a "safe" walking route, no indication to motorists to look out for Greenway users, not even a sidewalk. The picture does not do it justice, but the car traffic here is loud, fast and constant.

gway2.jpgA group of cyclists looking for the Greenway stops, not knowing where to go. As we approached, pedestrians also heading their direction pointed the way.

gway3.jpgThis is how you enter the Greenway from 165th Street.

gway4.jpgI say "from 165th Street" because, though you technically access the Greenway in the vicinity of 173rd Street, you must take Riverside Drive from/to 165th. When leaving the Greenway, once you negotiate the Henry Hudson exit shown above, you encounter this I-95 entrance ramp. There is no crosswalk and no signal light. Amazingly, drivers tend not to observe the "yield to pedestrians" sign.

gway5.jpgThe same interchange as above, looking north. Note how many cars are lined up to take this ramp. In order to cross, we had to wait for a break in the traffic, then make a run for it.

gway6.jpgOnce you reach 165th Street, this is what awaits you. See those drivers turning right? They don’t like to yield to pedestrians either.
gway7.jpgSame intersection, looking west. A cyclist, presumably on her way to the Greenway, pulls herself and her bike out of the way of a turning bus.

My wife and I are relatively healthy adults, and I think it’s safe to say we will not be entering or exiting the Greenway at this spot again. How the city would subject anyone — much less children, the elderly and disabled — to such inhumane conditions defies explanation. Then again, maybe that’s why there’s no signage — the Greenway at this point is as much attractive nuisance as it is public amenity.

  • Bob

    It’s funny you should mention this– I was at this exact intersection on my bike last week, trying to get from the greenway to the GW Bridge. The greenway has no signage or maintained exits that lead anywhere near the bridge. At least with a bike, you can take to the roadway– on foot, it must have been even worse!

    Speaking of which, the GW bridge is also a pretty sorry situation for cyclists and pedestrians. It’s always been bad, but at least the south deck had ramps that allowed cyclists to ride all the way from one end to another in a pretty direct manner. Now they’ve got the southern deck closed and everyone has to use the northern deck, which involves no fewer than six stairways. Talk about second-class traffic!

  • Bob:
    Agreed that access to the GWB is atrocious. However, it looks like the north sidewalk was only in use for July 3 and 4: . Now we’re back to the south walk, which is still quite nasty with an unnavigable hairpin turns and a nasty approach.

  • Brad, sorry to hear about your travails. I tried to cross from the park back to RSD once with the cycle, and resolved never to do so again. My objections are with the pathway up until you get to the GWB on-ramp, however: I think it’s dark, poorly marked, and a good place to get mugged.

  • sam

    I got caught up in this spot last month, when I tried to ride up riverside (instead of the greenway) from 72nd to fort tryon park. I ended up having to walk my bike through a construction zone up to overlook drive, because all of a sudden, there was nowhere to go except the henry hudson parkway – no signage, no routes, no sidewalks – it was nuts. I think (as painful as this is) the trick must be to turn right earlier and bike up fort washington (I have a friend who lives at 187th street, so I’ve been experimenting with non-greenway routes to her place for variety).

  • As someone who uses the GWB quite frequently (even more in nasty months), it’s pretty simple to get to it from the greenway (no highway crossing required).

    Just continue past the bridge until you get to the pedestrian bridge and then ride back over to the south entrance.

    The south entrance is pretty nasty but not ‘unnavigable’, with some experience, it’s easy to make the hairpin turn without taking your feet off the pedals. Just ‘look where you want to go’ and the bike kind of moves in the right direction.

  • Liam, thank you for bringing that up.

    The part of Brad’s post that resonates with me is that an ordinary pedestrian ambling along the greenway has no idea that following the “Access to W. 165th St” sign will, after leading her over and under different modes of transport and through some sketchy forest, enmesh her in a linguinilike bowl of asphalt connections to major highways. By comparison, if you follow the signs in Central Park for “East 72nd St,” you follow a direct road with good visibility and wind up at a traffic signal at the corner of E. 72nd and 5th Ave, just where you’d expect to be.

    Ordinary pedestrians (and cyclists) would in my estimation enjoy their visits to the greenway quite a bit more if the signage was clearer and the access was more direct. Asking cyclists to pass under the bridge, exit the greenway, loop back, turn right, go one block, turn left, go two blocks, turn right, go one block, turn left, go two blocks, turn right, go three blocks (and under the bridge again), then turn right, go two blocks, turn right again, go two blocks, then follow the sidewalk 50 meters along a highway onramp and then left onto a hairpin-turn bike path is kind of pushing it in terms of realistic expectations.

  • Moser

    The good access point between the GWB and west side greenway is at around 181st St and Riverside. It’s not that hard to get to either of the GWB pathways from there (via Ft. Washington) but as earlier posters have noted, you have to know about it to know about it.

  • Liam:

    That hairpin is a lot harder to stay mounted for on a fixed (but that’s my own fault for using 1890s technology) or if there’s anyone else nearby.

  • I got caught up in this Konami code of a greenway during Memorial Day weekend. By the time I got past the interchange and the woodland trail right by the GWB, I was choking back frustration and rage over having no idea where I was or if I was going the right way, or if this was the bike path or pedestrian path or if they were one and the same.

    After a few frantic phone calls, I kept going and it sorted itself out all the way up to Inwood, but on the way back down to Battery I took Broadway. Screw that nonsense. It was twice as fast.

    Long story short, this so-called greenway ought to be a lot better marked for the sometimes-directionally-challenged such as myself.

  • aaron

    Liam, Moser, or anybody else at Streetsblog:

    It would be an invaluable public service if somebody could post precise directions from the 181 St exit off the greenway to the north and south decks. I, and perhaps others, would like to try crossing the GWB but am deterred by the likelihood of never finding my way. Until good signs appear, blogs like this are the next best thing.

    (I have tried searching the web but cannot find specific directions.)

  • If you look at the NYC Cycling Map, the most obvious route from the Greenway to the GWB is to follow the Greenway up the hill, past the lighthouse, over the Amtrak Bridge, under the tunnel to the top of the hill. At that point it runs parallel to the Henry Hudson Parkway and there’s a pedestrian bridge that that forms the West 181 Street access point, just as Liam mentioned.

    This is the same location that was in the news two or three years ago where a wall partially collapsed onto the roadway of the Henry Hudson and Riverside Drive.

    From West 181st Street, take a right to go south on Fort Washington Avenue, past the Port Authority Bus Terminal, and then turn right, again, to go west on 178th Street along the south side of the bridge.

    http://www.transalt.org/files/resources/bridges/bridgif/map_gwb.gif

    I was at the Little Red Lighthouse just yesterday and explained this to some visitors on bikes trying to find their way to the GWB. Perhaps it’s not so obvious to visitors because you have to pass under the bridge to go up the hill before turning south on Fort Washington Avenue to West 178th Street?

    Here’s the map insert graphic

    http://www.transalt.org/files/resources/bridges/bridgif/map_gwb.gif

  • I just wanted to point out that this is the same “alternate route” we discussed last October when the Port Authority announced there’d be a Greenway Detour in effect while they did construction on the GWB.

    http://www.streetsblog.org/2008/10/27/another-interruption-planned-for-hudson-greenway/

    It really is unfortunate that DOT, Parks, or Port Authority has money and manpower to place temporary signs for a detour but doesn’t seem to recognize the need for permanent Greenway access signs.

  • Air

    Sad to say – that’s my favorite way of getting to the GWB because the hills are a bit more manageable (yeah, I hate hills).

    Would love if they beefed up that sidewalk but fear they’ll close it off instead as a cheaper fix.

  • aaron,
    In additon to the Transportation Alternatives bike map that Stacy already linked to, there are NYC bike maps for Google Maps and Google Earth. You can find them at http://www.nycbikemaps.com/.

  • Stacy & others, you can’t turn right on West 178th St. It is one-way eastbound. Better to spin along another block downtown to W. 177th and turn right off of Ft Washington there.

    Also, turning right off of W. 181st onto Cabrini, instead of turning right on Ft. Washington, shaves about two dozen feet of climbing off the route. You can turn left off of Cabrini onto West 180th and then right on Ft. Washington to go down to West 177th.

  • jackson

    While there is certainly a long list of access improvements required all around the City, it is worth keeping in mind that 10 years ago there was no dedicated bike path up the west side of Manhattan and you were not allowed to ride your bicycle on any New York City Park pathways. We’ll get there.

  • Jackson – That’s true. When I was a ‘kid’ we’d ride up Riverside Drive till we reached something that was more like an approach ramp to the GWB than any kind bike path. The Greenway is indeed a vast improvement over what we had previously.

    But this isn’t just about bicycles in the parks. It’s about community access to their waterfront park – a park that cyclists, joggers, dog walkers, tennis players, basketball teams and families with small children visit on a regular basis. Shouldn’t they be entitled to use the recreational facilities offered in Fort Washington Park without risking life and limb as the title of this entry accurately asks?

  • eLK

    I’m in this area daily. 165th St is not a bike route. The “pedestrian” path adjacent to 173rd St is not a through connector. The bicycle/pedestrian connectors are at 158th and 181st Streets. Both are hills.

    The “pedestrian” path adjacent to 173rd St is not a through connector. I notice that the regular fishermen use the 181st St route.

    I imagine that the city considers this an unimproved area.

  • Before we get all lathered up, the good news is here. Our gummint has anticipated our gripes and complaints and has plans in place to address them. Specifically, if you check out the “Master Plan” pdf, you’ll see New Park Access at the foot of West 165th St, with new bridges over the highway and railroad, as well as a “Treetop Canopy Walk.”

  • Nice find, Jonathan. I have a message in with Parks about this.

  • uSkyscraper

    I’ve gotten lost a couple times trying to find the greenway from Riverside Drive — once you pass NYSPI you find yourself on the Henry Hudson with no idea where to go. I would just give up and double back until an earlier connection.

    Glad to know that the connection is there, now it’s just a matter of signage and relatively simple improvements from the city.

  • Boris

    Does it seem odd to anyone that even NYC parks aim to impose a suburban sensibility on the city? The Fort Washington Park design has way too many softball fields. They are one of the most inefficient uses of park space imaginable. They are like the park version of the minimum parking requirement. Softball fields can only be used for one purpose (and are dangerous to everyone else when being used) and have the least vegetation or shade per square foot compared to any other sports field. Sports field-heavy kind of park design like this also reinforces the belief that parks are a weekend destination, rather than a part of daily life- much like the belief that bike lanes are only for recreation.

  • The first baseball team and first baseball league were in New York City. What other parts of our civic heritage do you propose we abandon?

  • James

    I ride the Greenway all the time and my issue is not with access, but with the crowds of people who stand literally IN the Greenway itself in Washington Heights. The pathway becomes inundates with throngs of people hanging out, barbecuing, etc. on any summer evening and it can get bad enough that you have to either slowly wade around people at 1 or 2mph or dismount the bike and walk. I’m all about the provision of quality public spaces for the people of this city but this is just ridiculous. A prime example of how the “shared space” concept can easily break down when the rules are ignored.

  • James: “The pathway becomes inundates with throngs of people hanging out, barbecuing, etc. on any summer evening and it can get bad enough that you have to either slowly wade around people at 1 or 2mph or dismount the bike and walk. I’m all about the provision of quality public spaces for the people of this city but this is just ridiculous. A prime example of how the ‘shared space’ concept can easily break down when the rules are ignored.”

    Well, they shouldn’t be barbecuing. That’s illegal and a nuisance. But I got the uncomfortable feeling reading your post that you don’t accept pedestrians in the greenway. Why shouldn’t people be “hanging out”? If they wish to do so in large numbers in what is basically a public park, don’t they have a right to do so? You mention “rules…ignored.” Please quote or link to this rule you refer to.

    I could go on at length about pedestrians menaced by bikers, not just riding, but racing down the greenway.

  • James

    Mark, come on. Obviously pedestrians have the same right to utilize the Greenway as cyclists. Many of us are pedestrians one day and cyclists the next. However, when you have the entire path covered by a huge group of people so it is essentially impassable, how is that an acceptable situation? By doing this, they’ve in effect denied me and other cyclists use of the facility. Part of utilizing a shared space is actually sharing it with other users.

  • James, I think your last sentence summed things up perfectly. In crowded conditions, all users of the greenway have to make compromises and accommodate one another. So the practical solution is either to walk your bike or choose less predictably crowded times to use the greenway. The alternative would be to clear the greenway of peds to make way for bikes — and how would you go about doing that? Signage? Police enforcement? Sharing seems to be the only viable alternative.

  • I concur that it’s unfair to have the greenway basically mobbed out of service, especially in parts where there’s a parallel walkway that you’re forbidden to travel on bicycle (maybe this is not one). It’s a park, an exercise track for some, it’s a lot of different things to different people, but importantly it has become a transportation route for the west side and should be kept open at all times. I was trying to ride home after gay pride (at least, for me it was after) and the route was unridable for a half mile. It’s a bit of shock to someone that uses it regularly, like a bridge being closed. The crowd was large enough to have also filled up West Street, had it wanted—of course, then the many cops that were present would have lept into action to clear the way for bass-booming SUVs. I don’t have any quarrel with people crossing and walking the greenway when necessary, but I would like to see it thought of and protected more as a transportation resource than a long, narrow, asphalt party zone.

  • “Mobbed out”?!

    I guess the fundamental difference I have with James and Nathan is whether the greenway should be a high-speed corridor or a park.

    My contention is that those walking, jogging, hanging out, etc. are almost entirely people who live in the surrounding neighborhood. Should they be shooed away so that other people — many of them outsiders — can pass through with their vehicles?

    Generations of non-vehicular New Yorkers were deprived of riverfront access by the shortsighted policies of Robert Moses. Now that the greenway is here, how ironic that some people connected with the livable streets movement should wish to dispossess them all over again.

    The area in question does have a transportation corridor — the Henry Hudson Parkway. If bikers are unwilling to coexist with pedestrians, maybe that’s where they belong.

  • It’s legal to barbecue in Riverside Park or Ft Washington Park north of 145th Street. I go through the park from 145th to 158th regularly, where most of the people are located, and I notice that most of the people running around in the pathway are younger kids. The adults tend to sit around in the grassy areas.

    So what if I can’t match my Personal Record for getting from the Battery to the GWB on Sunday afternoon.

    The day I am found complaining about “damned children” blocking the bike path, sign me up for the Curmudgeon Club.

  • Mark, we’re talking about different things. If you’d been downtown on the west side that night you would not be shocked by my characterization of the crowd, nor would you suggest that most of its members were from the neighborhood (or even this side of the Hudson). I probably shouldn’t have waded in here since the discussion is about a section much further uptown and more of a regular crowd, but what James was saying resonated with my experience that, at times, the greenway can be taken over by indifferent recreational crowds that could just as easily amuse themselves in adjacent areas where bicycles aren’t allowed, instead of shutting down the one safe place to ride up and down the island.

    I can’t speak for James but mine isn’t the extreme position that you and now Jonathan have set out to characterize it as. I’ve said I would simply like to be able to ride my bicycle on this officially designated bicycle lane. You couldn’t pick a more ridiculous target than me to vent frustration with high speed cycling in crowded environments. I never have problems sharing space with pedestrians; I’m slow, I yield, I’ll stop if necessary. But crowds of pedestrians walking four abreast forcing everyone in transit to or from home on a bicycle to walk for ten minutes? Yes, I will dare to complain on the internet about this. By the way your Robert Moses comparison is now the livable streets version of Godwin’s law.

  • Robert Moses saw the riverfront as a place for vehicles to pass through, not as a place for people to congregate. I think the comparison is entirely appropriate and it is certainly well documented.

  • Then that makes you HITLER!

  • I won’t even try to analyze that. But if you haven’t already, read Robert Caro’s The Power Broker.

  • If you did try, you might gain some insight into the fallibility of associating someone or something with a vilified historical figure. But I’m willing to concede that I’m Robert Moses because I want to ride a bicycle on the greenway if you’re willing to drop this absurd line of argument.

  • Make that ‘villainous’, to be precise. I don’t know how crowded this section of the greenway is on summer evenings so I won’t have any further comment, but I maintain that there is a public interest in keeping NYC greenways clear enough that bicycles can be ridden down them at some slow speed, with occasional stops. Sorry to be so controversial.

  • Nathan, what I do is to adapt my route to follow Riverside Drive/Ft. Washington Ave, Convent Avenue, or St. Nicholas Avenue, depending on terrain and destination, on those hot summer weekend evenings. That’s the advantage of a bicycle.

  • Good to know!

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