Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Finding the High Bridge Aqueduct

Normally improved access is part of large government funded renovation projects.  In the $61 million dollar upgrade of the High Bridge Aqueduct, better access only consisted of ADA compliant ramps and new outriggers that are esthetically appliqued onto the north side of the stone structure.  Their purpose is to increase the number of people that can get onto the bridge at one time and allow access for people with disabilities.  Outside the confines of the visible stone aqueduct, no new paths or improvements were in the scope of work. 

And the question still remains, “How does one find the High Bridge Aqueduct?”

Pedestrian convenience was never an important design criterion during the construction of the forty-one mile long Croton Aqueduct when it was built in the first half of the 19th century.  As explained in other posts, the configuration of any component of the aqueduct was based on one thing: keeping the water flowing smoothly downhill from upper Westchester to its Manhattan resting place at the reservoir on forty-second street.

Therefore, when construction of the aqueduct reached the Harlem River, the height, slope and exact location of the required aqueduct bridge was already determined by hydrological factors.  The engineers basically just determined where the water carrying apparatus had to be located and built the stone structure around it for support.

While this stone bridge is visible from many locations like the McComb’s Dam Bridge, the Major Deegan Expressway, the Harlem River Drive and the other bridges nearby that cars use to cross the Harlem River, finding it on foot or by bicycle is another story.  

At the exact point the water pipe pierces the rock face, which forms the Harlem River Valley on the Manhattan side, there is no street address.  The reason for this is that it is located well within Highbridge Park.   You have to walk through the park to actually get to the pedestrian walkway that connects to the top of the bridge.  

To assist everyone in getting on the Aqueduct Bridge we provide two access routes from the Manhattan side and two from the Bronx side.  We tried to identify the most convenient paths of access.  The map identifies each of the four entrance points and provides directional information.

Four informational items (Pedestrian, Bicycle, MTA, and Entrance) are coordinated with the included map and give more specific information about the quality of the access provided at each of the four access routes.
Manhattan Side
Most direct is coming into the park at 172nd St.  Remember, that the guiding feature is the water tower which is aligned with the aqueduct bridge.  However, the 100 or so step steep and narrow wood stairs are a major impediment to getting down to the pedestrian path and onto the bridge from this approach. 

Pedestrian: a high staircase will be daunting to some
Bicycle: terrible.  You will have to carry your bike down the stairs
MTA: 1, A and C trains 
Entrance: 172nd Street

From the south you enter High Bridge Park at 165th St. at Edgecombe Ave. and follow the paved path north.This is the only Manhattan section of the aqueduct path that is paved.  This allows police and emergency equipment to access and service this site.  Walking or biking north it is not long until both the tower and the actual bridge are visible.

Entrance sign at 165th & Edgecombe, courtesy Jim Zisfein

Pedestrian: about a ¼ mile walk
Bicycle: easy smooth ride 
MTA: 1, A and C trains
Entrance: 165th Street 

Bronx Side

Coming from the north you head south from the 181st Street Washington Bridge on Martin Luther King Boulevard and the High Bridge Aqueduct is only a few blocks south.   Once you reach the entrance a generous curved walkway takes you to the  pedestrian walkway.

Pedestrian:  Good
Bicycle: Good
MTA: 4, D & B Train
Entrance: from Martin Luther King Boulevard (University Ave.)

Coming from the south you typically either just walked across the McCombs Dam Bridge or got here by subway. Starting near Yankee Stadium, where Jerome and Sedgwick Ave begin, you are next to the Major Deegan Expressway walking north on Sedgwick Ave along the sidewalk.  A few blocks north Martin Luther King Boulevard, which is also named University Avenue, branches off and heads uphill. The High Bridge Aqueduct, which was fully visible before, now disappears behind tall buildings as you climb the slight incline.  At 167th Street there is a “peek-a-boo” view of the HBA which completely fills your view at this point.  Continuing up a few more blocks, the entrance butts up against the street and a short set of stairs leads you onto the bridge.
Pedestrian: Good
Bicycle: Good
MTA:  4, D & B Train 
Entrance: Martin Luther King Boulevard (University Ave.)

Have a good walk or bike ride while avoiding the crowds.

Paul Kittas, Contributor

Editor's note: There is also a good YouTube video on "Finding the High Bridge" here, and a set of directions put out by Parks and Rec here.


  1. So, when is it that we can actually cross this thing? With all the snow and everything maybe it will take another year to finish. They have been so wrong every time they tell us it is opening. What use are directions if you can't go across?

  2. The head construction engineer of the High Bridge Aqueduct renovation when recently asked when it will open used the term "soon." I'm not at the meetings but it looks like all evidence points to a mid to late summer 2015 opening. Hey, if the HBA opened and there was not map wouldn't that be worse? At least you can select the approach you will use to get to it once the pedestrian bridge is open.

  3. Well, now we can use the walking routes in Google Maps to get there. Thanks for putting up the map though.

  4. Awesome, seriously awesome.Great blog.Thanks for sharing.It is very useful.