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: Susan 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.