Touring Through New York City

No place else fills me with the same sense of vital creative focused energy, the tolerance and realization of difference, the excitement in the density of humanity, soaring history and iconography, the grit, the sheen, confidence, promise, potential, the consciousness of community that I feel when I am in New York City. It concentrates and lives what I regard as the very best of the United States. I wouldn’t dream of debating with you on the matter or trying to persuade you to visit it if you have no interest, as I’m not the slightest bit objective or unbiased. But if you are on a USA East Coast bike tour and want to, here is a way.

This is a bicycling route to and through New York City based on the premise that you want to get a sense of the place and see some of the famous sites and neighborhoods.

The starting and ending points are far away from the City itself, as the route assumes that you are using Adventure Cycling’s Atlantic Coast Bicycle Route maps and will want to rejoin that route after this New York City detour. Their map (see no. 2) of this region gives NYC a wide berth, and their out-and-back spur to NYC doesn’t quite get to the city, nor does it indicate how to ride through it.

FIRST STEP: VIEW AND DOWNLOAD GPX and other GPS compatible files HERE on Ridewithgps.com.

The 207 mile route departs from Adventure Cycling’s in Poughkeepsie, NY, and rejoins it just beyond Lambertville, NJ. It includes 20 miles by ferry across Upper and Lower New York Bay (US$31 with bicycle, thirteen sailings each weekday and four on Saturday, four on Sunday). The Adventure Cycling section that it replaces is approximately 170 miles. Thus, this detour makes comparable progress on an East Coast tour. This alternate route is not an official Adventure Cycling route, and, apart from being a member, I am not otherwise affiliated with Adventure Cycling in any way. I assume north to south travel.

Places marked in bold in the descriptions below have a corresponding Point of Interest marker in the GPS file. Once you are in Manhattan, attractions include: Columbia University, Central Park, The New York City Public Library, Times Square, The Chrysler Building, The Empire State Building, Broadway, Washington Square, the West Village, Little Italy, Chinatown, DUMBO (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass), the Brooklyn Bridge, Zuccotti Park (original home of the Occupy Movement), the 9/11 Memorial, Wall Street, and a view of The Statue of Liberty. Once in New Jersey, the route passes through Princeton, where the university may be of interest.

The best options for eating—classic NY Pizza, falafel, Ethiopian, Chinese dumplings, and plus dozens of other possibilities not marked by me—will be found in section 4, below, where you can also find the REI New York Flagship store and a bike shop for repairs. All of these are within a couple of hundred meters of the marked route.

Lodging options can be found in sections 1, 3 and 7.

The route was field checked in its entirety Spring 2013 on either my Bike Friday or on a road bike with carbon race wheels—i.e., on my least capable bicycles in terms of broken terrain—to make sure that any bicycle with any wheels can do this route.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. Please attribute Joe Cruz as original author.

Creative Commons License

The Big Picture

The two main things to think about are how to time your arrival in NYC and when to leave the city, both with an eye toward lodging. I can imagine several ways of doing it, and they depend on your pace, your budget, and how leisurely you want your ride through the City to be. Each of these options assume that you have lodged near or in Poughkeepsie, i.e., where this detour begins, and that you set off on the alternate route early the next morning. (If you’ve arrived in Poughkeepsie and want to a do a bit more but won’t make it to any of the options below, camp in Clarence Fahnestock State Park on this route about 50 miles from Manhattan.)

Option (a)—From Poughkeepsie put in a medium day to get to the Ramada Inn Yonkers ($100) or at the Sawmill River Motel in Elmsford ($75). The next day wake up early and ride the 7 miles from Yonkers or 15 miles from Elmsford to get into the City.

Option (b)—put in a decent day (around 65 miles) to get as close to NYC as possible so that the bulk of your visit to the City is the next day with little time spent getting to Manhattan. Your best bet is to aim for The Yonkers Gateway Motel, which is on the rail trail you are on and right before you enter Van Cortlandt Park. If you stay there, you will be in Manhattan within a half hour of starting the next morning.

Option (c)—Put in a very big day (mileage-wise, only about 72 miles, but you’ll arrive in the City after 68 miles of riding and only then begin to navigate and enjoy Manhattan). Plan to stay at a hostel (see section 3, below) or arrange warmshowers.org or airbnb.com in Manhattan. If you are willing to splurge big (US$200+), find a nice hotel near the route in the city in the usual ways. Call them to find out if they have secure storage for your bicycle(s). Usually the answer will be “no,” and usually you can’t take it up to your room. Transportation Alternatives has a list of garages that allow bicycle parking. Find one near your hotel.

Option (d)—make as much progress as you can toward NYC and wild camp. I cannot in conscience recommend this option, but it is not impossible. Do not expect to camp in Van Cortlandt Park. Most of the parks you see on the map in Westchester County on the approach to NYC require proof of residency to enter, and, of course, do not allow camping. Graham Hills Park has some mountain biking and is 20 miles from the city.

It is possible to ride through NYC during one long interesting day and then catch the last ferry to New Jersey, making it so that you do not lodge in Manhattan. Or you might lodge in NYC and then spend the next day exploring, only to make the ferry crossing at the end of the day. In either case, you would then need to find camping or lodging on the NJ side (keep in mind the ferry ride itself is about an hour).

Options include: a tent site at Cheesequake (sic) State Park, which is about 15 miles on the route once you’ve reached the other side. The Best Western Hazlet Inn ($100) is 10 miles from the ferry landing in NJ. Circle Motor Lodge is 19 miles from the ferry drop-off. You might also test the hospitality at the various Fire Stations along the route here.

Perhaps the best option is to detour from this route to the camp ground at Sandy Hook at the Gateway National Recreation Area (20 tent sites, maximum 6 to a site, $20/night, make reservations on-line), once you have crossed on the ferry. This will add about 14 miles to the overall route, 7 miles east and north to the camp ground and 7 miles back to Atlantic Highlands and the route.

 

1. Poughkeepsie to Van Cortlandt Park (~73 miles)

PoughtoVC2This segment detours from the Adventure Cycling Map Atlantic Coast Bicycle Route in Poughkeepsie at Violet Avenue and College Hill Park. It consists in two very pleasant and straightforward rail trails linked by lovely country roads. The segment ends in the Bronx at Van Cortlandt Park (the Park includes some very easy dirt/gravel path riding suitable for any tires). In reaching the end of this segment, you’ll never imagine that you’ve arrived within a mile and a half of Manhattan, as there is minimal traffic to contend with, and navigation is very easy. There are plenty of resources along the route. There is one significant climb in the middle of the ride.

2. Van Cortlandt Park to Central Park (~8 miles)

vctocp

The navigation on this section is slightly tricky. Once you get to the Hudson River Greenway, you’ll have a great view of the George Washington Bridge and then you will pass close to Columbia University to get to Central Park.

The plan is to cross the Harlem River (which separates Manhattan from The Bronx) on the Broadway Bridge then to make your way as efficiently and safely as possible to the Hudson River Greenway, a recreational path that goes down the entirety of the west side of Manhattan, but that you will only take for a short while because you want to see the City.

From Van Cortlandt Park, once the path ends walk or ride across the crosswalk to continue straight onto the bike lane. Follow the bike route signs to the the Broadway bridge. It is nothing notable. You can ride across it with traffic, as there is a shoulder to the right. If you’re spooked or if riding on the steel grid deck doesn’t suit you, then dismount and walk across it on the wide pedestrian sidewalk.

A right turn takes you off of Broadway and alongside Columbia University’s stadium. From there, continue following the bike route to get to the Greenway. The one potentially confusing part is where it looks like you’re being taken onto a freeway:

IMG_7866

Go straight through this light at Henshaw Street and then as you approach the split ahead get on the middle sidewalk where you see the green sign with the arrows for the two on-ramps (yes, cyclists are intended to do this). Bear left, more or less as you see the silver car doing, above.

Descend this short section of sidewalk:

IMG_7867

Get ready to dismount immediately after the underpass to go up one short flight of wide, deep stairs. Trust me, it can easily be done with a 100lbs.+ touring bike, there are 18 stairs in total, and it is the most efficient way to get onto the Greenway. Here are all of the stairs:

IMG_7869

You’re now on the Greenway heading toward the George Washington Bridge, which you will pass under:

IMG_7872

Visit the small red lighthouse under the George Washington Bridge, only a couple of hundred feet off the path. You’ll stay on the Greenway until just after 125th Street. Once off of the Greenway, you will ride through Colombia University and then along a short and pleasant section of Riverside Drive before turning on 106th Street to enter Central Park.

3. Central Park to Washington Square (~3.5 miles)

This leg is reasonably straightforward, as it goes with the flow of cyclists in Central Park and then stays primarily on Broadway and Fifth Avenue except for a few blocks excursion to visit the New York Public Library. The blocks that go through Times Square are complete (low speed) chaos. Don’t miss it, though: If you have the right attitude, it can be a highlight of riding through the City. You will also get views of the Chrysler Building, the Empire State Building and the Flatiron Building in this segment.

cptows

From 106th Street you cross into Central Park and turn right. Stay in the bike lane to the bottom of the park. Soon after leaving Central Park onto 7th Ave., you turn right on to the bike lane on 55th then left onto Broadway, also with a bike lane. Thereafter you reach Times Square. Ride through the Square patiently and in good humor, as it is often very crowded and therefore a tremendous spectacle. There is technically a bike lane for much of this bit, but no one is minding that fact.  You might have to dismount a few times. One slightly tricky moment (but just a moment) is when you get to the TKTS booth at 47th Street. The bike route looks like it should go straight, and it actually does, but it’s often blocked off literally with a barrier or due to the density of people. Dismount and walk your bike—it’s less than 100 feet to go through—or brave a very slow pedal.

Six blocks later, this route has you turn left on to 40th Street to ride alongside Bryant Park, then turn right on to Fifth Ave. Before you make the right onto Fifth, you’ll want to dismount and get up onto the sidewalk on the left to take photos of the library lions. If you wish to see the famous Chrysler Building, walk north to the other end of the library front and the corner of 42nd Street and Fifth; look right (East). Then get back on your bike on Fifth Ave, staying right to make another right turn on 39th Street. You will then turn left to get back on Broadway. (Obviously you can skip the whole Library excursion. But don’t.)

Once you get to 34th Street on Broadway, pause and look left for a view of the Empire State Building. Then continue to follow Broadway until you veer right on to Fifth again, where the famous Flatiron Building is at 24th. If you have arranged to stay at the Chelsea Hostel (see immediately below), your turn is coming up soon after the Flatiron. 5th will take you all the way to the arch at the entrance to Washington Square.

Eating: In spite of—indeed, because of—the glitz of Times Square, good eating options here are slim. On the other hand, people watching is excellent, so you may wish to get a meal from a food truck and take a break either in Times Square itself or, better, in Bryant Park (walk your bike through the park). On the other hand, in 15 minutes you’ll be near an excellent authentic NYC pizza joint and an excellent falafel place, and ten minutes after that a great Mexican place, and ten minutes later Chinatown if you like Chinese dumplings.

Lodging: The Chelsea Hostel. If you wish to stay overnight in the City and can spare the expense (the cheapest option is US$46 for a shared room and shared hallway bathroom), one of your best options is off of this segment.  It is on 20th but, since 20th is a one-way in the wrong direction, you’ll turn on 21st to circle around to it. See the Point of Interest Marker on the main GPS map. The manager of Chelsea has indicated that touring cyclists will have a safe place to keep bicycles (possibly in their courtyard area) while they stay in the dormitory style accommodations (there are also a few very small private rooms). Even if you are from the USA or Canada YOU MUST HAVE YOUR PASSPORT WITH YOU TO CHECK IN.

4. Washington Square to the Manhattan Bridge  (~2 miles)

wstomh

This section has a few turns but there is lots to see in a dense area that includes NYUThe West VillageLittle Italy, and Chinatown. This segment also has the best options for eating.

The beginning of this segment takes you through the neighborhood around NYU along with a small taste of the West Village. Slow down while riding down MacDougal, as there are a number of excellent eating options. On the right there is a falafel place that is great. If you crave quintessential New York slices if pizza, then depart the route for 100 meters or so by going down tiny Minetta Lane. (Of course there are a thousand pizza places right on the route. Would I be sending you to Joe’s if I didn’t have a reason?) If you’re in the mood for something else—a fun Mexican place is not far and Chinatown is ten minutes away—carry on.

You turn left onto Lafayette and after a few blocks the route turns right down Mercer; it’s parallel to Broadway, but it’s quieter, has lovely very smooth cobbles, and the architecture is more interesting. You will cross Spring Street, but if you need to visit a bike shop, you can turn left on Spring and follow the directions indicated on the Point of Interest on the GPS map.

Turning left on Grant and going a few blocks takes you to Little Italy—which is very little—and then there is a right onto Mott, a market street where you can buy fruits, vegetables and staples for the onward journey. (There was an option on Grant to depart up Centre to grab some great Mexican.) You’ll circle under the Manhattan bridge before you get on it, and there’s a Chinese dumpling shop that I recommend if pizza wasn’t your thing. For under US$7 you can eat like a king; definitely get the sesame pancakes. It’s a cramped crowded place, so take your takeout, get back on the route and in one block angle right instead of left onto the bridge to eat in Roosevelt Park. You’ll then cross the Manhattan Bridge to do a brief circuit of the tiniest bit of Brooklyn.

Eating & Drinking:
Joe’s Pizza, 7 Carmine Street. After you get your slices, cross the small street to the park and enjoy the West Village people watching as you eat.
Mamoun’s Falafel, 119 MacDougal Street.
La Esquina Mexican, 114 Kenmare Street
Prosperity Dumplings, 46 Eldridge Street

5. The Manhattan Bridge to the Brooklyn Bridge (~3 miles)

This is the briefest excursion into Brooklyn through DUMBO (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass). The point of it is to get the incredible view of the Manhattan skyline that you haven’t had yet and to give you the chance to ride across the Brooklyn Bridge, which may sound cheesy, but so what?, I never get tired of it.

MBridgetoBBridge

You cross the Manhattan bridge on the utilitarian bike path. The view of the East River isn’t much to speak of, but if you look over your left shoulder you’ll see the Empire State Building again. At the end of the bridge the path will curve around. At its end, you’ll make a right through the pedestrian crosswalk to another bike lane marked as such (you are under the bridge at this point), and with signs that point to the waterfront. That will take you down to the river, with a good coffee option on your right just before you get to the river. The views are yet to come as you turn left along the river and again go under the Manhattan Bridge to see the Brooklyn Bridge and the lower Manhattan skyline. Linger in this area and maybe ride the restored vintage carousel.

The route to get onto the Brooklyn Bridge isn’t pretty, but it’s direct. You’re aiming for the pedestrian/cycling path in the raised center deck. Do not try to ride with traffic. Once on the pedestrian/cycle path on the Brooklyn Bridge, stay to the right and be patient, as the Bridge is popular with tourists. Take it really easy and be friendly, the bridge crossing is fun. The views are sublime.

6. The Brooklyn Bridge to Pier 11 Ferry Dock (~3.5 miles)

bbtoferry

Once you cross the Brooklyn Bridge back into Manhattan, your ride in NYC will end with a number of sights in quick succession: City HallSt. Paul’s ChapelTrinity Church,  the 9/11 Memorial, Zuccotti Park (of Occupy Movement fame), Wall Street/The New York Stock Exchange, The Wall Street Bull, and Battery Park with views of the Statue of Liberty. You then make your way to the ferry dock at Pier 11.

When you get to the end of the Brooklyn Bridge the bike path curves right for a moment to avoid pedestrians, then you turn left at the crosswalk to ride with traffic again. Curve around City Hall Park before making a left on Broadway. Turn right if you intend to visit the 9/11 memorial, which I find powerful and well done. Unfortunately, you can’t see it by just riding by or standing with your bicycle. You’ll need to get a ticket and then lock your bicycle near the entrance. After the memorial, follow the route through the Park (bicycles are welcome, even if it doesn’t look like it), pausing to see the Statue of Liberty. Then continue on the bike path to Pier 11, where you will catch the ferry. If you are nervous about timing and have arrived at Pier 11 much earlier than you need to, head over to the tiny park next to and north of Pier 11 to relax (it is on top of the glassed-in structure and there is a ramp on the north side).

7. Atlantic Highlands Ferry Dock to Lower Mountain Road, NJ (~89 miles)

ferry

After the ferry crossing, the last leg winds through New Jersey mostly on paths removed from traffic to rejoin with the Adventure Cycling route.

At Pier 11 you will board the Seastreak Ferry to Atlantic Highlands. The fare is US$26 per person plus US$5 for a bicycle. The trip is about an hour. Since it is a commuter ferry, there are thirteen sailings on weekdays but only four on each of the weekend days. The last sailing is at 10pm on weekdays and 9pm on weekends. Boarding is first come/first serve and tickets are sold as you board for cash only (see their FAQ for more information). You may see some passengers with pre-purchased tickets. They bought those in multi-journey booklets for frequent commuters. Your bicycle will be kept on the front deck of the ferry, and there is space for many.

Depending on the sailing, don’t be alarmed if the ferry first goes north up the East River. There is another stop at 35th street, passengers get picked up there and the ferry turns around. Don’t get off! You should be on the boat at least an hour. There are electrical outlets on the ferry.

Once you debark the ferry at Atlantic Highlands, the first bit is on the Henry Hudson Bike Trail. The roads to link the Henry Hudson bike trail to the next traffic-free bit are not the most pleasant, but route finding is straightforward. About 30 miles after the ferry drop-off, you join the Delaware and Raritan Canal State Park Trail. It’s lovely.

IMG_1818

This path will stay with the canal and near the Delaware River through New Brunswick, Princeton, and Trenton.

Students of the history of the American Revolution will enjoy riding on this path, as it includes crucial theaters of action for General Washington’s Continental Army during the winter 1776 campaign. Just past Washington’s Crossing Park Historic Park, you leave the canal path and get on very scenic country roads up to the junction with the Adventure Cycling maps.

Eating: There are frequent grocery and convenience stores, and restaurants all through this section.

Lodging: Princeton is a lovely University town.

Riding in New York City

Completely obviously, NYC is a chaotic and crowded urban environment in which to cycle. The route, above, mostly sticks to streets where there is a designated bike lane or little traffic. The funny thing is, in my view, NYC drivers don’t strike me as particularly discourteous. Quite the opposite: compared to big cities in the English speaking world, New Yorkers have an extremely high tolerance for slow moving, confused, and downright bizarre road behavior.

NYC cyclists, on the other hand, are the most lawless, reckless and impatient group that I’ve ever known (my frame of reference includes riding a bicycle in Cairo, Delhi, parts of China, Saigon, Quito, and many others). You will observe cyclists doing the most absurd and dangerous things. Don’t follow them. The upside is that NYC drivers and pedestrians expect you to ride like an imbecile, and are appreciative and surprised when you do not.

Even though everyone is instinctively in a hurry, New Yorkers are friendly and open. Ask anyone for advice or directions and you are likely to be given substantial help. In terms of crime, New York City is perfectly safe but it would be a bit silly to leave your loaded bike unlocked and unsupervised.