Bike Commuters Will Ride Restored High Bridge, After Taking the Stairs

Cyclists will be directed to walk their bikes on and off the High Bridge. Image: ## Murray Donovan##

The restored High Bridge will probably be open for morning and evening commutes, but cyclists will be asked to walk their bikes on and off the bridge, according to the Parks Department.

Project coordinator Ellen Macnow says the car-free bridge, which spans the Harlem River to connect Highbridge and Washington Heights, will have new ADA-compliant access ramps. Cyclists will be permitted to ride on the High Bridge itself, but since the ramps are considered too narrow for shared use, they will be directed to take stairs at each end.

“A compromise was reached between a wish for unconstrained access and for historic preservation — different options were explored at length during the design period,” said Macnow, in an email to Streetsblog. “Widening the ramps enough to meet shared use guidelines would have created large and imposing structures that overwhelmed the bridge. Ultimately, we decided to preserve the historic character as much as possible, which results in smaller ramps and most visitors using the original historic access.”

Macnow says the bridge will likely be closed at night, when the parks at each end are closed. Highbridge Park in the Bronx is currently open from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., and park hours on the Manhattan side are a bit longer. “Use of the bridge will be closely monitored and hours will be adjusted if needed,” Macnow says.

An early proposal called for the rehabbed bridge to be open only during daylight hours on Saturdays and Sundays. While weekday bike hours will help, the stairs may limit the value of the bridge as a transportation link. Other bikeways run by the Parks Department face similar problems with limited or inconvenient access.

Few would question the historic significance of the city’s oldest standing bridge, but the addition of bike ramps seems minor compared to what happened in the 1920s, when part of the High Bridge was demolished and replaced by a steel span to make room for passing ships.

It’s also difficult to square concerns over aesthetics with the plan to erect an eight-foot safety fence atop the bridge, which in addition to bike access was a point of contention during the public input process. A fence will be installed, Macnow says, though it will be a cable mesh designed to minimize disruption of views.

At a groundbreaking ceremony last week, Mayor Bloomberg said the High Bridge, closed since the 1970s, will be open to the public by next year.

An aside: After the jump, we’ve posted an excellent mini-documentary from PBS Thirteen, featuring a primer from Macnow on the past, present and future of the High Bridge.

  • jrab

    Brad, your graphic arrow is pointing to the wrong set of stairs.

    There is ALREADY an ADA-compliant path from the back of Adventure Playground at 165th & Edgecombe Ave to the Manhattan end of the High Bridge, at the bottom of your arrow. What I believe the planners are referring to when they talk about the stairs are the one or two stairs at each end of the bridge, between the span and the plazas on either end.

    In addition to the ADA path, there is a nice recently rehabbed stairway that leads from the plaza around the water tower down to the bridge that walkers can use.

  • Andy B from Jersey

    How in the world does the parks department expect to prevent bicyclists from using the ADA ramp?  Are they going to post a guard there?

  • Ryan Ng

    What?s the point of having a bike bridge, you say? Not having to ride down stairs.

  • KillMoto

    Meh.  I got a bike that’ll take on any set of stairs.  

  • Ian Turner

    Hopefully they will at least install a bicycle ramp

    There is precedent in NYC parks, the East River Esplanade has one at 81st St.

  • What a great video. I still don’t think the higher guard rails area good idea. The bridge “makes people nervous” because it’s built on a water pipe and the center of the bridge is higher than the edges. When you stand in the center the rail “feels” low, but it’s also one of the few places where you can really encounter the Harlem river unobstructed. I know it isn’t likely, since everything seemed to get fenced-in… but, it’s worth saying. I don’t like the proposed “glass” walls, they are overly high and far too much like the metal cages found on other city pedestrian overpasses. 

    As for the existing ramps, there is a new bike path (that was in poor repair when I made the post and that graphic with the arrow) it’s quite nice. I now live on the Bronx side (rather than the Washington Heights Side) so I can’t remember when they opened it. 

    It’s not ideal for many commuters though, it’d be even better if there were a way up to the main road, though in, general I’ve been impressed with the progress this park has made since I started photographing and painting it in 2001.

    I’ve been waiting for this bridge to open for over a decade. It’s exciting to see the progress.

    But, again, I wish they would not put up those “glass” walls. How will they stay clean? How will photographs look? How will you smell the river? I mean Tribrough, maybe they could just make them a bit lower… the renders I’ve seen show them taller than an average man. 

    Would we do something like that to the brooklyn bridge? Did we need it in the? Why do we need it here?

  • Clarence Eckerson Jr.

    I can’t wait for the Highbridge.  I had so much fun up there shooting this video a couple of years back:

  • Highbridgeparkdevelopment

    This is great.  I hope the experience of opening the bridge will encourage them to also open up the Tower which has incredible views (I hear).  I also hope that the strong approval to the project is such that they fix up the HighBridge Park and the neighborhood so that we can all thoroughly enjoy the experience of the whole thing.
    Look at what other developments are planned for the bridge, park, and immediate area: 


City: Commuter Needs Will Factor into High Bridge Plan

A restored High Bridge will be open to commuting cyclists and pedestrians, but access time could be limited, officials said last week. The occasion was a "listening session" hosted by the Department of Parks & Recreation, when dozens of uptowners filed into the High Bridge Park Recreation Center at 173rd Street and Amsterdam to share […]

High Bridge Restoration Off and Running

Photo:rickweller/Flickr It’s about a year-and-a-half behind the schedule announced in 2007, but the rehabilitation of the High Bridge, a pedestrian and cyclist link between Upper Manhattan and the Bronx, is off the ground. Per an email from project coordinator Ellen Macnow of the Parks Department, via Inwood and Washington Heights Livable Streets:  A contract has […]