BY Steven Kopstein
I was anxiously anticipating the re-opening of the High Bridge. As a resident of Upper Manhattan with strong Bronx ties I was very excited to be able to finally have a way to cross into the borough on my bike without having to either ride on a crowded narrow sidewalk or on a dangerously busy bridge. I was also thrilled at the prospect of having a tourist draw and truly unique feature to show off to and enjoy with friends and relatives. I love the prospect of new recreational facilities being developed in an area that has been blatantly underserved for many many years.
So, it was with great disappointment that I tried to cross the bridge twice this week, after the long heralded “opening” was held, and was met on both occasions with a chain link fence and no way to actually cross the bridge. The first time I attempted this crossing was last Tuesday, the opening day. I went in the evening and there were no signs explaining why the bridge was closed. Memories of Governor Christie popped into my head. But wait, he has no jurisdiction here. The second time I tried to cross, last night at around 9PM – I was met by the same locked chain link fence. This time, however, I found something even more disturbing. What appears to be permanent signs showing that the bridge has “hours” from 7AM-8PM.
Whoever is responsible for this surely must live in a bunker in Albany or Washington or some cloistered cubicle in City Hall. This bridge is so many things to so many people who LIVE and PLAY uptown and in Bronx. It’s an important link – it’s not a play-thing. It’s actually more important as a link between communities than say, The High Line is in downtown.
This bridge is an economic link. This bridge is a transportation link. This bridge is a community link.
Last night there were hundreds of people out in High Bridge Park at 9:30PM – they were enjoying Quinceneras (if you don’t know what this is then you have no business setting policies for those of us who live Uptown and in the Bronx), and just plain old relaxing gatherings. There were people on bikes, people enjoying the sculpture installation in the Park etc… I have no idea what was going on on the Bronx side, because I couldn’t reach it. Had I been able to cross, I would have spent some time and money on the “other side”.
Imagine if the people in charge decided to close the George Washington Bridge at 8PM every night? Surely there would be a huge outcry. There should an must be one for the High Bridge. Is the Bronx CLOSED at 8PM? Would we close the bike and pedestrian paths on the Brooklyn Bridge at 8PM? Of course not, because these other bridges connect communities with more $$$ in their pockets. Yet, in our neighborhood, the Bronx and Washington Heights are given the short end of the stick with regards to public spaces.
If NYC wants to be truly a city of the modern world – as well as decrease rates of obesity and diabetes and actually truly promote green living – then we need to treat bicycle infrastructure at the same level or higher than cars. If this were a car crossing – it would absolutely be open 24 hours a day – in a 24 hour city like ours. In Europe and other places around the world, governments are building Bike Highways – where no cars are allowed and bikes are encouraged to glide along (often above car’s stuck in traffic). NYC must begin treating it’s bike riders with common sense and as what they are – valuable alternative transportation users.
The High Bridge is a great public works renovation project. It’s beautiful to look at – but it’s not meant to be a museum piece, just strolled across during limited hours. It’s a vital transportation link in a network that is severely deprived of car-free zones. Open it up for all at all hours if we are who we say we are as a city – forward thinking, progressive, green and wanting to eliminate the gap between “rich parks” and “poor parks”.