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Biking the Bridges
by 02mfn, Sep 28, 2012

The awesomely unprecedented scope of NYC’s built environment at times obscures the city’s island geography.  While hindsight paints an almost mythical narrative leading to New York’s iconic identity, Gotham can trace much of its success to the waterways coursing between its contiguous boroughs.  Today we’re shifting into first-gear and ascending the East River Bridges.  Buckle your helmets and hang on as we sail across a robust set of paths affording riders incredible panoramic views of the World’s foremost metropolis.

A few quick safety notes:  biking bridges in NYC is incredible, but there are a few precautions you should take.  First, some bridges have designated paths for cyclists, make sure you pay attention to any signage or bridge regulations.  Secondly, the climb might be rough, but that doesn’t mean you can barrel your way down the decent.  Control your speed to avoid collisions with the bridge and other cyclists.  Third, the scenery will stun you, but don’t take your eyes off the road!   If you want to admire the view, make sure you pull off to the side and dismount.  Lastly, the free NYC bike map published by the DOT outlines the best routes to bridge bike paths.  You should familiarize yourself with these routes beforehand, so you don’t get tangled up in traffic.

On your way south towards Delancy Street you’ll notice a number of bicycle way finding signs (courtesy of the NYCDOT). These handy green signs point to the best route to the Williamsburg Bridge bike path. The safest approach is from the south at the intersection of Grand and Clinton Streets. From there it’s a straight shot north onto the Williamsburg Bridge pedestrian/bicycle ramp.

If you decide to start the ride by snacking around Soho, you can grab cupcakes from Baked By Melissa. These tiny, trendy cupcakes come in a wide variety of flavors and are small enough to gobble down and go!  Alternatively you can stop by the Essex Street Market for a whole assortment of tasty treats from kosher meats to candied apples.

Completed in 1903, the Williamsburg Bridge was the longest suspension bridge in the world until 1924.  This robust bridge was designed to carry the weight of rail traffic.  As automobiles became more prevalent, the bridge was later adapted to serve a greater volume of car traffic.

As you ride over the Williamsburg Bridge, its superstructure offers a raw aesthetic beauty with brief windows to Manhattan’s iconic skyline. You may also catch the subway making a brief above-ground appearance as it rolls right next to you!

Make sure you stay to the north side of the walkway to avoid pedestrian congestion.  It’s a fun ride down, but be sure to control your speed.  At the bottom you can head straight for the shore and follow Kent Avenue South to Flushing Avenue.  After a right on Flushing you’ll roll right past the Brooklyn Navy Yard.  Stop by Building 92 for some fantastic exhibits on the yard’s history and recent redevelopment.

From there make a right on Navy Street and then a left onto the raised cycle track.  This will bring you directly to the Manhattan Bridge bike path.  Reminiscent of a velodrome, the intense loop onto the bridge invites cyclists to slingshot around on their way down.  Use caution and be alert as you come around the corner.

Notice how the Manhattan Bridge towers are much thinner than those of the Williamsburg Bridge? That’s deflection theory at work!

Completed in 1909 the Manhattan Bridge was the first of its kind to utilize deflection theory in its construction.   Without getting too technical this technique allows engineers to distribute weight such that less material is required to hold the bridge in place.  While you’re pulling over to take in the view, take a look up at the vertical suspender cables.  The NYCDOT is currently in the process of replacing each of these metal ropes (amazing that it can be done while the bridge is still in operation).  As a result you’ll find scaffolding in some places that narrows the bike path.  It pays to slow down at these areas, especially when you have oncoming cyclists crossing at the same time. When you finally get back into Manhattan, you’ll find yourself in Chinatown.  The grand plaza and archway at the base of the bridge were designed by Carrère and Hastings, the same architectural firm that built the main branch of the New York Public Library.

And now it’s time to head south for the pièce de résistance of our pedal-powered journey!  Before you actually ride the Brooklyn Bridge, be sure your bike bell is easily accessible.  The promenade is spray painted down the center to keep pedestrians and cyclists out of each others’ way.

A view of Midtown from the Brooklyn Bridge Promenade.

The simple foot-level markings often fail to keep hordes of tourists from spilling onto the bicycle side (especially at the central span).  The best advice we can give is to be careful and courteous.   People come from all over the world to see the Brooklyn Bridge, so don’t expect them to understand all of our traffic laws.


After the initial approach from City Hall Park, you’ll feel the promenade deck clatter beneath you as you glide towards the apex of the bridge’s central span.  Be sure to stop.  No other place in the world can claim such centrality and prominence.  A single pivot will reveal the world’s financial capital; Midtown’s archetypical cosmopolitism; two other great bridges to the north; Brooklyn, the borough no one can just fugheddaboud;

Completed in 1883, the Brooklyn Bridge was the longest suspension Bridge in the world and the first to incorporate steal in its construction. Designed by John Roebling and completed by his son Washington, the Brooklyn Bridge and it’s construction tells a riveting story representing the spirit of America’s Gilded Age.

the reigning suspension bridge in the Western Hemisphere [Verrazano-Narrows Bridge]; and the two American gateways of Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty.  It’s then that you should realize that you are not simply surrounded by these icons, but elevated amongst them.  You yourself become a part of this iconic landscape.

Once you snap out of this awesome trance, head down the span with caution.  You can ride the promenade all the way into downtown Brooklyn, or take the steps.  If your mind isn’t blown by the time you hit the bottom, cruise on down Old Fulton Street.  If you’re lucky, the infamous line at Grimaldi’s may be short enough for you to taste one of New York’s most coveted pizza joints.

Continue to the water and take in a fantastic view of lower Manhattan and the Brooklyn Bridge while enjoying three tall scoops of all natural (and hot fudge covered) goodness from the Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory.

Tell us your NYC Bridge Bike Stories!  E-mail info@bikenewyork.org and share where you Bike New York.


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