Monday, March 21, 2011

New York, New York - just like I pictured it ...

I spent a great Sunday riding the Manhattan Greenway around the island. In some spots this is very much a work in progress, but when the areas whch are in construction catch up to the best bits, this will be one of the finest cycling (and walking) facilities in the USA.

Steve and I caught the Staten Island Ferry from St George on a very bright, cloudless, but cold day. I had considered wearing 3-season gloves, but fortunately chose 4-season gloves and silk liners. It felt especially cold after the previous couple of days where temperature reached towards 70F/20C.

The ferry is a great way to approach Manhattan even when bicycles and riders are consigned to the road deck of the ferry. And car-parking is free on Sundays at the St George Terminal.

We set of north up the East Side. The East Side Greenway is still fragmented. A lot of work is still being done signposting, cutting routes around and under the East side highway and in parts cyclists and pedestrians are confined in close proximity. A cheery "Good morning!!!" seemed to resolve most conflicts.

The major problem on the East Side is the route around the UN Headquarters where for the first time the route is consigned to the streets. The iconic building itself is going through a massive modernisation programme and looks more like a demolition site than an international headquarters.

At times it's hard to spot the Greenway signs, but eventually the route cuts back to the riverside and proceeds north parallel with Central Park until the path has to once again cut back into the city with a marked path on the roadway through Harlem and then north towards the top of the island.

This is the highest end of Manhattan, where the base rock comes close to the surface. This also means that the north has the highest hills on the route. However, none are too challenging even on a single-speed bike.

The route eventually cuts back to the Harlem River before once again turning inland through Washington Heights. Here the route is at its closest interface with cars, trucks and buses, mostly because a number of left-turns have to be made on the road. The cycle lane is clearly marked, and drivers seemed to be more sympathetic to cyclists than I had anticipated. In fact the biggest hazard en route are wayward pedestrians.

Eventually we came onto the West Side Greenway. This entails carrying your bike up a flight of stairs, but once you're there it's a virtually unbroken run downtown.

Single-speed and Steve's Brompton folder resting near the GWB
However, this does entail a climb to the highest part of the Greenway, a perspective over the Hudson River, south towards The George Washington Bridge. There are few riders up here. Although a fairly easy ascent from the north, riding up from the south entails climbing a very steep corkscrew from river level. Most recreational riders riding uptown stop at The Little Red Lighthouse Park.

From then on it's all downhill ... almost literally. The major pre-occupation is to avoid pedestrians so speed is limited. That's not so bad. It's relaxing to pootle along at not much more than walking speed.

As the route approaches the financial area it's evident that there is a massive development of the Greenway path. At first pedestrians and cyclists are segregated into their respective paths, then the route threads though the buildings towards Battery Park. Much is going on here and when it's finished it will be a fantastic facility.

To round the trip off Steve (thanks Steve!) and I tested out the recuperative power of German bier in the Standard Biergarten, the closest thing I've seen to a biergarten outside of Germany - very nice. We found a couple of other beer enthusiasts to shoot the breeze with then set of for the final stretch to the Staten Island Ferry.

Great day!!!

PS: it's further than you might think - 30+ miles; the road parts are safer than a regular cyclist might think, but maybe not for a novice ...