Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Bridge of the Week #38: Hutchinson River Parkway Bridge

I'd heard that it existed, but I didn't know if it was true or just a legend, a myth. There was a cyclists' web site that mentioned it, and the New York City Department of Transportation web site mentioned it. But was it really there, and how did one get to it?

The Hutchinson River Parkway Bridge certainly did, and does, exist. It's clearly on all the maps, and it carries the Hutchinson River Parkway over the Hutchinson River from the Co-Op City area to the undeveloped northwestern regions of Pelham Bay Park before heading on up to Westchester County. But was there a walkway, was it open, and how could I get to it?
The DOT web site just says there's an eight-foot sidewalk. A cyclists' web site says it's a rough ride and gives some vague or cryptic directions to approach it. I had optimism, though, since even a rough ride for cyclists is certainly runnable. But my first two journeys to try to catch a glimpse of the beast were unfruitful. From Co-Op City, a sidewalk on Bartow Ave. goes directly underneath the bridge, and would surely have an entrance to the walkway. But it doesn't. Staring up at the bridge from different angles, it looked possible that there was a sidewalk on the west side, but I couldn't be sure. Maybe the entrance was a little further back, so I ran alongside the line of trees and bushes that separate the parkway from the sprawling parking lot of the Bay Plaza shopping center. But the parking lot ended with no entrance to the walkway, and I didn't see any sign of a sidwalk along the parkway.

After re-checking the cyclist web site, I took a second trip to the bridge, but still could find no entrance. I saw a worn path that went into the bushes, and possibly to the bridge, but that couldn't be it. No one would take a bike through there at least. And with a police car parked right there I didn't want to have them see me wander off into the bushes. There must be a real entrance. The web site's instructions on entering from the northern side were even more confusing, and sounded much more treacherous. I'd been in the general area where such a path must originate, and I saw nothing, and no pedestrian access along the roads.

But before I continue on my adventure, here are the specs. It's a twin-leaf bascule drawbridge, 673 feet long, carries six lanes of traffic (three in each direction) plus the possibly mythical eight-foot sidewalk. It opened in 1941 and was reconstructed in 1985. The river, the parkway and the bridge all bear the name of Anne Hutchinson, who settled in the area in the early 17th century proclaiming religious freedom.

After my second unfulfilling journey, I went back home and looked for more information on the internet, and studied Google maps carefully, and then I found it! What surely had to be the entrance to the bridge walkway began all the way back about a half mile south of the bridge, just south of the I-95 interchange, at the intersection of Gun Hill Road and Stillwell Ave., across the street from a nursing home.

So back I went, trotting down Gun Hill Road all the way to its southeasternmost point to the nursing home, and there was the sidewalk as on the map. It crossed under I-95 but I had to be careful of traffic on the access ramps. The pavement was buckled and unmaintained, it appeared. And as it continued alongside the parkway, it was even more overgrown to the point where it disappeared altogether in spots and I was forced onto rough grass dangerously close to the traffic whizzing by. But it must come out to the bridge. Every once in a while I'd see a patch of pavement reassuring me that someone was meant to walk here at one time. So on I pressed until the bridge came within sight. Sure enough, that dirt path through the bushes from Bartow Ave. does give quick and easy access to the sidewalk. Live and learn. I'm glad I found the "official" entrance, though, terrifying as it was. But now I wsa on the bridge and all was well, although the roadway shook with every car that passed. I never felt so much like a bridge was about to fall. And the tires on the steel grating roadway of the draw span made a ghostly moaning or howling sound.
So now on the northern side of the bridge I'd discover the fabled north entrance. First I descended to a rough paved path. There was a worn grass pathway that led under the bridge, but that was a little too scary even for this adventurer. I didn't want to interrupt any murder, body drop or pagan rituals. Sticking to the paved pathway in what looked like the logically correct direction, it followed an onramp to the parkway, including an overpass, but soon became a dirt pathway, then an overgrown dirt pathway, then an area where the leaves looked only slightly more trampled than surrounding areas. Doing a little bushwhacking (and who among us hasn't done a little bushwhacking?) what remained of the path seemed to come to an end onto a roadway, but at least a famliar roadway. It was just west of where Orchard Beach Road meets Shore Road, and there's a bridge over the rail lines on which construction is being done. There is a nice bike path along Shore Road there, but from Shore Road, it certainly looks like there is no pedestrian or bike access to this access road. But I only had to run on the roadway for about 100 yards or so. So the third journey was a success! I had found the fabled pathway onto the Hutcinson River Bridge.
So to make a long story short, it's totally not worth it at all. You see what I go through for you guys?
Pics: 1. Entering the bridge; 2. View of the river, part of Co-Op City and surrounding wetlands on the west; 3. Steel grating surface and landscape to the east; 4. Looking back from the north.

1 comment:

  1. I used to cross this bridge by bike in the 1970s, when Bay Plaza was still the vacant lot where Freedomland used to be. AFAIK the sidewalk on the HRP goes as far south as past Bronx State Hospital to Westchester Square or the Bruckner Interchange, so you should have been able to pick it up easily. Cross the river north and you're walking or riding in the bird preserve part of Pelham Park. A little exploration and you'll find the Bartow-Pell mansion, or the quiet roads to Orchard Beach and City Island.
    I never found a body while wandering there, but did find red-wing blackbirds, plenty of wild mulberries, and once a cache of girlie magazines.