This 1998 photo shows the southbound Henry Hudson Parkway (NY 9A) approaching the George Washington Bridge. This section of the parkway was reconstructed in the 1980's. (Photo by Steve Anderson.)
The formal definition of the Henry Hudson Parkway is from West 72nd Street in Manhattan to the Bronx-Westchester border, at the Saw Mill River Parkway. However, signs in Manhattan place the beginning of the parkway at West 59th Street. Technically, the elevated section of the Henry Hudson Parkway between West 59th Street and West 72nd Street is part of the "West Side Highway." Both the Henry Hudson Parkway and the West Side Highway are part of NY 9A.
THE WEST SIDE IMPROVEMENT: There is an interesting history behind the development of the Henry Hudson Parkway. From Robert A. Caro's The Power Broker:
Of all the hundreds of miles of public works that Robert Moses was building in New York City during the 1930's, the one whose creation most clearly manifested the same extraordinary capacities he head displayed on Long Island was the project that arose from the first and longest-held of his dreams, the dream of the "great highway that went uptown along the water" and of the great park alongside that had made him exclaim to Francis Perkins in 1914, staring from the deck of a Hudson River ferryboat at the muddy wasteland below Riverside Drive: "Couldn't this be the most beautiful thing in the world?"
The "West Side Improvement" proposed in 1927 by Moses included the design and construction of the Henry Hudson Parkway for six and one-half miles from West 72nd Street to the northern tip of Manhattan, the transformation of Hudson River waterfront along the proposed parkway from a muddy wasteland into Riverside Park, the construction of the Henry Hudson Bridge between Manhattan and the Bronx, and extension of the Henry Hudson Parkway through the Riverdale section of the Bronx to the Saw Mill River Parkway.
Along with the construction of the West Side Highway already underway, Moses planned to provide an uninterrupted, limited-access route from Lower Manhattan to Westchester County, while reshaping the riverfront. Moses, with his leading roles in parks and arterial construction, now had the power to create his dream. However, he needed the money - $109 million (in 1929 dollars) to be exact - to do so.
FINANCING THE DREAM PROJECT: In ingenious fashion, Moses received the approximately $109 million for his "West Side Improvement" through the following steps:
portion of the "Grade-Crossing Elimination Fund:" $13.5 million
payment from the New York Central Railroad for 1.5 million cubic yards of fill: $4 million
funds from PWA (Public Works Administration) for the "79th Street Grade Crossing Elimination Structure," including marina, restaurant, underground parking facility and ornamentation: $5.1 million
Federal highway funds (for the link between the West Side Highway and the George Washington Bridge): $12 million
savings obtained during the construction of northern portions of Riverside Park: $29 million
funds from CWA (Civil Works Administration) for Riverside Park and "park access road" (the parkway was classified as a "park access road," since the CWA could not specifically build highways): $30 million
cost savings achieved by planning the parkway through city-owned Fort Tyron Park (thereby cutting right-of-way expenses): $5 million
financing of the Henry Hudson Bridge and access roads (i.e., financing Henry Hudson Parkway Authority revenue bonds through collected tolls): $10 million
This 1940 photo shows the Henry Hudson Parkway, looking south approaching the Henry Hudson Bridge. (Photo by Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority.)
THE PARKWAY IN MANHATTAN: Before Moses built his "West Side Improvement," Riverside Park, which was designed by Frederick Law Olmstead, was filled with squatter's shacks and was perceived as unsafe. Moses built a tunnel for the New York Central railroad tracks, on top of which he built an expanded Riverside Park filled with trees and shrubs, footpaths, playgrounds, ball fields and tennis courts.
The city began work immediately on a short section of four-lane pavement from just north of West 79th Street to just south of West 95th Street. The divided section, which lies just east of the current parkway, had two 20-foot-wide pavements (each separated by a 24-foot-wide grassed mall), and was constructed atop the New York Central railroad tunnel. However, this section was not constructed to Moses' desired specifications - it did not meet traffic and width requirements - and was subsequently converted into an esplanade for pedestrians and cyclists, which it remains to this day.
Under the direction of Moses, workers began of the Henry Hudson Parkway in 1933. The new parkway, which had six 12-foot-wide lanes separated by a center median, was constructed on top of landfill directly along the Hudson River. This afforded motorists on the parkway a direct view of the Hudson shoreline, but limited access to the shoreline for park visitors. Nevertheless, the parkway was designed with beauty, safety and traffic capacity in mind.
Moving north, Moses proposed construction of a "Henry Hudson Bridge" - something that had been promised since about 1910 - and planned to finance it through the sale of Henry Hudson Parkway Authority bonds. (Naturally, Moses would chair this authority as well.) Urban planners suggested to Moses that he build a low-level drawbridge (near the existing Broadway bridge) over the Harlem River to avoid harming Inwood Hill Park and the Riverdale section of the Bronx. Moses countered that a high-level span was necessary to allow ships (as well as cars above) move without interruption. He was sure that one out of every seven travelers on the existing Broadway bridge would pay the ten-cent toll to use the new Henry Hudson Bridge. When the four-lane bridge opened on December 12, 1936, Moses exceeded his own expectations: one out of three motorists used the new bridge. Indeed, there was so much demand that a second four-lane deck was added to the bridge a year later.
THE PARKWAY IN THE BRONX: In the Bronx, Moses planned to use the right-of-way of the existing Spuyten Duyvil Parkway, a 30-foot-wide, two-lane road lined with trees. Expanding the right-of-way for a 140-foot-wide Henry Hudson Parkway meant tearing down these trees and condemning properties. In Riverdale, Moses kept the exact route and associated plans for the parkway secret as long as possible to minimize community antagonism. Furthermore, he would not allow civic leaders (or anyone else) tell him where to construct overpasses for the convenience of the community. The Henry Hudson Parkway was to traverse Van Cortlandt Park before becoming the Saw Mill River Parkway - another Moses parkway - at the Bronx-Westchester border.
The Henry Hudson Parkway and "West Side Improvement" were completed on October 12, 1937, just in time for Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia's re-election. In a brochure promoting the West Side Improvement, the Moses wrote the following:
This, then is the Hudson waterfront celebrated by Masefield and O'Neill, where the fabled liners and cargo vessels thrust their prows into the very vitals of the city… Tycoons overlook the upper and lower bays and the Jersey piers… Droves of cars zoom or crawl through Riverside Park and down the West Side Highway and view the matchless, unspoiled Palisades. By comparison, the castled Rhine with its Lorelei is a mere trickle between vine-clad slopes. I wonder sometimes whether our people, so obsessed with the seamy interior of Manhattan, deserve the Hudson. What a waterfront! What an island to buy for $24!
GAS STATIONS ON THE PARKWAY: Part of the original parkway contract included the construction of a pair of service stations at EXITS 14-15 (I-95 and Riverside Drive) in Fort Washington Park. The stone-faced gas stations, which were located along the northbound and southbound lanes of the parkway, were torn down in the late 1970's.
The Henry Hudson Parkway, as proposed looking southeast in this artist's rendition from 1965. This artist's rendition shows the unbuilt two-lane reversible roadway in the parkway median. On the right is the 79th Street Boat Basin. (Figure by Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority.)
NEW BREAKDOWN AREAS ADDED: As it was originally built, the Henry Hudson Parkway did not have emergency shoulders. During the late 1940's, engineers added emergency turn-off areas every one-half mile along the parkway. The emergency parking areas allowed motorists to pull over their disabled vehicles between exits without impeding normal traffic flow.
INCREASED CAPACITY? In 1965, Moses proposed an upgrade of the Henry Hudson Parkway that was to have increased capacity from the West Side Highway north to the George Washington Bridge. The project, which was to have been done in conjunction with an upgrade of the West Side Highway, was to have been constructed as follows:
Between West 59th Street and West 72nd Street, there would have been a transition from the upgraded, ten-lane elevated section of the West Side Highway to the 3-2-3 configuration of the upgraded Henry Hudson Parkway. A new exit at West 65th-West 66th Streets would have been constructed for the proposed development over the New York Central rail yards.
Continuing north of West 72nd Street to the George Washington Bridge, the Henry Hudson Bridge would have been reconstructed with eight 11-foot-wide lanes in a 3-2-3 configuration. The two center lanes would have been reversible during rush-hour periods. In addition, new 10-foot-wide shoulders and standard acceleration-deceleration lanes would have been constructed.
To minimize the loss of parkland, a platform for additional lanes and a 20-foot-wide promenade would have been constructed over the Hudson River. Parts of the New York Central right-of-way would have been utilized. Additional pedestrian overpasses would have been constructed to connect residential neighborhoods with the promenade.
More than 20 acres of new parkland would have been constructed. New athletic fields would have been constructed on top of the proposed North River Pollution Control Plant, extending the "ribbon park" into Harlem.
After completion, access to the Henry Hudson Parkway would have remained restricted to passenger cars. The $84 million widening and park improvement project, originally scheduled for completion by 1972, was never constructed.
PARKWAY UPGRADES: Over the years, excessive use and deferred maintenance have taken their toll on the Henry Hudson Parkway. In January 1974, one month after a section of the West Side Highway collapsed, inspectors found significant structural deficiencies along the Henry Hudson Parkway between West 59th Street and West 96th Street, forcing substantial capacity reductions in this area. As part of the Westway project, it was proposed that the Interstate 478 designation given to the West Side Highway replacement be also applied to the Henry Hudson Parkway as far north as the George Washington Bridge (I-95). By giving the I-478 designation, there would have been substantial alteration to the character of the parkway.
In amending state law to provide for Interstate status for Westway, the New York State Legislature adopted an amendment that had the effect of prohibiting any replacement highway through parkland north of West 72nd Street:
No interstate road (I-478) should be constructed north of West 72nd Street. Instead, the present highway should be repaired in place.
Indeed, this is exactly what happened. The Henry Hudson Parkway retained its original NY 9A designation, making it eligible for matching Federal and state highway funds. Beginning in 1977, and over the next two decades, significant rehabilitation would be done on the Henry Hudson Parkway between West 59th Street and the Bronx-Westchester border. During reconstruction, the parkway was narrowed to two lanes in each direction. Finally, a new riverside park - Riverbank State Park - was built on top of the North River Pollution Control Plant, providing residents of Harlem an additional eight blocks of parkland (between West 137th Street and West 145th Street) where none had existed before.
This 1998 photo shows the Henry Hudson Parkway (NY 9A) looking north at West 231st Street, in the Riverdale section of the Bronx. The stone-arch overpass ahead carries West 232nd Street over the parkway. (Photo by Jeff Saltzman.)
CURRENT AND FUTURE IMPROVEMENTS: The New York City Department of Transportation (NYCDOT) maintains the Henry Hudson Parkway, and the New York City Parks Department maintains surrounding rights-of-way. Major reconstruction work is undertaken by the New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT), which also installs signs and reference markers.
According to the NYSDOT, the Henry Hudson Parkway handles approximately 120,000 vehicles per day (AADT) from its southern terminus north to the George Washington Bridge (I-95), and approximately 70,000 vehicles per day from George Washington Bridge north to the Bronx-Westchester border.
To handle growing traffic volumes, the NYSDOT and NYCDOT have sought ways to improve safety and efficiency on the parkway. Roadway resurfacing, median and shoulder redesign, easier access, and improved signing and lighting are some of the enhancements that were implemented. Despite these improvements, much of the design integrity of the parkway remains intact.
The NYSDOT and the New York Metropolitan Transportation Council have scheduled the following projects on the Henry Hudson Parkway:
Reconstruction of EXIT 10 (West 79th Street), including improvements to the ramps and traffic circle. The $9 million project was completed in late 2000.
During the early 2000's, the northbound lanes of the Henry Hudson Parkway were rebuilt from the George Washington Bridge (I-95 / US 1 / US 9) north to the Henry Hudson Bridge approach. Crews cleared the rocky slopes alongside the parkway through upper Manhattan. During reconstruction, parts of the northbound roadway were reduced to two lanes (from three), and the speed limit was reduced to 35 MPH. This project was completed in 2004.
Safety improvements, including resurfacing, new signing and lighting, guardrail replacement, and installation of concrete barriers. The $46 million project was finished in 2003.
Rehabilitation of the Henry Hudson Parkway viaduct from West 72nd Street north to West 125th Street. The $13 million project was completed in 2003.
Preliminary studies for the relocation of the elevated "Miller Highway" section from West 72nd Street south to West 59th Street. In March 2005, Congress allocated $2.5 million to bury the elevated section of parkway near West 61st Street as part of its $284 billion omnibus spending bill. The actual cost of burying the parkway would be expected to run in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
In April 2001, the New York City Parks Department completed the unfinished sections of the Riverside Park pedestrian and bicycle path from West 96th Street north to West 155th Street. The project cost $7.6 million to complete. The riverfront bicycle path from West 96th Street south to West 82nd Street remains unfinished.
TRUMP GETS HIS WISH, WITH HELP FROM THE CITY: In July 2005, a state appeals court upheld a decision by city officials to close the northbound ramp at EXIT 9 (West 72nd Street) to accommodate the $3 billion Trump Place project being developed by Donald Trump. The decision, which reversed a lower court ruling blocking the closure, allows the NYCDOT to begin closing the northbound exit. The NYCDOT based its decision to close the exit on a 1992 environmental impact statement and a 2003 follow-up study, which stated the closure would not have a detrimental effect on traffic or air quality. The ramp was closed on July 8, 2007, but not without a fight from some city officials who opposed the closure amid concerns that emergency response times would increase significantly.
SEEKING TO CREATE THE CITY'S FIRST SCENIC BYWAY: Seeking to "take back the park in the parkway," Riverdale resident Hilary Kitasei organized a task force in 2002 to nominate the Henry Hudson Parkway as the first "State Scenic Byway" in New York City. The byway status would facilitate support for improving the aesthetics of the parkway. The Henry Hudson Parkway Task Force described the following benefits from scenic byway status:
There would be improved access to Federal and state funds for enhancements along the parkway corridor.
A watershed approach would be developed along the parkway that reduces the burden on the water treatment infrastructure, as well as on nearby bodies of water.
The byway designation would create opportunities for public-private partnerships for stewardship of the corridor. It also would create opportunities for synergies between other projects along the west side of Manhattan, including Hudson River Park and Riverside Park South.
Finally, the task force seeks to develop a model for managing the city's other parkway corridors.
In addition to the ongoing NYSDOT improvements, the task force supports additional measures such as terracing the soil, planting additional trees and removing billboards. The Historic American Engineering Record (HAER) is documenting the parkway, and the New York Metropolitan Transportation Council (NYMTC) is developing a corridor management plan. The task force hopes to get the "State Scenic Byway" designation by 2006 or 2007.
RETAINING WALL COLLAPSE CLOSES PARKWAY: On May 12, 2005, a 300-foot-long section of a century-old retaining wall gave way, sending thousands of tons of dirt onto the northbound lanes of the Henry Hudson Parkway, as well as the ramp connecting Riverside Drive and West 181st Street to the parkway. No one was injured in the collapse thanks to the swift work of emergency personnel, but the resulting cleanup required the closure of the northbound parkway for three days. Interestingly, an engineer hired by the nearby Castle Village Condominiums (which owned the wall) inspected the retaining wall on the morning of the collapse, and sought NYCDOT permission to close the right lane of the parkway and the connecting ramp for repairs.
In this 2001 photo, the southbound Henry Hudson Parkway transitions to the West Side Highway over a rehabilitated viaduct. Both routes are designated NY 9A. Note the twin towers of the World Trade Center on the left, just months before the September 11, 2001 attack. (Photo by Christopher G. Mason.)
SOURCES: "Reported from the Motor World," The New York Times (12/13/1936); New Parkways for New York City, New York City Department of Parks and Recreation (1937); "Plan To Increase the Capacity of the Miller Highway and Henry Hudson Parkway," Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority (1965); The Power Broker by Robert A. Caro, Vintage Books-Random House (1974); "West Side Highway-Interstate Route 478, Administrative Action Final Environmental Impact Statement and Section 4(f) Statement," U.S. Department of Transportation (1977); "Reassessing Robert Moses: The Legacy of a Power Broker," The Newsday Magazine (12/04/1988); "Parkway's Scenic Views May Soon Be Official" by Seth Kugel, The New York Times (7/28/2002); "House Bill Gives $2.5 Million To Help Donald Trump Project," Associated Press (3/14/2005); "Henry Hudson Parkway Is Buried After Hillside Gives Way" by Timothy Williams, The New York Times (5/12/2005); "New York Is Supported in Ruling on Exit Ramp" by Robert F. Worth, The New York Times (7/16/2005); "Upper West Side: No Exit, but No Surrender" by Alex Mindlin, The New York Times (6/24/2007); Henry Hudson Parkway Task Force; New York Metropolitan Transportation Council; Jen Chung; David J. Greenberger; Ralph Herman; Hilary Kitasei; Dan Moraseski; Nathan W. Perry; Jeff Saltzman; Mike Tantillo; Jon Warms.
NY 9A and Henry Hudson Parkway shields by Ralph Herman. Lightposts by Jeff Saltzman.