Henry Hudson Bridge Path Re-Opens — With a Cycling Ban

hudson_bike_ban.jpgThe view of the Henry Hudson path from the Bronx side. Photo: James Rather

Residents of Northern Manhattan and the west Bronx have been waiting more than three years for the re-opening of the bike-ped path on the lower deck of the Henry Hudson Bridge. When the moment finally came earlier this summer, however, cyclists got a nasty surprise: MTA Bridges and Tunnels still won’t allow biking on the bridge.

The Henry Hudson provides a safer crossing over the Harlem River for cyclists than the nearest alternative, the Broadway Bridge. But, as signs on both ends of the path announce, cycling is not allowed. Here’s what happened to reader James Rather when he recently tried to bike across:

As soon as I rode on to the path from the Inwood side, an MTA tollboth officer left his booth, looked at me, and screamed, “Walk the bike!” I yelled, “excuse me?” and he says, “You heard me, NO BIKES.” There you have it.

With this policy in effect, there is no decent and safe crossing between Upper Manhattan and the Bronx — Broadway is unsafe and the Broadway Bridge actually requires that you dismount as well, unless you want to take your chance on the roadway, with most experienced riders choosing the latter option.

MTA Bridges and Tunnels spokesperson Judie Glave said the agency’s guidelines prohibit bike riding on paths no wider than 10 feet. “Our pathways are all pedestrian walkways,” she said, including the Triborough Bridge path and the Marine Parkway Bridge path, which connects to the Rockaways. “They’re not wide enough to accommodate bike riders and walkers at the same time.”

The Henry Hudson Bridge has repeatedly been identified by public agencies as a critical link in greenway plans going all the way back to 1992 [PDF], but the MTA wasted their chance to build a wider path that will accommodate rising demand for walking and cycling. “The growing number of people riding into the West Side need to be factored in,” said Caroline Samponaro of Transportation Alternatives. “The construction of the Henry Hudson Bridge, which cyclists eagerly anticipated for more than three years, was an opportunity to build capacity
for current and future levels of bike commuting.”

Even with the current accommodations for walking and biking, the MTA’s 10-foot rule strikes advocates as arbitrary, contrary to the green goals laid out in the agency’s sustainability plan, and unnecessary, especially given today’s level of pedestrian and bike traffic. The NYCDOT-managed Pulaski Bridge, linking Brooklyn and Queens, is less than nine feet wide and sees much more bicycle and pedestrian traffic than the Henry Hudson. “The Pulaski used to have dismount signs,” said Samponaro. “The bicycle volume made that completely untenable. It’s certainly within the purview of the MTA to be able to change that policy.”

henry_hudson_steps.jpgMounting stairs on the Bronx side of the path. Photo: James Rather
bike_traffic_prohibited.jpgOn the Inwood side of the path, one sign announces, “Bicycle Traffic Prohibited.” Photo: James Rather
  • Jeffrey J. Early

    But… but… it’s listed as “class 1” bike path on the NYC 2010 Bike map scheduled to open this year. There’s obviously a communication breakdown somewhere.

  • Dave Stewart

    Unfortunately, this bridge was poorly designed a long, long time ago. The path isn’t 10 feet wide, or even 9, or 8 or 7…it can barely accomodate two walkers passing each other. The only safe way to fit in room for bikers would be to take over a lane of traffic. I guess that would require a higher level of commitment on the part of the city and DoT.

  • Sounds familiar: the MTA just reconstructed much of the Triboro Bridge path, at great expense — including rebuilding the entire Randalls Island half of the Queens span — but LEFT THE STAIRCASES. *palm to face*

  • Doesn’t it sort of feel like the cold, dead hands of Robert Moses are stretching out from the grave to strangle non-automotive access to his prized possessions?

  • Well yeah, wasn’t that the whole point of overpasses too low for buses and expressways which cannot accommodate transit in the median?

  • Danny G

    How likely is an ‘equal protection under the law’ suit in mandating equal access for all modes? They certainly don’t make you get out and walk your car across…

  • AlexB

    Yeah, the 3 staircases on the triboro are really annoying on an otherwise very useful crossing. It seems like they have enough room to build real ramps too, which makes it more annoying.

    Couldn’t you just put a sign that says, “narrow pathway, use extreme caution?” Is someone really going to go full speed on a super narrow crossing? Maybe that’s a dumb question to ask. The triboro pathway couldn’t be 10 feet wide for its whole length.

  • Clarence Eckerson Jr.

    Ironically, Mark Gorton and I rode over the Triboro Friday night at around 10 PM (my first ride over it in 3 years). It was amazingly cool and awesome view of the city up there. After I had ridden him back to Manhattan I was riding the greenway (very dark even with my light) when a giant raccoon ran out and slammed into my front wheel. The raccoon hissed loudly at me and ran off.

    There are parts of the Triboro that were a little narrow, but when other cyclists or peds were coming the other way (yes we saw about ten total even that late) we just slowed down and each respectfully went on their ways.

  • carculturekills

    There’s no way the bike path on the Manhattan bridge is ten feet wide…

  • Some parts of the East Side Greenway, like the section near the ConEd plant around East 14th Street, are probably less than four feet wide, yet pedestrians and cyclists manage to pass each other without the earth falling off its axis.

    The Henry Hudson Bridge actually has (or had?) two pedestrian paths; one on the upper level and one on the lower lever. If the MTA truly believes cyclists and pedestrians are incapable to coexisting on the same plane, least we spur armageddon, then why not reopen the second path?

  • MRN

    Danny G – “Equal Protection” does not apply, because everyone can always walk (standard disclaimer) and bicycling/driving is not a right.

    Also, although the 10-foot rule may be arbitrary, it’s clear looking at the pictures that a cyclists can not comfortably pass a pedestrian for a large portion of this particular path. Imagine if we replace bicycles with vehicles and pedestrians with cyclists, you’ll see the opportunity for hypocrisy: Faced with a travelway that is too narrow to support all the users, calling for a wider roadway and/or taking space from another mode in order to maintain speed for bicyclists sounds a lot like the anti-PPW people.

  • Clarence Eckerson Jr.

    How about a simple sign: Dismount & Walk within 10 feet of another user.

  • This is a classic bait-and-switch. We’ve been promised bicycle access to the Henry Hudson Bridge for over 3 years and been repeatedly told on each year’s edition of the NYC bike map that it was coming and now, when it finally reopens, we’re told that bicycle traffic is not allowed. Well, I’m pissed. Why has my tax money been paying for transit infrastructure that I am not allowed to access with a small, lightweight human-powered vehicle but can drive a space-hogging, polluting, noisy piece of machinery over?

    If walking is a right but driving and bicycling are not, how come the vast majority of space on this bridge is for drivers, not walkers? Why can I drive along the FDR but not walk along it?

  • What’s with the NO PHOTOS and NO VIDEOS signs as well? How can people get evidence of people riding bicycles without photographs?

  • ddartley

    Good pickup, W.K., what’s the deal with that? Anyone know?

  • Really, MTA? Really? Moves like this are just pissing off the few transit advocates who defend you when the the masses blame fare hikes and service cuts on you instead of Albany.

  • Paul

    You take up less space while riding a bike rather than walking it. Makes no sense.

  • vnm

    Urbanis, one minor correction. Your tax dollars were not used in this rehabilitation. Unlike the free bridges, which you subsidize, the MTA’s bridges do not receive taxpayer assistance. Maintenance on them is paid for entirely by toll revenue. Whatever’s left over helps fund mass transit.

  • Clarence Eckerson Jr.

    Almost all the bridges have NO PHOTOS, NO VIDEO signs. Well all the MTA ones. Marine Parkway, Abadabo, GWB, etc…..

  • Jeff Ballinger

    I’m pretty sure the no photos and no videos signs were instituted after 9/11 to “protect” key infrastructure.

  • Ed Ravin

    Never heard of that “10 foot” rule before – it sounds like they just made it up, as Triboro Bridge and Tunnel Authority aka MTA Bridges and Tunnels do not have any bridges with paths that wide. Unless they want to turn over a roadway lane of the bridge to bikes, something perfectly reasonable on the HH Bridge since there are more northbound lanes on the bridge than there are northbound lanes on the HH Parkway that it merges into.

    Note that the GW Bridge path which has been officially open for bikes and peds for 20 years or so has a great safety record and is no more than 5 or 6 feet wide. Clearly the TBTA is not paying attention to any of the other local bridges when it comes to decisions about bicycling on their bridges.

  • BicyclesOnly

    I’d like to know the backstory on the miscommunication betweeen MTA and the agencies that publish the NYC Cycling Map. Back in 2006 and I believe through 2007 and maybe 2008, the map showed a solid green bike pathway across the RFK. Then, about 2 years ago, it was changed to indicate a mandatory dismount. Didn’t DoT learn it’s lesson about MTA’s attitude toward bikes then? Has DoT been putting the bridges on the bike map as paths to include the NYC separated path mileage total, knowing that MTA had dismount rules? More recently, Parks de-mapped the 72nd Street Greenway access path between Riverside Drive and the Greenway, simply by erecting dismount signs, map be damned–even though Parks is a co-author of the map. Does the map mean anything?

  • Larry Littlefield

    The same problem on the Marine Parkway Bridge.

    The MTA has often been taken by surprise by shifts in social patterns. Thus, they were overwhelmed by soaring ridership on the L as neighborhoods changed and a new group of city residents organized their lives around the subway.

    If bicycle transport goes exponential, they will be similarly surprised.

  • kevd

    The MTA clearly has no idea how people ride bikes. I don’t know about the Henry Hudson, but the Marine parkway / Gill Hodges brigde “Dismount and walk” signs are a joke.
    Thats a long bridge. 2 Bikes can easily pass each other (as can a biker and a ped, or 2 peds) and subsequently the rule just isn’t followed (or thankfully, enforced).

  • No photos, no video?

    How the hell hasnt that policy be sued out of existence?

  • Way uptown

    An important part of this story, which Ben left out, is that it’s not permitted to ride through Inwood Hill Park to get to the HH Bridge anyway. This is as it should be, as the pedestrian paths to the bridge are too steep to support both bike and foot traffic.

    For rull-abiding citizens, as it now stands, Broadway is a better choice. To say that the bway bridge is unsafe is equivalent to saying biking in NYC is unsafe. BUT, you can’t ride on that bridge either. It’s a much shorter walk though.

  • Andrew

    That walkway is clearly far too narrow to safely accommodate both cyclists and pedestrians. Remember – pedestrians don’t use that bridge for a fast commute; they’ve probably walked up there to enjoy the view (and hopefully they’re ignoring the photo/video ban). They’re not standing flush to one side, watching for passing high-speed bicycle traffic.

    So, as a practical matter, either pedestrians or cyclists have to be banned. Cyclists can easily turn into pedestrians, but pedestrians can’t turn into cyclists. So the bike ban is appropriate.

    As Ed Ravin points out, in the longer term, a car lane could be turned over to bikes. Then everyone would be happy.

    I don’t think regular cyclists realize how frightening it is for pedestrians to be in close proximity to high-speed bicycles.

  • Jay

    I’ve never heard of a ban on paths less than 10 feet… I’m not sure it makes sense. It sounds like they’re basing it on the AASHTO guidelines, though, which recommend a 10-foot effective width (plus 2 feet of shy distance on each side).

    I don’t think the MTA just made it up to ban all bicycles from their facilities, though. I believe (most of) the Cross Bay Bridge path is 10 feet wide, and the MTA allows cyclists to ride across it.

  • No, Jay, bicycle riding is not allowed on the MTA’s Cross Bay Bridge. It is allowed on the DOT’s section. I think someone the MTA really did make up this rule in order to justify banning bikes from all its bridges.

    I hope Ed’s vision will be realized one day, and part of the Henry Hudson Bridge will link the Hudson River Greenway in Manhattan with the Putnam and Aqueduct trails in the Bronx.

  • I think the first picture tells the story. This path is well-shy of 10 feet. It is also impossible to hear anything up there, including the bell of the mounted cyclist who nearly ran into me on one of my three crossings of this bridge.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “The Henry Hudson Bridge actually has (or had?) two pedestrian paths; one on the upper level and one on the lower lever. If the MTA truly believes cyclists and pedestrians are incapable to coexisting on the same plane, least we spur armageddon, then why not reopen the second path?”

    It it has been closed for decades, the second path is probably in too poor a condition to use. If that’s true, the MTA blew an opportunity to rehab it, probably looking at past ridership patterns and concluding the cost/benefit did not justify it. They weren’t looking ahead.

    Perhaps the solution is down on Broadway. While the Henry Hudson Bridge is funded by tolls the drivers pay, the Broadway Bridge is funded by taxes that everyone in New York City pays (but suburbanites do not).

    From nycroads.com: “The 2,500-ton span more than doubled roadway capacity and added another subway track across the Harlem River. The lower deck supports two 34-foot wide roadways for vehicular traffic and two 8-foot wide sidewalks.”

    Is that a three lane bridge in each direction? It sounds like it could support two moving lanes, a breakdown lane, and a 4 foot wide bike lane set off by a barrier in each direction.

  • Greg

    Anyone ever seen the onramp to the GWB? you can barely fit ONE BIKE THROUGH AT A TIME. No signs though… Inconsistency drives me nuts!

  • “Way Uptown”, recent NYC bike maps show a “green line” through Inwood Park to go up to the HH Bridge via the Amtrak bridge crossing in the NW corner of Inwood Park. If you visit the area you will see that the “no bicycling” signs are now only on the paths that intersect with that route, in other words, there is an official NYC bike route to the HH Bridge entrance. As for the wisdom of sharing that route with peds, if the cyclists act responsibly and don’t speed, it’s not a problem.

    “Andrew”, the proper etiquette for a narrow bridge path is for cyclists to go at a reasonable pace and to pass pedestrians (and oncoming cyclists) with care. That’s how it works on the Marine Parkway Bridge during the summer, which sees very heavy use by cyclists (and moderate use by peds). That’s how it works on the GW Bridge as well. My understanding is that the GW Bridge has a great safety record, and I suspect the HH Bridge path also has a good safety record, mostly because as far as I know it is very lightly used.

  • Ed Ravin

    Stacy, Larry, this is not true:

    “…The Henry Hudson Bridge actually has (or had?) two pedestrian paths; one on the upper level and one on the lower lever.”

    The HH Bridge indeed has two paths, but the upper level one is not usable. When built, it connected only to the Bronx side of the bridge. TBTA/MTA B&T has studiously avoided any chance to connect the path on the Manhattan side. The last time I was there, it dead-ended by the toolbooths on the south side.

    The funny thing is the upper level path is a couple of feet wider than the lower level path, and would have been more suitable for cycling. I say “would have been” because the path has been narrowed by installation of conduits and other things and would now need some serious changes to become bikeable, in addition to the need of a connection on the Manhattan side, which could be supplied by getting rid of one tollbooth lane (hey TBTA, now that you have EZ Pass, you don’t need so many booths, right?)

  • chris

    I’m glad that someone pointed out the Pulaski. Bicyclists have learned to slow down and respect pedestrians. Even with the increased flow, everyone is respectful.

    If someone from uptown could tape the ped/bike dance on the Pulaski and show it to the MTA, I am sure it would help change their minds.

  • Josh

    I second carculturekills – the path on the Manhattan Bridge has got to be narrower than that. But maybe there are different rules for shared bike/ped paths like the one on the Henry Hudson Bridge and (nominally, at least) split paths like the two on the Manhattan Bridge?

  • Jay

    Thanks for the link Cap’n Transit. I think the MTA’s website is outdated on that point!

    As far as I know, they’ve completed work on the main span and the north approach, which they described here:

    “Bicycle Path Improvements
    This project is in response to community requests to enhance bicycle access and part of the Authority’s pursuit of green/sustainability initiatives. The project will design and construct a bicycle path as follows: On the bridge span itself the existing 10-foot sidewalk will be adapted for use as a two-way shared use path meeting minimum AASHTO standards for a shared-use, two-way bicycle/pedestrian sidewalk. The North Approach will be reconstructed on the existing 10′ wide sidewalk and widened to 12′ at the bridge abutment, keeping the existing crosswalk with pedestrian activation (i.e.: no overpass) and providing signs warning bicyclists to walk their bicycles between East 20th Street and Van Brunt Road. At the South Approach a new 12′ wide ramp with switchbacks having maximum 5% grade will be constructed. $4.2 million.”

    Last time I was there, I didn’t notice any signage advising cyclists to walk their bikes, and there was clearly no hint of enforcement.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “The HH Bridge indeed has two paths, but the upper level one is not usable. When built, it connected only to the Bronx side of the bridge. TBTA/MTA B&T has studiously avoided any chance to connect the path on the Manhattan side. The last time I was there, it dead-ended by the toolbooths on the south side.”

    Given the institutional preference, what would be the effect of turning the East River Bridges over the MTA as part of a congestion pricing scheme? That had worried me from the get go. Most MTA workers don’t use transit, let alone bicycles.

  • Robert

    I’ve biked this a couple of times so far. Never saw anyone else up there, just a guy drinking a beer on the Riverdale side stairs. If I saw anyone else up there, I’d get off and walk by. It would also be tough to have two bikes pass up there.

    Until they start giving out tickets, I’m going to keep riding over it. If I see a pedestrian or other cyclist, I’ll dismount.

    Any money spent reconfiguring this could be better spent at a more traffic heavy spot.

  • It seems like the Brooklyn Bridge all over again! Cars get a vast, spacious roadway on which to travel and pedestrians and bicyclists are left jockeying over the remaining crumbs of space. It’s a divide-and-conquer strategy–we end up fighting each other (and leaving motorist space unquestioned and sacrosanct) rather than addressing the larger problem of equitable and just allocation of road space.

  • vnm

    Josh, carculturekills, one factor to consider is the institutional matrix. The Manhattan Bridge is owned / maintained by NYC DOT, not the MTA B&T.

  • Matt H

    In my previous crossings of this bridge (3+ years ago, before the closure that’s just ended), I never saw another soul up there. Well, a couple times, I was riding with a friend. (@Mike Epstein — we did that once, right?) Similarly on the paths that access the bridge through Inwood Hill Park.

  • Mike Epstein

    I don’t think I’ve ever been on this bridge on a bike.

  • Nathanael

    “Mike Epstein

    Sounds familiar: the MTA just reconstructed much of the Triboro Bridge path, at great expense — including rebuilding the entire Randalls Island half of
    the Queens span — but LEFT THE STAIRCASES. *palm to face*”

    That’s a prima facie Americans with Disabilities Act violation. Find an active wheelchair user and file suit.

  • Nathanael


    Yeah, the 3 staircases on the triboro are really annoying on an otherwise very useful crossing. It seems like they have enough room to build real ramps too, which makes it more annoying. ”

    Definitely an Americans with Disabilities Act violation. Someone in a wheelchair has a prefab lawsuit here.

  • iSkyscraper

    Way Uptown, you’re Way Off. I second the comment that the ban on bikes in Inwood Hill Park is as unreasonable and outdated as the ban on the bridge — good to see that at least part of the path is now ok for bikes, and hopefully other parts will be soon as well. While the vast majority of interior pathways are not suitable for bikes, there are many desirable reasons for why the perimeter path and Bolton Road should be allowable bike paths (with lots of reason and judgement to control speed and share the way).

    The park ban will inevitably change as the community changes over and bike-friendly residents familiar with and expecting shared bike routes come into the majority. The bridge ban will be a tougher nut to crack given the agencies involved…

  • Please, someone, describe in more detail the problem that this solution (overturning the bicycle ban on the HHB) is intended to address. I don’t see the point in advocating for better bike access to a bridge that is set in the middle of Manhattan’s most inaccessible park. Even if the MTA widened the path to 20 feet, I suspect more people would still ride over the Broadway Bridge every week, summer or winter, rain or shine, than the Henry Hudson. Let’s advocate for better cycling infrastructure in a place where people will use it and see it being used.

  • Riverdale Cyclist

    The HHB Path connects Riverdale and Inwood. Yes, Riverdale residents always have the option of riding down the hill to Kingsbridge and taking the Broadway Bridge across. At the Broadway Bridge, the problem is not so much the southbound route as it is the northbound route. Southbound, you have a shoulder to ride in. No big deal. Northbound, you don’t, which forces you out into the roadway with cars and buses roaring by at 40+ mph.

    I’m a hardened commuter and racer and even I hate this crossing, which is made even nastier by the difficulties in merging into the left lane to get onto West 231st St toward Riverdale. I’ve almost been taken out here more times than I care to remember. To state that cyclists in this part of the city should just use the Broadway Bridge and forget about the HHB is a cop out, no different than telling cyclists that they should just forget about the Brooklyn Bridge due to the pedestrian/bike conflicts and use the Manhattan Bridge instead. Fighting over scraps, same as always.

    The second photo shows that cyclists clearly are using the bridge. It would be wonderful to have some screenline counts here and get the real numbers on commuting cyclists, but as this is an MTA facility and not NYCDOT, I’m not sure if that’s possible. In the mean time, as someone that uses this crossing, I see it as a worthy cause for advocacy and know for a fact that I’m not alone.

  • Riverdale Cyclist, the bridge connects Riverdale not with Inwood neighborhood, but with Inwood Hill Park; you still have a slog to get to Inwood proper, which includes climbing stairs up and down to cross the railroad tracks. Then you have to climb the Staff St hill up to Riverside Drive in order to climb more stairs to access the Hudson River Greenway, only to lose all that altitude on the hairpin descent just north of the George Washington Bridge.

    If that’s your cup of tea, by all means, ride on! But as a cyclist and advocate for cycling, I prefer not to get boxed into supporting routes that have minimal demand. If you think Broadway is a traffic sewer, why not push for a protected lane there from 218th to 231st? Even if you yourself still prefer riding through the park, a protected lane would be a big help for all the deliverymen who ride that stretch.

  • Ed Ravin

    Nathanael, you wrote:

    “That’s a prima facie Americans with Disabilities Act violation.
    Find an active wheelchair user and file suit.”

    That’s a great sound bite but it’s not the way the ADA works. My understanding, after discussing the matter with disability rights advocates, is that there are many exceptions to the ADA, and one of them is that owners are not required to spend disproportionately large amounts of money to create wheelchair access to their facilities. For example, if you’re doing a $20 million rehab of your bridge, and it would only cost $1 million to add full wheelchair access, you might be required to do it, but if it costs $5 or $10 million, then that’s disproportionately high and you’re not required to do it.

    This issue came up at the last Triboro rehab, and it also comes up during smaller projects, like the rehab of the Marble Hill Metro-North station several years ago.

    In the case of the Triboro Bridge, I think there’s a pretty good argument that the TBTA should eliminate the steps on the Astoria side of the bridge, as they’re doing all that reconstruction of the adjacent roadway and they could extend the sidepath to follow the roadway grade. But getting rid of the steps on each side of the Queens span would be a very expensive effort.


The Bicycle Uprising, Part 4

This is the fourth installment in a multi-part series looking back at the victory over the Midtown bike ban, 25 years ago. Read parts one, two, and three for an overview of the bike ban, the advocacy of the 1970s and 80s, and the aftermath of the ban. Activists are planning a September 28 bike ride and forum […]