Mom Spelled Backwards: Walkway Over the Hudson

Mother-centric reflections on rivertown life, and spanning rivers with dream bridges.

Considering Tarrytown grandma Mary Westerfield has dedicated three years to fighting to get a fence around the Patriots Park playground, I can only imagine how many eons of petitioning it might take to get my wee fantasy realized: a pedestrian bridge spanning the Hudson between Sleepy Hollow and Nyack.

Back here in reality, there is some promise of a shared use pedestrian/bike lane coming on the replacement Tappan Zee Bridge. Or at least it's in the six configurations they've been able to come up with since 2002 for the multi-billion dollar project that might begin in 2013 and might end in the year 20__.

Yet, even if there were a walkway on the Tappan Zee, how willing would anyone be to walk the three looong miles amidst all the roar and exhaust of the new mass transit trains and buses, and many more lanes of trucks and automobiles? To me, this bridge reeks of utility and no pleasure. It was made for big things with wheels – not made well, mind you – and perhaps should stay that way.

If only we had an abandoned elevated rail-line cutting straight across the river we could refurbish, à la our upstate friends in Poughkeepsie. After many years and many dollars (and many less than we're talking with the Tappan Zee), the Walkway Over the Hudson opened last year to claim the title as world's longest elevated park.

My family took a bike ride recently from Poughkeepsie to Highland and back, and were utterly smitten with this wide boardwalk of a bridge for immersing us in the majesty and history of the Hudson Valley. The Mid-Hudson Bridge and its traffic lies a little down-river, leaving the walkers, cyclists, rollerbladers, joggers and leashed dogs free to bask in the riverness of it all. We listened to jet-skiers and motor boats, freight trains, the faint swoosh of skateboarders in a skate park on the shore below, the passing happy chatter of birds and people.

The experience put a better taste in my mouth about bridges in general. Since hearing the news of several suicide jumps at the beginning of this year off the Tappan Zee (and another in June), I often can't see past our bridge's morbid side. It doesn't help that I watched The Bridge documentary about the many suicide jumpers in the course of a year from San Fran's Golden Gate. While I can (almost) understand the romantic attraction to jumping off this famed site, the idea of stopping one's car in traffic to jump off our already-collapsing wreck is quite another thing to fathom.

The architects behind the new old Poughkeepsie railroad bridge are an optimistic bunch. There are no large fences to impede your view, or your escape – not that anyone should consider this in such a setting. Crossing the smooth expanse feels like floating, and while the bridge may not have the imaginative elements of native grasses, gliding lounges, and water pools of Manhattan's sexy High Line pedestrian bridge, it's here and it's glorious.

Now how many signatures would it take to get my bridge to Nyack?


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