Fear and Luminescence on a New York Bike Trail

Navigating through New York's most popular bike trail at night

By Aisvarya Chandrasekar

My commute to campus along the Hudson Waterfront Greenway has been my favorite part of my weekdays this summer. I bike through pockets of serenity - flower gardens and riverfronts, tunnels and bridges, tai-chi classes and tango lessons, dog walkers, and power walkers. The rides that I look forward to in the mornings are starkly different riding experiences at night. While the views of the cityscapes from the waterfront are breathtaking, as a woman riding alone at night, the experience is marked by caution and sometimes fear of what is cloaked by the darkness. I documented my experience on the Hudson Greenway Trail on one such night ride.

The Trail

The commute back home starts from Morningside Heights, near the university. I enter the trail through Riverside Park, ride along Hudson Greenway down to Vesey St after which I divert from the trail, enter the WTC and take the PATH back home.

The data for the path illustrated was collected via Strava and plotted on Mapbox. I rode the bike at 10:16pm, and it took me 46 minutes to complete the commute.

The trail weaves in and out of Riverside Park, under the bridge (Piers 88-99) and into the bike path adjecent to the main roads and is sectioned from oncoming car traffic by a concrete wall. The trail near the main roads are well populated by cyclists, e-bikers, motorcyclists, roller-skaters and runners at all times of the day. On the other hand, I have many times been the only cyclist riding through the park at night.

The lights from the streets and buildings provide adequate lighting for the main routes, however the path through Riverside Park has very poor visibility. The first third of the ride home has my heart racing the fastest because the park is notorious for being "sketchy as eff at night" and has the seventh highest criminal incidences out of all the parks in New York City.

Method:To create this map, I video-taped my night ride and used the brightness in different sections of the video to collect fuzzy luminance data.

The trail inside Riverside Park is a mudpath surrounded by trees, with twigs and roots that protrude from the ground, requiring cyclists to swerve or slow down. Although there are lights in the park, the placement of the lights still create dark spots. The narrow path is used as a two way lane shared by incoming and outgoing cyclists and sometimes daring pedestrians. There are signs navigating cyclists through the detour but these messages are not visible at night.

The perils of this route are best seen through a video a cyclist posted on Twitter as he rides through the dark stretch of the trail near 79th Street.

The Detour

This route though the park and 79th street is a detour from what was initially a well lit and paved promenade overlooking the waterfront shared by both bicyclists and pedestrians. The municipality installed illumination along this path in 2013 at the behest of cyclists who wanted to enjoy the view at night without fearing for their safety.

But due to pedestrian-cyclist crashes, a new bike detour was installed in Riverside Park in 2019 but this rather hasty solution with its lack of lighting, steep hills, unpaved paths, and sharp turns near construction sites, is detrimental to the safety the detour intended to provide.

Based on my own riding experience on this trail, I believe that more lighting along the bike trails, especially at the dark area near 79th, would make me feel safer. While I can see the necessity to separate bicycles and pedestrians to reduce accidents, the current detour via Riverside is not the answer to that issue. Similar to the Promenade, we need a well-lit, well-paved path that takes cyclists' requirements into account and encourages more bikers to use the route at night, making the path safer for everyone.