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The Five Borough Bicycle Club


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A bicycle ride to High Bridge with Helen Rosenthal, Member New York City Council

Jim Zisfein | Published on 4/10/2016

It was cold for an April morning but sunny, clear, and ready to blossom into a fine day for bicycle riding. Our destination was the newly reopened High Bridge connecting Manhattan and the Bronx. We were gathered outside the Council district office on the corner of 87th Street and Columbus Avenue: 5BBC ride leaders, Manhattan Community Board 7 members, and a very, very special guest: the Honorable Helen Rosenthal, Member New York City Council representing the Upper West Side.

An esteemed NYC legislator as a guest on a club ride? For that, you can thank 5BBC board member Wendy Frank. Wendy’s official title is Communications Co-Coordinator but in her unofficial role of shadchan (matchmaker) she found that CM Rosenthal is also a cyclist and interested in visiting this city landmark. Next thing Wendy was cooking up a High Bridge ride and asking me if I wanted to lead it.

Let me digress with a brief history of the oldest bridge in NYC. In the early 19th century New York City had one huge problem that was stunting its growth: water, water everywhere but nary a drop to drink. The water surrounding the island of Manhattan is undrinkable because of salt content. Wells drilled around the city were polluted and infested. There were epidemics of cholera and catastrophic fires for lack of water. The solution? Pipe in fresh water from the Croton River in Westchester. To get this water across the Harlem River, the High Bridge was built. It was an engineering marvel of its day, a third of a mile long and 140 ft. high so as to not interfere with shipping. The bridge no longer carries water and lay dormant for decades until it was reopened last year exclusively for pedestrians and cyclists.

Our bicycle ride to High Bridge traversed the protected lane on Columbus Avenue, 79th Street, Riverside Park, the Hudson Greenway, the switchback ramp up to 158th Street, Edgecombe Avenue, and Highbridge Park. Return was via 165th Street, Riverside Drive, 110th Street, and again Columbus Avenue. The ride lasted 3 hours and included a history spiel on the bridge by yours truly and lots of time for enjoying the vistas up and down the Harlem River. A fine time was had by all. Ride leader Susan Levine served ably as sweep and Manhattan Community Board 7’s Ken Coughlin (also a 5BBCer) brought along other CB7 members. My only regret is not inviting rank-and-file 5BBC members but I promise to fix that later this year with a happy-face ride to High Bridge.

CM Rosenthal told us she enjoyed the ride immensely and there will be an article praising our club in the Council newsletter. It is good to have friends in high places! Shall we consider making invites to other elected and appointed city officials? Perhaps ask a Brooklyn or Queens legislator on a ride to the rebuilt Rockaway boardwalk?