Meet the River Heads

PAOLA ANTONELLI: THE MoMA CURATOR TAKES THE ROAD LESS TRAVELED ON THE EAST RIVER BIKEWAY

It’s better than the Hudson, and has way fewer rules

By LAUREN LIPTON
east river bikeway bridge

Sometimes, you just want to ride your Citibike on a path that isn’t cluttered with out-of-towners. But what’s the best choice along the East River, where there are so many routes weaving through Brooklyn, Queens and Manhattan? For advice, we turned to determined cyclist Paola Antonelli, the senior curator of MoMA’s Department of Architecture and Design. Given her job, Antonelli knows the NYC landscape. We loved her suggestion, a route so obscure, even she didn’t realize until recently the trail had a name. Here, Antonelli explains the path’s appeal, bumps and all, and what makes it better than peddling up the Hudson.

The path: Called the East River Bikeway, the route begins at the southern end of FDR Drive, just outside the Staten Island Ferry terminal, and continues parallel to the FDR for about 10 miles until East 37th Street, where it ends in front of the United Nations building. You can pick it up again on 49th Street (if you’re willing to bike in traffic) and keep going into the East 70s.

What’s the appeal? You’ll get an up-close experience of some areas you might otherwise never see, including the Downtown Manhattan Heliport, the outskirts of Chinatown and some East River piers. Then there’s the view. “The stretch between the Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges is amazing,” Antonelli says. “It’s one of my favorite places in the city.”

About a block or so north of the Manhattan Bridge, at Rutgers Park, you’ll find an open-air public fitness area. “There is this weird gym equipment there made from steel tubes. The neighborhood ladies from Chinatown use it,” Antonelli says.

Why is this ride not for the timid? “It’s almost No Man’s Land,” says Antonelli. “The path in places is not nicely asphalted, and sometimes it is very narrow. You go through all of these strange depots.” Be prepared to walk your bike at some pedestrian-heavy spots and to be almost cheek-to-cheek with FDR traffic — you’re separated only by a low fence—in others.

Room for improvement: Though the East River Bikeway is not as well-groomed Hudson River Park Bikeway, Antonelli prefers it that way. “I like that it’s not done up and polished,” she says. “To be perfectly frank, on the West Side, there are a lot of rules. The East River Bikeway gives you a sense of the illicit, of doing things that are not completely kosher.”

How will the ferry service impact the neighborhoods of the East River?  The introduction of a ferry service will move the center of gravity of New York, and when it comes to the East Side, it will create a real connection between the boroughs.

What’s your dream for the East River?  My dream is for myself: I wish I lived on the East River!

Download a NYC bike map

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Looking for more things to do around the East River? UrbanCoast.nyc

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