City: Commuter Needs Will Factor into High Bridge Plan

A restored High Bridge will be open to commuting cyclists and pedestrians, but access time could be limited, officials said last week.

highbridge.jpgThe occasion was a "listening session" hosted by the Department of Parks & Recreation, when dozens of uptowners filed into the High Bridge Park Recreation Center at 173rd Street and Amsterdam to share visions of revitalizing the oldest bridge in New York City.

Built as part of the Croton Aqueduct, the High Bridge connects Washington Heights in Manhattan with the High Bridge neighborhood in the Bronx. It stopped carrying water in 1958, and was closed to the public completely in 1970. The Wednesday, June 20 meeting was part public input session, part celebration, as just a few months ago many in attendance would not have believed a long-awaited High Bridge comeback could be so close to fruition. But on April 22, Mayor Bloomberg singled out the project as a centerpiece of his PlaNYC reveal, and backed it up with $60 million in city funds. An additional five million will come from federal coffers — not to mention the $500 check presented Wednesday from students of Bronx P.S. 126, who chose the High Bridge as the recipient of their Penny Harvest donation drive.

"We have the funding in hand," said Ellen Macnow, who led the meeting for the Parks Department. "This is not a pipe dream anymore."

Happy as they are with the rapidly accelerated pace of the renewal, residents spoke clearly about their expectations for the project. High among them was access to the car-free bridge for bike and pedestrian commuting. Going into the meeting, the city had planned to restrict usage to daytime weekend hours, but Macnow insisted such matters remain open to community direction.

"We wouldn’t have a bridge for cars in the city that wouldn’t be open at night and only on the weekend," said Susan Murray, an artist who brought the High Bridge project to the attention of Streetsblog readers last week. Murray said she presently has to use the Washington Bridge at 181st Street, which she described as "scary" after dark.

As for getting on and off the bridge, the city plans to make use of existing park trails and bike routes, making accommodations for cyclists as necessary. Other questions centered on the installation of benches (none are planned as of now) and fencing (for safety reasons, high fences flanking the span are "something of a necessity").

Macnow said the department will likely adjust access hours based on usage, and assured residents that their wishes will be a guiding factor: "We are with you all the way. We want everybody who wants to use the bridge to use the bridge."

Streetsblog spoke briefly with Macnow today. Based on feedback since the meeting, including comments from Streetsblog readers, she said the department’s original weekends-only plan may be adjusted.

"We have a little while to figure it out," she said.

The groundbreaking for the renovation will be held at noon tomorrow (Thursday, June 27), on the terrace of the High Bridge water tower, near Amsterdam and West 174th Street. Design work is set to commence in the fall, with construction starting in the summer of 2009.

Photo: joshbousel/Flickr