Bicycle enthusiasts and carbon footprint-conscious commuters have joined forces to take on a common threat— the 19-month closing of the pedestrian access to the Henry Hudson Bridge.
What was once a nice quick trip across Spuyten Duyvil Creek has turned into a nightmare detour to the Broadway Bridge — a mile and a half that forces cyclists to compete with cars and traffic along Irwin Avenue and West 230th Street, not to mention Broadway itself.
Cyclists took their case to a recent Community Board 8 traffic and transportation committee meeting, wanting not only some sort of pedestrian access to the Henry Hudson Bridge during construction, but a wider pedestrian pathway included in the overall construction project once it’s done.
“This is a very important issue for the handicap community, and an important issue for the green community and people who are concerned with our carbon footprint, and people who commute to work, and all the athletics that happen on that bridge,” said Craig Weingard, a cyclist who uses the bridge six days a week.
The problem is nothing new, however. The project to replace and repair the Henry Hudson Bridge’s steel arches as part of an $86 million capital improvement plan from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which manages the bridge. What’s specifically closed the pedestrian path is the MTA’s effort to replace the last remaining section of the roadway deck, designed to improve traffic flow and transportation over the bridge.
Because of the nature of the work — and what’s being replaced — even a temporary path while construction continues, MTA officials said, is simply not possible.
“For safety and logistical reasons, we will not be able to accommodate pedestrians due to the active work zone on the lower level of the bridge,” said MTA spokesman Christopher McKniff, in a statement. With one traffic lane closed the remaining two will be needed to accommodate vehicular traffic.
But that’s not necessarily true, said architect Hal Dorfman. He believes such a pathway is possible, even with construction, and shared his idea behind it with the traffic and transportation committee.
“This is going to be a major inconvenience that the mayor has allowed this major connection between Riverdale and the rest of Manhattan to be severed for basically a year,” Dorfman said. “My suggestion was that some sort of safe pathway like sideway bridging be made available during. It should be possible that pedestrians be able to pass.”
But when cyclists like Weingard brought this issue up earlier this year, MTA superintendent Richard Campisi said there is simply no safe way to get pedestrians and cyclists across the bridge during construction.
“The work has to be done, and it would just be unsafe to keep the walkway open during construction,” Campisi told The Riverdale Press in February. “In order to keep the public safe, the walkway needs to be closed.”
Even creating an additional lane just wouldn’t work.
“It’s a major renovation, so we just can’t accommodate anybody walking along the footpath,” Campisi added. “Safety is first with us.”
The construction has left few options for local leaders, but longtime Community Board 8 member Charles Moerdler tapped into a little authority he has as a member of the MTA board to reduce the construction time from the original 30 months to 19. But even that timetable is too long, he said, and intends to bring it up to the organization’s staff this month. Still, he makes it clear the work being done there is necessary.
“The people who have voiced their complaints are the pedestrians, and they have legitimate complaints,” Moerdler said. “But what is my option? Let the bridge fall down?”
MTA is not forcing anyone to detour to Broadway, offering a free shuttle running daily, every half hour, from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., between March and November, with reduced hours in the winter.
On the Bronx side, the shuttle picks up residents and their bikes at Kappock Street and Independence Avenue, stopping on the Manhattan side of the bridge at Dyckman Street below the south Henry Hudson parkway.
The shuttle, however, doesn’t seem to be very popular. At least since Sept. 20, the MTA has reported relatively low ridership.
Many cyclists have opted taking the Broadway Bridge detour, but Alex Diamond knows firsthand that it’s not safe — he already has been hit by a car while taking the alternative route.
“It’s a very, very dangerous route,” said Diamond, a 25-year resident. “It was a terrible accident, and I’ve never forgotten it. I absolutely never will use Broadway to go to the city.”
CB8’s traffic and transportation committee was just the first stop for cyclists like Weingard. They plan to bring their grievances to the full CB8 board Oct. 9.