Manhattan on Wheels

By Albert Diaz
Special to The Washington Post
Wednesday, October 22, 2008

It was four years ago that I first saw the Financial District end of the Hudson River Greenway. That's the bike trail that runs along Manhattan's West Side from Battery Park, near the southern tip of the island, to the George Washington Bridge to the north. I was walking crosstown to the Hudson River along a street just north of the World Trade Center site. To get to the river, I had to use a pedestrian overpass and saw a bunch of cyclists on a bike path below me. Immediately I wanted to bike it.

More recently, with my 78th birthday just a few months away, I began to feel some urgency.

Then I found out that the discount Vamoose bus line to New York not only picks up and discharges passengers in downtown Bethesda, 20 minutes from my home, but also takes bikes free. I began to see a way. The clinchers: the $50 round-trip fare and a midtown drop-off only 10 minutes from the Greenway.

"Keep it simple" was my motto. Get to Manhattan, bike to Battery Park. Turn around and bike north to the George Washington Bridge. Return to West 31st Street in time for the 5:30 p.m. bus. Go back to Bethesda.

Everyone I mentioned my plan to thought I was crazy. Why don't you rent a bike in New York? Why don't you stay overnight? Aren't you afraid of getting mugged? Won't you be tired when you get there? Don't you think you're a little old for that? Why this? Why that? My answer: Keep it simple and it will get done.

So on Sept. 10 I ease out of bed at 5:45 a.m., and shortly after 8 I am on my way. A man who sees my bike being loaded into the baggage area comments that I have found a way to beat the taxi problem in New York.

We arrive at 12:30 p.m., 30 minutes beyond the advertised four hours, and within minutes I am on my way west to the bike path.

It's only 20 minutes or so to the downtown Tribeca area, a little soon for a break, but I've been wanting to meet my cousin's son for some time and, as the trail is two blocks from his office, it's a perfect opportunity.

My cousin lives in Colombia, and we haven't seen each other in 30 years. His MBA son works for Citibank. We have a fine time getting to know each other over coffees, but the trail beckons and I'm off.

Soon comes my only setback. The plan was to head for Battery Park, but a few minutes after leaving Tribeca I start hitting walk-your-bike detours interrupting the Greenway. I cut west to the Esplanade, the biker-pedestrian path along the Hudson River that also ends at the Battery but, guess what, another detour. I'm getting concerned that these detours will eat up too much time, so I scratch Battery Park. Instead I head north on the Esplanade to where it turns east and runs into the Greenway, and I'm on my way to the bridge.

In Lower and Midtown Manhattan the Greenway follows the Hudson, but there are structures of varying kinds between the path and the water, including an impoundment garage for towed cars, the Chelsea Piers sports and entertainment complex and the embarkation pier for the Circle Cruise Line boats.

The trail is fairly narrow and right next to 12th Avenue, a heavily used divided street with three lanes on each side. The din of the traffic is definitely a downer.

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