The Bridge to Ward's and Randall's Island
June 20, 2012

The Bridge to Ward’s and Randall’s Island

The first time we brought our kids to Ward’s and Randall’s Island, we were amazed by the swarm of bikers, runners, walkers, and soccer and baseball players—not to mention the many other people involved in outdoor activities, from picnicking to fishing—all around us. The only drawback with visiting the island then was that you had to get there by bus or car and, judging from the packed parking lot, many had chosen the latter option. Fortunately, the transportation problem was recently solved by the reopening of the Ward’s Island Bridge—better known as the 103rd Street Footbridge—spanning from East Harlem across the river to Ward’s and Randall’s Island. This bridge is good news for those of us who prefer to traverse the great outdoors of New York City on foot.

If you’re wondering why the official name of the bridge to Ward’s and Randall’s Island is “Ward’s Island Bridge,” it’s because the island used to be two separate islands—Ward’s and Randall’s—that were joined by a landfill in the 1930s. During this same period, legendary (or notorious, depending on how you view it) New York developer Robert Moses began plans for the bridge. The bridge, designed by Othmar Hermann Ammann, opened to pedestrians in 1951 as the Harlem River Pedestrian Bridge. Bicycles were allowed starting in 1967.

Walking the Bridge

You can access the bridge at the corner of 102nd Street and FDR Drive in East Harlem. The bridge is a little over 1/5 of a mile long—a nice walk that offers spacious views of the shorelines of both Manhattan and Queens. If you look closely, you can also spot the historic lighthouse on the tip of Roosevelt Island to the south. You will exit the bridge at the cul-de-sac on East River Lane. From here you can follow the Harlem River Pathway north or south, or walk up East River Lane towards the playing fields.

As New Yorkers with a penchant for bridges (for more information on New York Bridges see (http://nycbridges.blogspot.com/2007_09_01_archive.html), we always enjoy comparing notes with our kids on what makes each one special. Our 9-year-old Riley is partial to the George Washington (see previous blog post Soaring Over the Hudson: Walking the George Washington Bridge) on the west side of Manhattan farther north. The George Washington has a longer span (3,500 feet v. 312 feet) and offers more dramatic views. However, the Ward’s Island Bridge, being just for pedestrians and bikers, makes for a quiet city solitude—not to mention a point of easy transit—that you will want to return to once you experience it.

Ward’s and Randall’s Island

With 500 acres to explore, the island offers much to do. We recommend following the pathway (suitable for strollers or kids on bikes or scooters) either north or south. If you choose the former option you will arrive at salt marsh and wetlands areas. Heading south you will find lawns and landscaped wooded areas. The island’s only playground—Scylla Playground—featuring swings, slides, and climbing equipment for kids of all ages—is located near the fields just south of the  historic Hell Gate Bridge. There are several maps posted around the island in case you need to orient yourself.

Planning Your Visit

Take the 6 train to 103rd Street and walk one block south to 102nd and 4 blocks east to FDR Drive. Ward’s and Randall’s Island is a fantastic spot for picnicking, so come prepared.


 

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