Reader Report: Parks to Close Upper Manhattan Greenway Link for Two Years

Markings for directions from the Greenway to Washington Heights and the George Washington Bridge. Circled is the bridge that will reportedly be closed in the fall. See a photo of the bridge ##

We have word that a major bike-ped link to the Hudson River Greenway in Northern Manhattan will be out of commission later this year.

Long-time Streetsblog reader (and sometime contributor) Lars Klove was at a meeting this week where NYC Parks Department officials informed Community Board 12 that a bridge over the Amtrak tracks connecting the Greenway to Washington Heights and the George Washington Bridge will be closed in the fall for nearly two years.

In addition to runners, cyclists and others who use the bridge to access the GWB, uptown commuters rely on it as a safe route to and from the Greenway.

“I take the Greenway downtown every day and back to and from my office,” says Katharine Van Itallie, Klove’s wife. “Anyone not able to go over the Amtrak bridge would have to go down Riverside Drive or Ft. Washington Avenue to the next entrance ramp at 155th Street. It’s MUCH more dangerous, obviously, mixing it up with cars hurrying to get to work or to get home.”

There is a lesser-known path to the Greenway, a narrow unlit trail through the woods to the south of the GWB, which Van Itallie describes as “scary,” though it could conceivably be improved as a safe alternative route.

Streetsblog has messages in with the Parks Department and Community Board 12 concerning the bridge and its reported closure.

Editor’s note: This story originally stated that Parks Department personnel at the CB 12 meeting were dismissive of providing a “safe alternative route” between the Greenway and Washington Heights. In fact, discussions of an alternate route referred to another Greenway construction project planned near the George Washington Bridge. Further, remarks characterized as dismissive were made by a CB 12 member, not an employee of the Parks Department. Streetsblog is researching the second Greenway project. 

  • Ian Turner

    Any word on how much daily traffic this bridge receives?

  • Oh no!  I use that regularly to access the greenbelt.  2 years is a very long time, though the bridge has desperately needed work for a while.  I worry I will fall through it every time I go across.

  • Anonymous

    That’s right, stick it to the cyclists and pedestrians, who obviously don’t really need this bridge because they only use it for recreational purposes.

    I’d like to see the city try to close a bridge for cars for two years.

  • Ed Ravin

    The alternate route to the Greenway isn’t so bad, at least during the daytime.  From the West 182nd Street footbridge over the Henry Hudson Parkway, go south parallel to the northbound HH Parkway, but instead of making the sharp turn to go downhill to the soon-to-be-closed bridge, continue straight south parallel to the parkway.   First you cross a U-turn driveway that has just about zero traffic, then continue under the GW bridge.  Now it gets interesting – a formerly asphalt path, mostly in ruins.  Follow that south through the trees and you’ll get to a fork in the path.  If I recall correctly, the left fork takes you down alongside the highway, under an overpass, and swings around to meet a different bridge over the Amtrak tracks.  This bridge has steps but not all that many.

    Back at that fork, if you follow it to the right, it goes up and over the overpass and you end up on Riverside Drive just south of where it becomes the HH Parkway.  You can continue south on Riverside Drive, which is a reasonably bike-friendly commuting route. Unfortunately, it’s not so friendly going north, reaching this spot requires a bit of verve since you need to ride on Riverside drive north of 165th street, which is designed to look like the highway it is about to turn into so drivers have little patience for bikes.

    This connection through Fort Washington Park south of the GWB is one of the few “lost greenways”, that is, park paths abandoned by the city, still unreclaimed in Manhattan. The entire Manhattan Waterfront greenway north of West 182nd St on the west side and all of the Harlem River path south of Dyckman Street used to be in similar shape, but they were “rescued” in 2003 by the city.

    There is another connection to this area – the spot under the GW Bridge mentioned earlier has a pedestrian tunnel to the other side of the highway, which connects to a ramped path that goes up to Haven & W. 178th St.  Not all that useful for bicyclists as the tunnel has steps and the ramp is steep, but it comes in handy sometimes.

  • Albert

    It’s incumbent on the city to provide a detour for cyclists — who now make up a non-negligible fraction of commuters — just as they’d be expected to do for car & truck traffic in a similar situation.

    It’s just that simple.

  • If the alternative route you’re talking about is the one I think I remember, I find it a little creepy. Sort of post-apocalyptic-NYC-ish.  Though I suppose if they worked on it a little and more people used it to access the greenbelt, that would help some.

  • vnm

    Ed that’s a great description, thanks.  But that alternate bridge you mention has a lot of stairs.  More than a few.  

  • Ben Kintisch

    Agreed with Ian Turner. Before this bridge closing, an accurate count of how many weekday and weekend users would help to convince the powers that be in DOT/Parks et. al. that a well marked and passable detour is not just a “nice” thing to do but a necessary thing to do!

  • KeNYC2030

    Is Parks asking for CB12’s approval?  If so, where is it at in the CB process?  In any case, CB12 could vote a resolution calling for a feasible alternative during construction.  And why will it take two years to replace or refurbish a small footbridge?  The Empire State Building was done in 13 months.  

  • Anonymous

     I used to think Adrian Benepe was dumb but “mostly harmless” in the Hitchhiker’s Guide sense, but I have come to realize Benepe is either VERY dumb and/or dangerous.  I used to put Iris Weinshall in the uninformed but “mostly harmless” category, but Iris has clearly moved into the Galactic Disaster class.  I hope Adrian is capable of seeing the error of his ways.

    If this bridge rehab is federally funded, then by federal law, a reasonably bypass or detour MUST be provided for all traffic – whether recreational or commuter – if at all possible.  Probably under NY State law, reasonable access must also be provided.  Why does Park’s think they can ignore the law, just because the work is in a park?  If Parks is smart, they won’t let this escalate to a federal case and will find a way to maintain full access.

    A temporary “Bailey Bridge” (which looks like a giant Erector Set) could be installed next to the old bridge during the reconstruction.  Or as Ed Ravin suggests, the path south of the GWB could be rehabbed and lit before the bridge work.  This south path would still be only a partial solution since it has steps, is not ADA handicapped accessible, and presents a problem for cargo bikes and baby carriages on the route.  But better than telling us all to take a hike to 155th St or just stay home.

    Parks is setting up Van Cortlandt Park for the same problem next year. 
    The Good News: the 1.5 miles of Putnam Rail Trail path in VCP will finally be paved from the Yonkers City line down to 242nd St, creating a continuous 50 mile paved Greenway from the Bronx to Brewster, NY in Putnam County. 
    The Bad News: the Putnam rail ROW will have to be closed for most of 2013 while this paving takes place.  Parks does not plan to mark out any detour around this closed section.  This is only 1.5 miles, but because of the steep hills around Tibbitts Brook, there are no easy or obvious bike and walking/running routes from Yonkers to the Bronx.  While road cyclists on 14 lb bikes will continue to take a long detour on busy streets around VCP, most bike and foot users will not know how to detour the closed path.

    The Old Croton Aqueduct parallels the Putnam Line from Tibbetts Brook Park down through VCP.  The Aqueduct path is being rebuilt right now, with a Jan 2013 completion date.  Parks could designate the Aqueduct at a temporary detour, but so far, is refusing to even consider the option.  At the least, signs and pavement markings can be placed around VCP to the Allan B Sheppard entry to the Putnam in Yonkers. 

    However, it appears that just as for the GWB area, the Putnam path will be closed during construction with no viable detour, “…And ain’t that too damn bad!”

    Parallel example of bridge access:  All the Jamaica Bay bridges along The Belt Parkway – Shore Parkway in Brooklyn along are being completely rebuilt.  The Belt Parkway Bike Path, a Parks Department path, runs over all of them.  Access across every bridge has been preserved during the construction period.  Even where the bike path has to narrow for short distances to the absolute minimum width needed to clear bikes and wheelchairs, the path has been kept open and passable during this multi-year project.  If access can be maintained for multiple bridges along a crowded busy parkway, it can be maintained across the two narrow railroad tracks at the GWB area.

  • Anonymous

    My guess is that it takes at most a few weeks to fix the bridge, not two years, but this bridge was deemed low priority and put at the end of a long backlog of projects, hence the two year wait. At the same time, I assume they determined that the bridge is not safe to use in the meantime, because otherwise we could keep using it for two years until they actually begin the work. But of course, if that were the case, they would wait two years until the bridge  almost started falling apart, and then wait an extra two years to fix it, so we would be in the exact same situation…

  • Bluewonderpowermilk96

    I figured I would share some findings and alternate routes in case that overpass closes…

    Referring to Ed Ravin’s way, I posted a picture of the junction in question. The tunnel is to the right and out of view and the ramp that goes up and over is near the exit ramp on the left, the pathway runs along NB Riverside Drive but it’s only good until nearly halfway to the traffic light when the pathway just ends in the grass and you’re forced to ride on the street or cross to the other side. Regardless, you’re riding on Riverside Drive which is higher up than the Greenway, is with below Riverside Drive. If you want to reach the next entry point into the Greenway using Ed Ravin’s way, one way is to stop at the second picture I put which is near a playground at W 163rd St and Riverside, cross the street to the side of the playground, do some sidewalk riding and ride all the down to Riverside Dr and W 158th Street. Once you reach W 158 St, turn right, and ride down to the entry point for the Greenway.

    Pros & Cons:

    Pros: the sidewalk riding going southbound on Riverside Dr is a long downward incline so you could clear that section pretty quick, if it’s unobstructed. This way minimizes conflicts with cars.

    Cons: Going from the cul-de-sac, you have to ride in a derelict path, adjacent to Riverside Drive, that ends in grass! …and you have to cross the street just to keep going, which as Ed Ravin says, looks more like a highway configuration at that point.

    Rather than brave these abandoned paths, I drew up an alternative using existing bike lanes and some on-street bike riding:

    Going Southbound from W 181 Street entry point: Use W 181st Street to go to Fort Washington Avenue (or turn right at Cabrini Blvd if you dont want to ride the hill, but you’ll be contraflow). Once you make it to Fort Washington Ave, you can ride that all the way to W 158th Street and Broadway, and shoot down W 158th Street to the next entry point. 

    *Alt: if you don’t want to use Fort Washington Avenue going south, you can use a southbound bike lane on Haven Avenue, access it Fort Washington Ave and turn right on W 177th Street neat the A train and ride it to Haven Avenue. The bike lane is only good for 10 blocks and leaves you back on Fort Washington Avenue.

    Going Northbound to W 181 Street entry point: Going northbound is even more straightforward but requires leg muscle. From the Greenway, exit at the W 158th Street exit and ride up the incline back to Broadway. Make a quick left and get back on Fort Washington Avenue, which has an on-street bike lane nearly all the way back to W 181st Street. Posted the map of the area as well.

    Pros & Cons:

    Pros: Using current bike facilities, bike lanes, most direct and probably safest alternate route.

    Cons: Cars, double-parkers, incline is more prominent riding back Uptown and going Downtown.

    That’s my report: hope it helps and best of luck.

  • Stacy

    There’s also a gravel and dirt path that seems to run from the west side of the bridge, along the river, to the Dyckman Street Marina, (that appeared in at least one episode of Law & Order FWTW. ) The one time I rode it, during daylight, there was an occasional runner and a couple having riverside sex. It could serve as an alternative for hearty mountain bikers who want to brave the less traveled sections of Fort Washington Park.

  • Stacy, that particular path, on the west side of the railroad tracks, doesn’t go all the way downtown to the lighthouse. Parks has plans to improve the northern part of it and make a dead-end, mile-long strolling path starting at the marina and going south. In the Fort Washington Park master plan that path is extended all the way to the lighthouse. That could be years before it’s completed, however.

  • Joshgo

    But an ever better idea is to extend the greenway along the Amtrak right of way on the Hudson side. Only a small portion needs to be built out onto the water.

  • David

    Wow, two years seems like a long time.  I just rode over this bridge for the first time the other day, it is in need of repair.  Is the alt path good for road bikes?  I love the area up there!  


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