Governors Island Bike Tour
Like so many New Yorkers I’ve never been to Governors Island though it lies alluringly close to the southern tip of Manhattan — about 800 yards.
Finally, after years of just staring at the thing whenever I biked around the edge of Manhattan, I spent a Saturday afternoon there.
The Dutch preceded me in the early 17th century, followed by the British and then the U.S. Army and Coast Guard, who only left in 1996. In January 2003, the 172-acre island was transferred to the people of New York through the Governors Island Preservation and Education Corp.
The paved roads and trails are nicely flat for biking and wind you past historic buildings and a peculiar beach named after the city’s distinctive yellow water taxis.
I started my trip at 14th Street on Manhattan’s West Side bike path and worked my way south. Here’s the route:
Take a right turn when you reach Stuyvesant High School to avoid detours and construction that disrupt the bike path as you approach Ground Zero. Keep the Hudson River on your right as you wind your way through Battery Park City.
The ferry terminal for Governors Island is located just east of the Staten Island Ferry terminal.
Departures are at the top and bottom of the hour on weekends. Admission is free and bike racks run the length of the ferry. (You can also rent a bike when you arrive.)
The views are spectacular: Over the East River spans, most majestically, the Brooklyn Bridge, the South Street Seaport with its party schooners, and ahead, the island. That impressive white structure, dramatically lit at night, is the ventilation shaft for the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel.
No matter what the name might suggest, Governors Island is not a place where you can commit adultery with Argentine beauties or ditch your security team to gambol with a prostitute. You can, however, get a full frontal view of the Statue of Liberty as she rises from her own island in the harbor. The place is named after the officials who lingered in British days.
Castle Williams is one of the many historic structures on the island. The menacing round stone building is the sister battery to Castle Clinton on the tip of Manhattan. Built at the time of the War of 1812, they were handy for shelling enemy ships from both sides in New York Harbor. Both are on the National Register of Historic Places
I called up Leslie Koch, president of the Governors Island Preservation and Education Corp., to ask about the future of the island.
“The island is coming back to life and the multipart strategy to attract the public as well as commercial and nonprofit tenants is in full swing,” she said.
In the works are plans to create artist studios and festivals. The “Pioneers of Change” design festival sponsored by the Dutch government as well as the “New Island Festival” are both good examples of this initiative. Starting on Sept. 10, these events will give the public unprecedented access to many of the historic structures on the island.
With all my rides come the promise of food and drink as a reward for pushing pedals all day. So my girlfriend Melissa and I headed to the popular Water Taxi Beach, a man-made stretch of sand spread out over an area on the north side of the island facing lower Manhattan. Swimming, however, is not allowed. The currents are dangerous and the water would probably dissolve you like an Alka-Seltzer tablet.
Nifty trailers serve food and beverages. After a long wait, we eventually extracted $6 beers, reasonably priced hot dogs, burgers and fries while volleyballs and footballs flew through the air.
Don’t expect the tranquil lapping of waves or seagull calls on this beach. We encountered “Hip Hop Karaoke” on our Saturday visit. Bad! The volume is driving boaters crazy in the harbor. A friend who was taking a cruise on a South Street Seaport Museum sailboat said the mood was almost ruined by the miked-up enthusiasts on the beach.
Water Taxi Beach also operates locations at the South Street Seaport and in Long Island City, Queens, all good biking destinations. Information: http://www.watertaxibeach.com.
Governors Island is open to the public every Friday, Saturday and Sunday through Oct. 11 for the 2009 season. The ferry ride and admission to Governors Island are free. Information: http://www.govisland.com.
Ride Time: 30 minutes (not including waiting for and riding the Governors Island ferry)
(Paul Goguen is a multimedia producer and photographer for Bloomberg News. Any opinions expressed are his own.)