To Improve Walking and Biking Across the Harlem River, DOT’s Thinking Big

Some Harlem River Bridge -- including the Madison Avenue Bridge depicted in this image -- may be in line for two-way protected bike infrastructure. Image: DOT
The Madison Avenue Bridge is one of several Harlem River crossings where DOT is considering a protected bikeway. Image: DOT

There are 16 bridges linking Manhattan and the Bronx, but if you walk or bike between the boroughs, safe, convenient routes are still scarce. That could change if DOT follows through on ideas the agency released this spring to improve walking and biking access over the Harlem River bridges [PDF].

Currently, 13 of the 16 bridges along the river have pedestrian access and just five (including the Randall’s Island Connector) have bike paths. The streets and ramps feeding into the bridges are mainly designed for motor vehicle movement and poorly equipped to keep pedestrians and cyclists safe.

Most nearby residents don’t own cars, and the conditions make it especially difficult for them to make short trips between the boroughs. “I know it could be more efficient for people to get to and from the Bronx, as opposed to waiting for the bus,” said Transportation Alternatives’ Sandra Hawkins. “Some of [the bridges] are not easily navigable for walking or cycling.”

After Bronx and Uptown residents called for safer access between the boroughs, DOT launched a series of workshops last summer to gather ideas for its “Harlem River Bridges Access Plan,” which will guide walking and biking improvements on the bridges and the neighborhood streets they connect.

DOT’s final plan is set to be released in the fall, but in March, the agency shared some of the improvements it is considering based on what people have said so far. The projects cover both short-term fixes that can be implemented quickly at low cost, and more time- and resource-intensive capital projects.

There’s a ton of potential in the 40 projects DOT has floated — including bike infrastructure and/or wider sidewalks on each bridge, as well as safer biking and walking connections on the streets that feed into them.

Image: DOT
Creating better access across the Harlem River is essential for the walking and biking networks Uptown and in the Bronx. Image: DOT

On the 145th Street Bridge, for example, DOT is considering a six-foot cantilever to make enough room on the north side for pedestrians and cyclists to share a grade-separated path; safer pedestrian crossings and new bike lanes on East 149th Street in the Bronx; and an improved bike connection to the Harlem River Greenway in Manhattan. Further from the bridge, the agency may install bike connections to the Hub in the Bronx and Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard and St. Nicholas Avenue in Manhattan.

“That’s a very heavy traffic bridge in terms of pedestrians crossing,” said Hawkins, who attended one of the recent workshops. “Just trying to get to there is not as safe as it could be because of the turns on and off bridges.”

145th st bridge
DOT is considering expanding the north sidewalk of the 145th Street Bridge to make more room for cyclists and pedestrians. Image: DOT

DOT is also considering two-way barrier-protected bikeways, similar to the new Pulaski Bridge bikeway, for the University Heights, Washington, and Madison Avenue bridges. A protected bike path on the Third Avenue Bridge is “not feasible with current traffic conditions,” but toll reform could change that, according to the DOT presentation.

It would take some time for the city to build out all of these proposals, given the generally lethargic pace of capital construction. But some ideas from the workshops are already coming to fruition.

In February, DOT presented a proposal to Manhattan Community Board 11 for protected bike lanes linking the Willis Avenue Bridge and First and Second Avenue. On the Bronx side, DOT plans to present a two-way protected bike lane on Bruckner Boulevard between Willis Avenue and Willow Avenue to Bronx CB 1 this summer.

  • Reader

    In the renderings above, it would be nice if DOT would consider lanes no more than 11′ wide and 2′ buffers instead of 4′. That width could be transferred to the bike lanes to account for future ridership growth, which is guaranteed to come with congestion pricing, the expansion of Citi Bike, etc.

    13′ feet moving lanes are completely unnecessary and lead to speeding.

  • AMH

    Good news. These bridges and their approaches are often terrifying. Drivers regularly speed and honk at cyclists for daring to get in their way, and when traffic is gridlocked there’s no way to get through.

  • AMH

    Agree–there is no reason a normal street should suddenly turn into a highway at the bridge. Yet that is how many are designed and so that is how drivers treat them, expecting everyone else to GTFO.

  • ahwr

    The pdf mentions putting two way bike facilities on the Washington and University Heights bridges, taking a lane of traffic on the bridge. Washington would be a 8 foot two way bike way and it looks to be at grade with an expanded 7 foot sidewalk (5 now). University heights 11 foot path would be on the north side, leaving the only sidewalk on the south side (8 feet) for pedestrians only. Macombs dam they want to add four feet to the sidewalk on the north side of the bridge and make it an 11 foot two way shared path. The proposed 145th street bridge shared path is the bottom picture in the article. The pdf doesn’t show changes on the Madison bridge. The drawing at the top of this page is on the Madison avenue approach to the bridge, so the high volume facility you want on the approach would feed into a shared path, which is 9 feet(?) wide. The short term plan for 3rd avenue bridge is to direct cyclists away from it and towards Willis ave bridge instead. If traffic volumes drop on 3rd then look into on bridge markings for cyclists. No expanded facilities planned on the Willis ave bridge, I believe the existing is a 12 foot two way shared path.

    On the whole the plan seems pretty timid. Keep in mind the timeline mentioned is 1-3 years planning/CB review, 5-10 year seek funding/capital build out.

  • AnoNYC

    I went to one of the workshops (South Bronx) and attendees were very receptive to the changes. In fact, many of them wanted even more aggressive implementations to improve crossings for pedestrians, bicyclists, and and mass transportation improvements.

    I personally use the Willis Ave bridge on a regular basis and I am eagerly anticipating the construction of a protected bicycle lane on Willis Ave. Right now the DOT only wants to extend the lane to about E 141st St, but I insisted that they should extend it to the Hub. Ending it at E 141st St will dump northbound cyclists on the wrong side of the road. Same situation that currently exist at E 135th St now.

    I identified that the Bronx approach to the Third Ave Bridge is problematic between E 135th and E 138th St. We need a protected lane on that extra wide street full of double parked autos (garage, gas station, buses). Not sure if they will take it into consideration.

    The connections to the Randall’s Island Connector are also very important. Willow Ave needs a two-way bike lane since it’s a one-way street. E 138th St and Bruckner Blvd needs a major reconfiguration ASAP, and the South Bronx greenway needs to be completed between E 138th St and Longwood Ave to make it useful.

    Extending the 1st Ave protected lane to E 125th St is also very welcome. No more near sideswipes.

    I personally wanted E 161st St/Macombs Dam Bridge to be get bus only lanes but I guess that’s a battle for the future. Makes a lot of sense considering that there is no crosstown subway service uptown and automobiles have plenty of other crossings.

  • iSkyscraper

    Wow, this is fantastic and a long time coming. Broadway Bridge, for example, is a cyclist and pedestrian horror show, despite having an unmarked useless extra lane that appears before the bridge and ends after it, causing confusion and tension even for cars. Automatic win.

    Not quite sure how they would pull off reducing the University Heights Bridge to one lane westbound, since that bridge is massively busy as it is with drivers stacked up trying to turn left (south) to reach the HRD. I guess after the bridge there would be room to widen this but it could be a real mess and freeze the Bx12 SBS. With the Inwood rezoning coming up, one would hope for a more creative solution (like banning left turns and making a right turn loop on the under-used land next to the bridge to get cars pointed south).

  • Vooch

    these Bridge designs are a good start to connecting the Bronx and Manhatten. I predict the Bronx &’Harlem will have more cyclists than any other area once protected bike lanes are installed.

    It’s 5 miles from the Hub to Grand Central, a long cycling commute for sure, but much better than a $5,50 unreliable train ride.

  • AnoNYC

    Local commutes within the West Bronx and Upper Manhattan make sense by bike because these are small geographical areas with heavy traffic, very limited parking and heavily utilized mass transportation. Biking between East Harlem and Mott Haven is a breeze, minus dealing with the hectic bridge approaches. Local side streets a very bikeable, but arteries like Willis Ave need protected infrastructure.

    These areas could easily have as many bikers as Williamsburg or more, but safety concerns prevent higher rates of adaptation. The Bronx west of Webster Ave and Washington Heights could be problematic due to topography, but that’s where low cost, LEGAL, eBikes would play a huge role.

    The city needs to legalize ebikes already. The costs are plummeting too. Once they dip to about $500 or so for a very basic model, I could see widespread adoption.

    Overall, targeting the bridges is a good strategy by the DOT, as these are the most dangerous areas for bicyclists (all users really). Next should be the big arteries. E 149th St in the Bronx for example needs calming.

  • IlIlIl

    DOT is considering expanding the north sidewalk of the 145th Street Bridge to make more room for cyclists and pedestrians. Image: DOT

    Stop mixing pedestrians and cyclists! They’ll still have an entire side we can’t touch. Make it a bike lane and be done with it.

  • Elias Friedman

    Nobody seems to know about the existing at-grade entrance to the 3rd avenue bridge. Mount the sidewalk at the corner of E 128th St and 2nd Ave and go around the back of the bus depot. There’s a jersey barrier protected path between the building and the Harlem River Drive that continues along to the park and the western bridge path.

  • AnoNYC

    Thanks for that. Never realized that there was an at-grade entrance to 2nd Ave along the FDR. I take Lexington Ave right now though because of construction on the SAS on the UES. I would like to start taking 2nd Ave once the street is repaired, but I might just take the Willis Ave Bridge over 3rd Ave when that happens.


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