One City, By Bike: Unlocking Uptown Cycling With the Harlem River Bridges

This is part four of a five-part series by former NYC DOT policy director Jon Orcutt about the de Blasio administration’s opportunities to expand and improve cycling in New York. Read part onepart two, and part three.

Photo: Stephen Miller
Biking onto the Madison Avenue Bridge from the Bronx. Bike access to and from Harlem River bridges ranges from inconvenient to very dangerous. Photo: Stephen Miller

Forging good cycling routes across the Harlem River represents a strong organizing principle for a multi-year program to deliver better cycling to Harlem, Washington Heights, and the Bronx.

Just as many of the bike lanes in Brooklyn north of Prospect Park and Manhattan south of 14th Street emerged around the bikeways on the Brooklyn, Manhattan and Williamsburg Bridges, the Harlem River bridges present natural focal points for bike network development. A comprehensive set of improvements here would be a major contribution to the “Bill de Blasio bike network” I began to outline in part three of this series. It could also go hand-in-hand with Citi Bike expansion into the Bronx.

While most of the pathways on the Harlem River spans are good or at least decent for cycling, connections from the bridges to Manhattan and Bronx streets run the gamut from inconvenient and unwelcoming to very dangerous. A bike network program for the Harlem River bridges would create safer, more attractive access and egress routes, linking the bridges to ongoing bike network development in the southern Bronx and upper Manhattan. A few examples:

  • The connection from First Avenue to the Willis Avenue Bridge needs traffic calming, longer crossing times and more room for cyclists and pedestrians to protect them from heavy traffic turning from First Avenue onto 125th Street.
  • The Bronx side of the Third Avenue Bridge is characterized by very heavy traffic coming from several directions, with poor design and inadequate signal time for pedestrians and cyclists getting to or from the path. The bridge itself still features “cyclist dismount” signs. Painted bike lanes on Third Avenue in the Bronx are severely worn and require cyclists to negotiate extremely intimidating traffic.

Riding north from the Willis Avenue Bridge.
Riding north from the Willis Avenue Bridge.
  • On the Manhattan side of the Third Avenue Bridge, south of Harlem River Park, no street-level access is provided across 128th Street. People are expected to use an inconvenient and potentially dangerous footbridge, an antiquated approach to accessibility for pedestrians, cyclists, and people with disabilities. Instead of spending on the continued maintenance and eventual replacement of the footbridge, the city should save costs by dismantling it and installing a signalized crossing on 128th.
  • The Madison Avenue Bridge path ends in the Bronx at a very busy intersection above the Major Deegan Expressway. The path at this point does not even feature ADA ramps, let alone accommodation or guidance for crossing the intersection on foot or bike.
  • A pristine section of waterfront greenway has been stranded in Harlem River Park between 145th Street and 133rd Street for years because of construction staging along the riverfront to the south. Now that the replacement of the Willis Avenue Bridge is complete, DOT should clear out so that waterfront park development can resume, and an interim bikeway can be added from 133rd Street to the Triborough Bridge, where it would link to the East River esplanade.
adf
The isolated stretch of greenway along the Harlem River.

A Harlem River Bridge program would need to address these issues and more, all the way to the Broadway Bridge. The payoff in terms of accessibility and quality of life along the Harlem River, not to mention increased use of the bike network in Upper Manhattan and the Bronx, would be immense.

Tomorrow: Why the current state of local NYC politics is highly conducive to making significant progress on bike policy.

  • 1ifbyrain2ifbytrain

    We took a walk on Sunday to check out the High Bridge from the Bronx side, they are working on it! Will it be done by the end of 2014? Based on the untouched approach section we saw I don’t think so. We then walked over the Washington Bridge into Manhattan. Bikes and pedestrians seem to have each taken a side (bikes uptown, peds downtown) although there does not seem to be any signage designating this. It is not a nice walk with cars zooming by at highway speeds just a few away on the other side of a 3-4 foot high cement wall.

  • Jonathan R

    None of the Harlem River crossings are as easy to traverse for bicyclists as the Williamsburg Bridge. The Washington Bridge at 181st St is about six feet wide, so pedestrians have to squeeze to the side as bicyclists ride past.

    Maybe we could start by converting the stub of the Harlem River Drive north of exit 24 into a two-lane road with parking and stop lights so Manhattan residents could walk down through Highbridge Park and cross the street to the river.

  • Jeff

    Willis Ave Bridge ain’t bad. Nice and wide shared use path (enough to handle the volume) with reasonable bike lane connections at both ends.

  • JamesR

    “A Harlem River Bridge program would need to address these issues and more, all the way to the Broadway Bridge.”

    No, you mean all the way to the Henry Hudson Bridge, which already has an existing bike/ped crossing that is used quite frequently despite its narrow width and signage prohibiting bikes (MTA Bridge and Tunnel looks the other way on bike usage, thankfully).

    These mini-white papers are great, but what would be even cooler is if Mr. Orcutt would engage with some of the comments that have come up from his pieces.

  • Richard Garey
  • Richard Garey

    I believe you walked the Washington Bridge. The Alexander Hamilton bridge is I-95 and there is no pedestrian walkway.

  • Richard Garey

    The Washington Bridge absolutely needs to be addressed. There are a number of options: (1) Do an elevated walkway similar to Brooklyn Bridge (2) Widen both of the existing walkways (3) Do a single wide walkway on the southern side and eliminate the north walkway. As it stands now it is very dangerous.

  • 1ifbyrain2ifbytrain

    You are correct! Thanks. I was still able to edit. I live in Brooklyn and still have much to learn about the Bronx.

  • vnm

    Actually, I would disagree. The approaches can be tough to navigate, yes, but none of the Harlem River bridges have any hills remotely approaching those of the East River bridges. Cycling over them is physically a cakewalk! That’s why the improvements suggested in the article would probably go a very long way to encouraging cycling.

  • vnm

    “A pristine section of waterfront greenway has been stranded in Harlem River Park between 145th Street and 133rd Street for years because of construction staging along the riverfront to the south. Now that the replacement of the Willis Avenue Bridge is complete, DOT should clear out”

    Please, please, someone, let this happen! This would be a huge, amazing, beautiful way to get directly to the Madison Avenue Bridge with minimal intersections. (One right-angle at 135th & Madison. That’s it.)

  • Orcutt

    James, on your point, I don’t disagree, but I intended the pieces as agenda elements for the DeBlasio administration, NYCDOT and City Council members, rather than a wider view that could arguably encompass the MTA capital program and the programs of other non-City agencies.

  • AnoNYC

    Willis Ave screams parking protected bicycle lanes.

  • Morgan Tsvangirai

    I take the train from the east side of Manhattan up to 138th St in the Bronx to walk over the Madison Avenue Bridge to Harlem a lot, and all of those intersections near the bridge need a redesign. I once saw a semi truck get off the Deegan and try to turn right onto the bridge and it take him 20 minutes to figure out how to make the turn all the while blocking all Manhattan bound traffic from the bridge.

    If I ever had to bike across the Bridge, I’d probably just do it on the sidewalk. It’s not worth it to try to make it across in car/truck traffic.

  • JamesR

    You rock – thanks for the reply. Understood re: the need to keep at this at the city level before expanding to crossings which fall under state-level jurisdiction. The omission makes sense now.

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

One City, By Bike: Getting It Done, or Why the Bikelash Is Behind Us

|
This is the final piece in a five-part series by former NYC DOT policy director Jon Orcutt about the de Blasio administration’s opportunities to expand and improve cycling in New York. Read part one, part two, part three, and part four. New bike lanes geared to Citi Bike expansion, bringing safer and more appealing cycling conditions to more neighborhoods, […]

One City, By Bike: Bill de Blasio’s Bike Network

|
This is part three of a five-part series by former NYC DOT policy director Jon Orcutt about the de Blasio administration’s opportunities to expand and improve cycling in New York. Read part one and part two. Applied to cycling, Mayor de Blasio’s “two cities” campaign theme would argue that the safety and accessibility benefits conveyed by bike lanes in […]

Will de Blasio’s Bike Lane Network Keep Pace With Citi Bike Expansion?

|
A City Council hearing on bike infrastructure is about to get underway this afternoon, where council members will “focus on ways to improve” NYC bike infrastructure, according to a press release from Ydanis Rodriguez, the transportation chair. One issue that Transportation Alternatives will be highlighting at the hearing is the mismatch between the existing bike […]

One City, By Bike: Huge Opportunities for NYC Cycling in the de Blasio Era

|
Jon Orcutt was NYC DOT’s policy director from 2007 to 2014. He developed DOT’s post-PlaNYC strategic plan, Sustainable Streets, oversaw creation of the Citi Bike program, and produced the de Blasio administration’s Vision Zero Action Plan. In this five-part series, he looks at today’s opportunities to build on the breakthroughs in NYC cycling made during the […]