Manhattan on Wheels
A Cyclist Makes Quick Work of the Island, Top to Bottom
It was four years ago that I first saw the Financial District end of the Hudson River Greenway. That’s the bike trail that runs along Manhattan’s West Side from Battery Park, near the southern tip of the island, to the George Washington Bridge to the north. I was walking crosstown to the Hudson River along a street just north of the World Trade Center site. To get to the river, I had to use a pedestrian overpass and saw a bunch of cyclists on a bike path below me. Immediately I wanted to bike it.
More recently, with my 78th birthday just a few months away, I began to feel some urgency.
Then I found out that the discount Vamoose bus line to New York not only picks up and discharges passengers in downtown Bethesda, 20 minutes from my home, but also takes bikes free. I began to see a way. The clinchers: the $50 round-trip fare and a midtown drop-off only 10 minutes from the Greenway.
“Keep it simple” was my motto. Get to Manhattan, bike to Battery Park. Turn around and bike north to the George Washington Bridge. Return to West 31st Street in time for the 5:30 p.m. bus. Go back to Bethesda.
Everyone I mentioned my plan to thought I was crazy. Why don’t you rent a bike in New York? Why don’t you stay overnight? Aren’t you afraid of getting mugged? Won’t you be tired when you get there? Don’t you think you’re a little old for that? Why this? Why that? My answer: Keep it simple and it will get done.
So on Sept. 10 I ease out of bed at 5:45 a.m., and shortly after 8 I am on my way. A man who sees my bike being loaded into the baggage area comments that I have found a way to beat the taxi problem in New York.
We arrive at 12:30 p.m., 30 minutes beyond the advertised four hours, and within minutes I am on my way west to the bike path.
It’s only 20 minutes or so to the downtown Tribeca area, a little soon for a break, but I’ve been wanting to meet my cousin’s son for some time and, as the trail is two blocks from his office, it’s a perfect opportunity.
My cousin lives in Colombia, and we haven’t seen each other in 30 years. His MBA son works for Citibank. We have a fine time getting to know each other over coffees, but the trail beckons and I’m off.
Soon comes my only setback. The plan was to head for Battery Park, but a few minutes after leaving Tribeca I start hitting walk-your-bike detours interrupting the Greenway. I cut west to the Esplanade, the biker-pedestrian path along the Hudson River that also ends at the Battery but, guess what, another detour. I’m getting concerned that these detours will eat up too much time, so I scratch Battery Park. Instead I head north on the Esplanade to where it turns east and runs into the Greenway, and I’m on my way to the bridge.
In Lower and Midtown Manhattan the Greenway follows the Hudson, but there are structures of varying kinds between the path and the water, including an impoundment garage for towed cars, the Chelsea Piers sports and entertainment complex and the embarkation pier for the Circle Cruise Line boats.
The trail is fairly narrow and right next to 12th Avenue, a heavily used divided street with three lanes on each side. The din of the traffic is definitely a downer.
Although it appears on maps as one long trail, the Greenway really is a series of connecting trails built at different times. It is most crowded in the downtown area; the number of bikers gradually lessens as you go north. But despite the many bikers, I’m able to maintain a 10- to 12-mph pace. As on any bike path, there are bikers treating it like the Tour de France, going at a frantic rate, weaving in and out of traffic, ignoring the double yellow line, ignoring red lights. (Yes, there are some lights and stop signs on the trail.) You get the picture. But most riders maintain a calm and steady pace.
From Battery Park to the George Washington Bridge is about 11 miles, not a huge distance as bike rides go. And it’s mostly flat. I remember only two hills, both short and neither demanding in terms of grade.
For the most part you cannot see the famous neighborhoods and landmarks as you move along, but you’re aware of them: the Financial District, Tribeca, SoHo, Greenwich Village, Chelsea, Midtown, the Javits convention center (11th Avenue between 34th and 39th streets), the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum (12th Avenue and 46th Street), the ocean liner piers (46th to 55th streets), Lincoln Center, the Upper West Side, Columbia University (around 116th Street) and Morningside Heights, Grant’s Tomb (Riverside Drive and 122nd Street), Harlem, Washington Heights.
I make a pit stop at a very pleasant riverside cafe at 70th Street for a quick bite: a delicious, fat-laden, juicy hot dog covered with sauerkraut and mustard. Just east of me is the beginning of the Upper West Side. Here the trail, now wider, runs through Riverside Park, and much of it offers beautiful vistas of the river and, across the water, New Jersey. The bridge starts to come into view.
Riverside Drive is visible from time to time, as is the Henry Hudson Parkway. At times I am actually under the parkway. At some point I see the towers of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine (112th Street and Amsterdam Avenue) in the distance.
There is a brief detour around 96th Street, but it remains on parkland and I don’t have to walk my bike. From 125th to 135th streets there is another detour, on an ugly commercial street that parallels the trail.
Before I know it, I’m under the bridge (178th Street). I continue up a short, steep hill and think briefly of going on to the Cloisters museum, but prudence prevails. I turn around and head back south.
It’s only 4 p.m. when I get back to my get-off-the-Greenway point, too early to quit. So back to Lower Manhattan. I stop in my tracks at 4:45, turn back north and head for the 5:30 bus, which is just beginning to board when I arrive. I check my odometer: 26 miles. My goal achieved, and a day well spent.
By Albert Diaz