Anyone ever notice that the Brooklyn Bridge is a rustbucket? It’s true. Corrosion oozes from every bolt, girder and cable on the 127-year-old Gotham landmark. I’ve watched the bridge’s slow deterioration on countless rides into and out of the city, and a fold deep in my brain prays that the whole thing won’t come tumbling down, Minnesota Highway I-35 style, forcing me and hundreds of other bikers, pedestrians and drivers to swim for our lives in the East River.
My neurotic caveat about the Brooklyn Bridge aside, I’ll add that it’s THE commuting route for beautiful cityscapes, including a view of imposing lower Manhattan, and for people-watching. Bikers get to use the narrow upper level above most of the traffic noise, leaving us free to enjoy the view and dodge the tourists that invariably stand in the bike lane to take photos.
While the Brooklyn Bridge oozes 19th century romance, its neighbor a few hundred yards to the North, the Manhattan Bridge, is best described as industrial. The Manhattan Bridge was completed in 1909, when America’s steel industry was running full steam. The bridge is almost all metal and it has an Erector Set look. (The Brooklyn Bridge, by contrast, has stone towers, and the bike path is made of suspended wooden planks).
I always feel a bit caged in when I ride over the Manhattan Bridge bike path, which is located on the north side of the bridge. Maybe I feel that way because there actually is a cage over the path (to prevent folks from jumping off). The bridge is LOUD, especially when the Q train passes just feet away, and there’s no view to New York Harbor and the Statue of Liberty to the South.
But the Manhattan Bridge is in much better shape than it’s neighbor (no obvious rust) and it’s a much quicker ride that’s smoothly paved and lightly traveled. If you’re into fitness, it also provides what may be the longest uphill ride in New York City as you come from the Brooklyn side. I can tell who’s in shape as I pass/ get passed on that incline. I get to work and my legs are pumped up. It’s kind of cool to know I got a real workout in the morning.
Aesthetics aside, there is a practical consideration when choosing which bridge to take into the City: where do you want to go? The Brooklyn Bridge ends at City Hall Park. From there it’s a short ride to the bottom tip of Manhattan and views of the Harbor.
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If you’re commuting uptown there are two basic ways to go. One, take an immediate right off of the bridge onto Centre Street. It’ll take you in front of the Justice Department and Court House where there’s a ton of traffic, but at least there’s a bike lane through the busiest bits. If you’re going to the West Side or just looking for a leisurely ride, take the first left off of Centre onto Chambers Street and ride clear across the island (which is narrow at this point) to the West Side bike path. It’s set apart from traffic and extends 15 miles to the top of Manhattan.
The Manhattan Bridge ends up on the edge of Chinatown (and passes over a good chunk of it). If you’re looking for a cultural experience, cruise through the neighborhood but realize that the narrow, heavily trafficked streets of Chinatown rival the Brooklyn Queens Expressway for bike unfriendliness. But the bridge does dump you into Manhattan a good deal farther north than the Brooklyn Bridge.
Two good ways to head uptown are to go straight off the bridge exit ramp onto Canal Street and head east. Go two blocks to Allen Street and turn left to follow the bike lane uptown (Allen turns into 1st Ave. when it crosses Houston Street). The second way north is to turn left uphill when you get to the end of the bridge ramp and continue straight across town on Canal Street, or turn right onto Chrystie Street, which has a bike lane and will direct you up into Little Italy, Soho and the Village.
Location is less of a deal in Brooklyn, since both bridges start in pretty much the same area (their entry ramps are maybe a three minute ride apart, at most). I choose which bridge to take based upon my mood (do I prefer a view or a less congested ride) and, depending on my destination in Manhattan, which bridge will get me there faster.