Manhattan Greenway

by Anne Schwartz, October 17, 2003

As two Olympic cyclists and a dozen roller bladers from P.S. 5 glided onto a newly restored esplanade along the Harlem River, Mayor Michael Bloomberg dedicated the final link of the interim Manhattan waterfront greenway. With the September 30th completion of what is known as the Harlem River Speedway (a straightaway once used for carriage racing), it is now possible to circle Manhattan on bicycle, foot or skate - although adventurers who attempt this will still have the company of trucks and taxis part of the way.

The interim route connects a number of pedestrian and cycling paths that have been built on the Manhattan waterfront over the last decade as part of the larger 1993 citywide Greenway Plan(pdf format). These 23 miles of Manhattan greenway, which provide access to 1,500 acres of parkland, connect to temporary on-street detours. To mark the entire 32-mile route, the city put up 750 signs with the Greenway logo, including directional and safety signage.

The temporary linking of the greenway sections is just the first phase of Mayor Bloomberg's effort to fulfill the promise he made in his 2002 State of the City address to complete the greenway around Manhattan. Finishing the project in record time, Bloomberg overcame resistance by some community boards and bridged the bureaucratic boundaries between the various city and state agencies responsible for different parts of the greenway, including the city transportation, parks and planning departments and Economic Development Corporation, and the State Department of Transportation. This phase of the greenway received $4.5 million in city funding and $1.5 million from the state.

There is still a long way to go before a continuous green path runs around the shoreline of Manhattan. The area affected by the reconstruction of the Harlem River bridges will not be available for a decade. Another missing piece is the riverfront next to the United Nations, which has had security concerns about allowing access there. The city is working with the United Nations on a possible esplanade and greenway link tied to the organization's proposed consolidation plan. The next phase of the Manhattan Greenway, which will begin after the plans for the South Ferry station and the reconstruction of Battery Place are finalized, includes the construction of a world-class bikeway around The Battery.

Greenway advocates, like the Neighborhood Open Space Coalition, and Transportation Alternatives, have been cheering on the efforts of Mayor Bloomberg and the city agencies. Dave Lutz, the director of the Neighborhood Open Space Coalition and one of the people who launched the Greenway Plan, said, "This is the city we've been imagining for 15 years."

Lutz was even more celebratory about Mayor Bloomberg's comments on his radio show the week following the reopening of the Speedway. "The best news, the very best news," Lutz said, "was that the mayor announced support for a bicycle and footpath over the Verrazano Bridge." Brooklyn and Staten Island residents have been calling for such a path since the bridge was built in 1964 without one. "When I drew up the inventory of potential greenways for the city, the Verrazano was the target of it," Lutz said. "We figured if we built paths all over the city, you couldn't ignore the Verrazano Bridge."

Lutz noted that a pathway across the Verrazano could be a major tourist attraction. The bridge, once the longest suspension bridge in the world (now the sixth or seventh), has spectacular harbor and skyline views, and has parks on both sides, including historic Fort Wadsworth, part of the National Parks of New York Harbor.