Hudson River Greenway Closure Forces Cyclists Onto Unmarked Detour

"Bike Path Closed" is about all the information cyclists will get about the closure of the heavily-used Hudson River Greenway between 135th and 145th Streets. Photo: Noah Kazis

The Hudson River Greenway is the most heavily used bike path in the United States, carrying roughly one-seventh of all cyclists entering Manhattan below 50th Street. In Upper Manhattan, where there are fewer bike lanes and much less on-street protection for cyclists than further south, it is truly the backbone of the bike network.

Despite the greenway’s centrality to the city’s bike network, a ten-block stretch of the path between 135th and 145th Streets has been closed for a week, with scarce effort to provide an alternative route for cyclists and other park users.

Last Wednesday, a fire at the North River Wastewater Treatment Plant forced that plant offline, sending untreated sewage from Manhattan’s entire West Side directly into the Hudson. As part of its round-the-clock repairs, the city Department of Environmental Protection closed the greenway where it runs in front of the plant. A DEP spokesperson said that the greenway was closed to allow for emergency responder access, but would not elaborate further.

The plant is separated from the street grid by both train tracks and the West Side Highway, so it’s not implausible that the greenway space is needed for vehicle access or staging. I did not, however, see any vehicles, emergency or otherwise, on that stretch of the greenway this morning. Since the area in front of the wastewater plant was restricted, it was difficult to get a good view of the entire closed-off greenway segment and what it’s being used for.

As I learned when I rode my bike up to the area to investigate, the closure forces cyclists heading north or south on the greenway into a confusing, time-consuming, and potentially dangerous detour without any sort of signage or guidance.

Just the first set of stairs cyclists must climb to get from the greenway to Riverside Drive at 135th Street. Photo: Noah Kazis

I started out riding north on the greenway this morning to investigate. Between 125th Street, where I entered the greenway, and 135th Street, there was no warning of any impending detour. Only when I reached the yellow tape blocking off the path was I alerted. There a single sheet of paper read, “Bike Lane Closed.”

A security guard told me that I should detour east on the remaining half-block of 135th Street but did not know what to do after that. It turned out there were two options involved, neither of which were indicated by any kind of sign: looping back south and then cutting east to Broadway, or climbing roughly four stories worth of stairs up to Riverside Drive. Since Riverside is relatively low-traffic and marked as a bike route, I chose the stairs.

Biking north on Riverside, there are no signs alerting cyclists where they can cross over the tracks and the highway back onto the Greenway; you have to either ask around or already know. The first crossing that doesn’t seem forbidden comes at 148th Street. Again, it’s stairs all the way down.

Northbound cyclists can cross with a bit more ease, at least while the detour is in effect, by using a ramp at the 145 Street entrance to Riverbank State Park. But cyclists on Riverside Drive are greeted at the park entrance with a bright “No Bikes Allowed” sign, sure to keep most from trying to use it as a crossing.

To use the most convenient route around the greenway closure -- and it's not very convenient -- northbound cyclists would have to disregard this sign. Photo: Noah Kazis

While the greenway is closed, a park ranger told me, cyclists will be allowed to use this ramp and walk their bikes through the park. This concession was only given grudgingly. The ranger said just yesterday state park officials asked the city to send cyclists up the steps at 148th Street rather than through their park.

For cyclists riding the other direction on the greenway, the detour directs you to an elevator up to Riverbank Park, from which you can cross the ramp back onto Riverside, though no directions for what comes next are available.

Headed south on Riverside, cyclists can access the greenway at 125th Street, and again the signage is non-existent and the loops required to make it down to the water aren’t intuitive unless you know the area.

For cyclists, the effects of this detour are substantial, and Streetsblog has received several messages from long-time city cyclists and new bike commuters about their experiences. Those who depend on the car-free greenway for safety and comfort are thrust without warning onto Manhattan streets. Once on those streets, there is no indication of how to get back to the greenway and no alternative protected route.

DEP said they do not yet have a timeframe for when the greenway will be reopened. Until it is, they need to work with the Parks and Transportation Departments to provide clear guidance for how cyclists ought to detour, just as would happen were a major road closed for any substantial amount of time.

  • Glad you can climb stairs with your bike, Noah, but many cyclists are carrying heavy loads and can’t just waltz up four flights of stairs.

    Riders going uptown can turn right on 132d St, left on Broadway, left on 135th St back to Riverside Drive, then after the cemetery (near 155th) bear right and make a left turn onto West 158th back down to the greenway. Or just take 155th all the way east to the Harlem River Drive, then left on the bike path all the way to Dyckman St.

  • NM

    4 stories of stairs?  I love how the detour assumes no one is a senior citizen on a Dutch bike.

  • Andy

    I’d just bike it anyway unless there’s something physically blocking the path. Good luck ticketing someone for not obeying a white piece of paper taped to a beam.

  • The closure makes clear that the Greenway is a great route, but that it lacks good connections with the street grid. And as the going rate is about $10 million to build a  new crossing over the highway and railroad, it’s unlikely to improve without strong political support.

  • Anonymous

    There is a humane route between the Greenway and Riverside Drive just south of the water treatment plant. If you’re cycling south on Riverside, take the curb cut onto the western sidewalk a few steps south of 138th St, and proceed south, and downhill, on a paved park path to where it hairpins to the right and proceeds north, still downhill, through a lovely flower garden, to the path’s outlet at “ground” level, at the approx latitude of 136th or 137th St. Now ride south on the quiet, funky street (passing those forbidding stairs) until 131st (?) St, at which point you can turn right and ride a quick block or two to pick up the Greenway near the Hudson River, from where you can continue south.

    If you’re cycling north on the Greenway, reverse the directions. Note that there’s no curb cut at the entrance to the park path at 136th-137th where you’ll climb the steep but nice hill with the hairpin turn. Yes, I’ve thrown you onto Riverside Drive at 138th St., but at least there are no stairs.

    Coming back from Nyack on Sunday I directed a handful of southbound cyclists onto the path from Riverside, ditto some northbound cyclists onto the ground-level start of the path. We all remarked at how easy it would have been for DOT or Parks to post a few signs. I regret not posting these directions here earlier.

  • Kate

    There is something and someone physically blocking the path

  • Kate

    There is something and someone physically blocking the path

  • Kate

    The Riverbank elevator is the best idea yet for going downtown.  Another route going uptown is this: Go north on 12th Ave from 135th to 138th. You will be going against traffic but there is very little traffic there and it’s for a very short 3 blocks. At the corner, on the north side, take the little, rough, steep patch of asphalt between the community gardens up to Riverside. Then you can ride Riverside which is better than Broadway but can still be hair-raising at rush hour. Thanks for posting this story. Please keep us informed!

  • Anonymous

    So DEP dumps cyclists like so much raw sewage onto the street grid and says “good luck.”  If this were a major road closing that affected drivers, you can bet your sweet bippy Parks and DOT would be on the case publicizing alternate routes far and wide, as well as a firm date when the road would be reopened.  For NYC cyclists, this is the equivalent of LA’s vaunted “Carmageddon,” and we know how much advance preparation that non-event precipitated.  But these are just cyclists we’re talking about, right?  Just another indication of how far we have yet to travel before this mode of transport is taken seriously by all city officials. 

  • I don’t bike this, I run it and it’s almost as annoying without the bike to schlepp up steps. Only after running a couple of times was I able to figure out how to get back down to the riverside. And for how long will this continue and why???

  • Anonymous

    “The plant is separated from the street grid by both train tracks and the West Side Highway, so it’s not implausible that the greenway space is needed for vehicle access or staging.”

    It is not implausible, but it really doesn’t appear to be needed. There is a big lane adjacent to the plant, west of the greenway, fenced off (hence, secure), that DEP folks appear to use for access. There is plenty of room for emergency vehicles on those lanes, and they could simply close the bike lane if there’s a new emergency requiring a large response for the time they need to resolve the situation rather than this pre-emptive response that sends so my cyclists off to find a workable detour. 

    I thought I’d try going down the steps at 148th today, and had told a fellow cyclist about that route, as I’d come up it a few days ago. We walked to the edge together and looked down — they are pretty steep. We both agreed that carrying bikes up stairs was a lot easier than carrying them down, and went along our ways to find other ways uptown via Riverside.

    In any case, thanks for  writing about this. The Westside greenway is a major road and city agencies must treat it like one. If it closes, give us clear signage, reasonable detours, and a realistic estimate of when we can expect things to reopen (though I understand that last one may be difficult in the case of the problems at the wastewater plant).

  • RunningRabbit

    Yeah, this is a MAJOR pain… when headed uptown last night, I talked to one of the Rangers, and was told that there had been some kind of structural damage to a support structure, and that “…they hope to have it open by the end of the summer” (!) Anyone have any info to confirm/deny that?

     I took the route: Riverside Dr. north, which put me in much hairier traffic than I’d ever want to be in, arriving at 148th where several flight of stairs lead down (eventually) to the Greenway, passing random pissing-in-the-corner guys and boatloads of loafing police vans drawing overtime. Good times!

    The City should design a viable detour that keeps cyclists out of street traffic, and suspend regulations on biking on the sidewalks for the area from 148th – 125th, so that riders can keep out of Riverside Drive traffic!

  • Mdaley

    My organization is developing a book for cycling the Hudson valley that we hope to have completed by the fall. It’s my hope that this whole SNAFU gets fixed before this book goes on sale!!!!

  • Ed Ravin

    When the Greenway connection from 135th St past the plant first opened, it was a painted lane on the treatment plant’s access road.  But after a year or so, DEP decided they didn’t like that arrangement and closed the path some of the time, eventually completely.

    Parks and DEP worked out a deal to create a new path, one that didn’t use the access road.  The new path went alongside the Amtrak tracks and stayed away from the plant as much as possible.

    I’m skeptical about whether the DEP really needs to close this path.  If there was a structural issue somewhere it would probably affect the Amtrak tracks too.   The path was designed to stay completely out of DEP’s way, so it could be open at night and DEP wouldn’t have to worry about someone trying to sneak into the plant from it.  I think it’s fully fenced off from the plant, except at the northern end where DEP’s parking lot is adjacent to the path – and if I recall correctly, there are lockable gates there to isolate that section too.

  • Joshie2b

    There is really no legit reason why they need to close the path. They have an entire roadway to bring in and out vehicles

  • Tom L

    Thanks for posting this. Coming from Inwood I’ve had to drastically alter my route southbound, now taking the Harlem River path and connecting to St. Nicholas. Wouldn’t be so bad if that bike lane were actually respected, and it disappears entirely once you hit Frederick Douglass/CPW. Let’s hope they open up the path again, and soon!

  • Cycopath

    It’s absolute nonsense that the closure of the bike bath is necessary. As others have noted there’s plenty of room for work vehicles which already had their own spacious accommodations.  If it’s indeed true that “some kind of structural damage to a support structure” occurred, why then does the park itself remain open?  Most likely they’re simply shielding the area so that prying eyes can’t observe the parade of incompetence currently on display.

  • Anonymous

    Looks like it’s reopened, see the latest Streetsblog post from a little while ago. Thanks again for covering this, Noah and co.

  • Anonymous

    Looks like it’s reopened, see the latest Streetsblog post from a little while ago. Thanks again for covering this, Noah and co.

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