Hiking the Manhattan Bridge
June 12, 2013

Hiking the Manhattan Bridge

Continuing our quest to walk across all the bridges (Triboro, Brooklyn, George Washington, Queensboro and the Bridge to Ward’s and Randall’s—to name a few!) that lead in and out of Manhattan, we recently set off for Brooklyn via the Manhattan Bridge.  Far more delicate looking than its sister spans across the East River, the Manhattan Bridge, opened in 1909 was the last of the East River suspension bridges to do so.  The entrance to this magnificent structure couldn’t be more impressive: A massive Classical-style arch and colonnade frames the entrance, leading you off the exotic cavalcade of China Town’s backbone, Canal Street.  The structure was designed in1910 by Carrère & Hastings, architects of the main New York Public Library, as part of the City Beautiful movement which brought monumental grandeur throughout U.S. cities.

A century later, the effect still holds: our children were wowed by the sight of it, especially the vision of the Freedom Tower as it was framed by the southern colonnade when we walked by. 

The Hike

Perhaps because we were marveling at this unique sight, we neglected to notice that southern walkway is reserved for pedestrians.  Or, more likely, this oversight resulted from the fact that we were indeed following the bike signs that led us around Chinatown.  Intrepid urban hikers that we are—and not knowing exactly how to access the bridge on foot—we followed the street signs for the bike entrance in the way that we would follow blazes on trees in the woods.  We figured that the signs would work for pedestrians and cyclists alike.  But after exploring Canal Street, Grand Street, and Allen Street without feeling any closer to our large but oddly elusive destination, we finally stopped and asked someone and got pointed in the right direction. 

Thus we came upon the northern pass at Canal Street and Forsyth Street which is reserved for cyclists, which we didn’t realize this error until we were well on our way up the span (the southern pass for pedestrians starts on Bowery).  A few cyclists grumbled, but the good news is that during the early afternoon, the bike side was far shadier than the pedestrian side, and from the vantage of the bike lane, we saw that the city’s new Citibike program was in robust use. 

From ramp to ramp, the bridge is just over a mile long, and it hovers some 300 feet above the East River.  The bike and pedestrian paths opened in 2001 and have undergone various improvements over the years.  From our experience on a beautiful day, walking and cycling over the Manhattan Bridge is popular.  As ever, the views in all directions are exciting to behold—but obviously we like landscapes from the unique vantage of a bridge span!  The hum of traffic—both cars and subways on the Manhattan Bridge—adds energy to any bridge excursion, and the uninterrupted skylines and river sweeps cannot be found from any point on land. 

There is so much to do on either side of the Manhattan Bridge too: Chinatown teems with exciting things to see on the Manhattan side and the Brooklyn side features the idyllic Brooklyn Bridge Park and its many awesome, sprinkler-studded playgrounds.

Logistics

On the Manhattan side, the pedestrian walkway is at on Bowery between Canal Street and Bayard Street, and the cycling access is at Canal and Forsyth streets.  From Brooklyn, pedestrians enter the southern walkway at Jay Street between Sands and Nassau streets, and cyclists access the northern passage at Sands and Jay streets.

Also, as summer gets underway and you start switching over your footwear, it’s helpful to remember what we call “the urban-hikers first-aid kit” to attend immediately to any blisters that may form.  In a small zipped bag, we carry Band-Aids, adhesive moleskin, hand sanitizer, moisturizer, sunblock, and hand wipes.  These supplies came in very handy during this walk in particular. 

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