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The View from atop the High Bridge

Back in October as part of the Walk21 conference, I was very lucky to be able to accompany a small group of international pedestrian experts on an exclusive walking tour of the High Bridge, which has been closed to the public for nearly 40 years. Since Streetfilms is all about sharing, we interviewed a few folks-in-the-know and have posted the breathtaking experience of what it was like being up there.

Not soon after starting as a volunteer for Transportation Alternatives back in the 1990s I can recall reading of a push to open the High Bridge during a postcard campaign directed at then Parks Commissioner Henry Stern in 1998. In the years since, there have been many community groups, non-profits, and public agencies which have gotten involved in raising public awareness and advocating for its re-opening. City Parks Foundation, The High Bridge Coalition, and C.L.I.M.B. just to name a few.

Although over the years there have been many announced target opening dates and talk of getting the capital funds needed, of recent there is much momentum. Very early in 2010, community input and design will finally begin. Then we can hope it will not be long until we can all walk and bike across this magnificent structure.

[music]
Clarence Eckerson Jr.: [0:05] I am standing right in front of the High Bridge, a viaduct that's been closed for almost 40 years here in New York City. As part of the Walk 21 Conference, I was allowed to go up there and take some video with an international group of pedestrian experts to see what it's like.
David Rivel: [0:22] High Bridge is the oldest bridge in New York, and a lot of people are surprised to hear that. It was built in the 1850s as part of the old aqueduct system that delivered fresh water to New York City. [music]
Laura Gabby: [0:43] We're standing right now in High Bridge Park in Manhattan, and the bridge itself connects us to the High Bridge Park in the Bronx, and the High Bridge neighborhood of the Bronx.
David Rivel: [0:52] The job of City Parks Foundation was really to get the community to understand that there was this wonderful resource here, that if it was only fixed up could be a great thing for the community.
Laura Gabby: [1:03] We've organized an event called Hike the Heights. Our partner organizations start at different points throughout the parks of northern Manhattan, hike the climb trail, and converge here. [1:12] We've also partnered with organizations in the Bronx. Some of those organizations come over to Hike the Heights, and usually have to take the Washington Bridge. Opening up the High Bridge would allow them to walk directly over the High Bridge.
David Rivel: [1:25] It opens up a great transportation link. It's actually the only pedestrian walkway that connects the island of Manhattan to the continental United States. So, fixing up the bridge is just a great resource for the community in the Bronx, the community in Manhattan, and people from all over who want to come and enjoy it. [music]
Noah Budnick: [1:49] With the reopening of the High Bridge on the horizon, TA, and Bronx, and Northern Manhattan cyclists are getting really excited, because it's been a sought after route for commuters and cyclists and walkers for decades.
Laura Gabby: [2:03] The most recent is that this staircase and this path were just opened a year ago by Mayor Bloomberg. Before that, there was no way to get down here without really scrambling, and tracking through poison ivy, and making it a real hike.
David Rivel: [2:20] If experience shows from other bridges that have been reopened, the bike use is going to boom. The Manhattan Bridge was closed since World War II, and when that bridge reopened, bike use skyrocketed. And now, the Manhattan Bridge is the second most cycled bridge in the city. [music]
Noah Budnick: [2:41] It's such a perspective on the city, and it's so beautiful, I just can't wait until it's finally open for everybody.


Clarence Eckerson, Jr. has been making fantastical transportation media in NYC since the late 1990s. He's never had a driver's license and never will.

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  • The Dynamic Mumenshantz

    Dreamy! Very cool.

  • http://5bbc.org Sharon Behnke

    Speaking as a cyclist and a resident of the Bronx; Great news and great video! Can't wait to get up there myself!

  • Harry

    cool, may it open soon. lots of paddling on the harlem river under it too.
    pic of red tail hawk on the bridge here:
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/friendsofbrookpark/4129882016/

  • http://www.livablestreets.com/people/capntransit Cap’n Transit

    "The only pedestrian walkway that connects Manhattan with the continental United States."

    That's straining a bit. There are plenty of bridges you can walk over to get to the Bronx, and the George Washington Bridge has a walkway to New Jersey. It's the only dedicated walkway where you don't have to walk near cars, which is nice but not essential.

  • http://www.livablestreets.com/people/stevenk Steven

    Fabulous video - really well done! Thanks for making it.

  • http://www.livablestreets.com/people/JulieRobDubov Juliana Roberts Dubovsky

    Thanks for creating this awesome video, Clarence! Bout time that someone spoke about making our city's wonderful parks more accessible for bikers and pedestrians! And High Bridge Park is such a gem too!

  • Hannah

    The best thing about the High Bridge? It's not structurally sound for motor vehicles--so it'll always be just us up there.

  • http://www.livablestreets.com/people/IanD Ian Dutton

    "The only pedestrian walkway that connects Manhattan with the continental United States."

    That's straining a bit.

    I think the meaning behind that quote was that it's the only such pedestrian-only connection.

  • Mario Calaf Muniz Serpa Rios Pinot

    As an ex-resident of Washington Heights and reader of wikipedia article of same name Wash. Hts. I enjoyed the film. I think there are tar paths in Riverside Park, otherwise hilly, good for dog walking, leading to the bridge. I think the park mostly neglected, a good thing, for bird watching and brigands. It might be useful to get some of the neighborhood people in on the fun with flyers. Thank you.

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  • Joseph Sprauer

    Hello, My Great Grand father John Kyle owned an Amusement Park at the foot of High Bridge on the Bronx side of the Harlem River from 1880 to 1914. The name of the Park was Kyle's Park. The property was razed for construction of Washington Bridge. There many power brokers who visted the park to include the Vanderbilts, Hull, Blackwell,  Mc Coombs Dam Park) families. My Grandmother Ellen Kyle also got to meet Buffalo Bill and see the Wild West Show. According to some old times Leslie Blondin (slack rope walker ) crossed the Harlem River with a stove on his back, and lit the stove and made pancakes and tossed the to the crowds. My Grandfather John Kyle supposedly paid for the act.My grandmother Ellen juggled and had a pet Mongoose that she entertainment people with at Kyle's Amusement Park. John Kyle's brothers owned the Largest Plumbing and Heating Supply House in the Bronx and serviced the water tower on the Manhattan side of the Harlem River
     .

  • Maeh84

    Thank you for posting this. My parents lived in the Highbridge section of the Bronx until 1962 and my parents often spoke about this bridge. It was nice to get a chance to see it up close.

  • Pat

     Hello Joseph,
         Does any photos of the park still exist? I'd love to see them. poughkeepsiepat@aol.com

  • dr.sliderule

    For all the latest developments on the redevelopment of the High Bridge see highbridgeparkdevelopment.blogspot.com