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Sunday, September 22, 2013

NYC or Bust!

The new Freedom Tower beckoned us!
A few years ago Mike and I became intrigued with the idea of riding from our Putman and Westchester County, NY bike paths to New York City.  A local paper revealed the full distance of the Putnam, North County and South County rails-to-trails bicycle paths of which we had only traversed parts, and the cyclist-writer dreamed of a fully connected trail system to New York City.  As I looked at the map, there weren’t that many gaps in the trail systems so I began to dream too.  Then, one day while on the trail we met someone who was making the trek and explained the best route was to take the Broadway Bridge that connects the Bronx and Manhattan.  But, then, he worked in a nuclear plant and may just have been a little crazier than the rest of us…

In the last few years we made some attempts to travel further south on the North County Trailway and onto the South County Trailway.  There is a gap between the North County and South County and mysteriously no signs so by trial and error we figured out the best mile plus route through some roads that weren’t on the main thorough fare, but we had only ever gotten as far south as northern Yonkers.
Beginning in Pleasantville, NY
What better way to spend the last weekend of summer than attempting this dream ride.  We checked the weekend weather and with only a 10 percent chance of rain, declared Saturday would be the day we would attempt to check this ride off of our bucket list.  Consulting Google maps “beta” bicycle mapping system and a NYC bicycle map (you can download it here  I had picked up at a Bike Expo last year, I mapped out our route beyond the South County trail.  Our plan was to park at the Pleasantville, NY train station (18 miles from our house in Stamford, CT), which both offered free weekend parking and was one of the closest train stations to the North County Trailway, requiring only 1.4 miles on the roads.  Google maps said it was 32.9 miles from the train station to Times Square, NY.  We would ride down and take the train back.
When we awoke on Saturday morning, the hourly 10 percent chance of rain had changed to 30 percent all day.  Mike reminded me that still meant 70% chance of no rain.  Arriving in Pleasantville, we discovered half of the free parking spaces populated with a Farmer’s market and then remaining spaces full of the home-grown shoppers.  Patience prevailed and we snagged our spot.  We suited up and made our way on Route 117 south past Pace University (this stretch has no good shoulder but we were able to manage ok in the traffic – there is a sidewalk you could ride or walk your bike on), and then made a left turn into a parking lot with access to the North County Trail and we were golden!
We followed the relatively well maintained North County Trailway for 6.4 miles until coming to its end, where you take a left on Warehouse Lane to New York 9A / N Saw Mill River Road, which is a busy road not great for cyclists.   Instead, take your first right onto N Payne St (.1 mi) continuing onto Hayes St (.4 mi), continuing onto Vreeland Ave (.2 mi).   Upon coming to the end, cross W Main Street/Route 119W to pick up the South County Trailway.
Made it to the Bronx!
We followed the South County Trailway for a total of 11.9 miles into Yonkers and sometimes with the Saw Mill River Parkway in view.  The last couple miles of the trail provide a sweet down grade – we flew and thanked the bike Gods that this would be a one way trip and not require the return up hill.  And, suddenly, the trail ended and we found ourselves entering the northern, wooded tip of Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx.  We knew this part – known as Old Putnam Trail – would not be paved but I had envisioned a true bike trail.  This was more like a 3 foot wide hiking trail in the woods.  We managed ok on this 1.6 mile stretch but if there had been rain in the hours or days before, it would probably be impassable, particularly on a road bike.  As we made our way to the southern tip of the Park, we came across a number of sports fields and the sites of the Bronx, one of New York City’s five boroughs.
The Hudson River Greenway provides great views!
At the base of the George Washington Bridge.
At the southwestern side of the Park, you can get the number 1 Subway (its last stop is at 242nd street).  If the traffic looked too hairy, our backup plan was to take the subway a few stops to 215th street (bikes are permitted on NYC subways).  I had already decided that we would abandon the Google map beta version in favor of a NYC Bike Map, which mapped a 2.4 mile route with a bike lane (take a right onto 238 street and a left on Tibbett).  I actually didn’t have to consult the map from here as the bike route was well marked – we just followed it to the Broadway Bridge to enter Manhattan, which was easy enough to cross using the wide sidewalk, and continued on the well marked bike route to the Hudson River.  Once arriving at the Hudson River, we carried our bikes up the stairs to access the Hudson River Greenway.  And voila, we were experiencing arguably one of the greatest bike paths in the country viewing the Hudson River and running parallel to the Henry Hudson Parkway (every time I drive into NYC, I’m jealous of the cyclists!).
The new Freedom Tower is majestic!

The Hudson River Greenway is continuously under improvement with many parks, beautiful sculptures, some waterside dining, and thankfully some reasonably kept public restrooms.  It’s 8.3 miles of pleasurable - although busy - riding down the west side of Manhattan to 48th street. 
We decided to keep going about another 4 miles down to the Financial District.  We picked our lunch spot at PJ Clarke’s ( ) with outdoor dining not far from the base of the newly constructed Freedom Tower and enjoyed the view of a small marina with some sizable boats and the Statue of Liberty in the southern distance.
Great lunch spot!
We did the return trip back up to 44th street since there were signs for the bike route to Grand Central Terminal.  Making our way through the pedestrians in Times Square was perhaps more challenging than riding in the bike lane with New York City traffic!
Times Square Madness!
Mike E&Y office in the background.
In what seems like the bargain of a century in New York City, you can purchase a lifetime bike permit for $5 at any window in Grand Central (The website said you had to go to window 27, but that was not true.  You have to fill out a brief form).  Metro North allows up to a maximum 8 bicycles on a train on the weekends unless they have special bike cars – the conductor directed us to put them in the handicapped areas so I assume that handicap individuals would take precedence.

I would have to put this ride on my list of top 5 rides ever!  There was the adventure factor, the great views of the Hudson, and the sheer coolness of now being able to say I rode my bike to New York City.  The really great thing was being able to do this 42 mile ride using protected bike trails 85% of the time and bike lanes 9% of the time.  Only 6% of the ride – and only in the parts of Westchester County – was on roads without a bike lane.  Kudos to the non-profit and governmental agencies that are starting to make this country more biker friendly!

Grand Central Terminal

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