Liberty Bridge: A History of Pedestrian Bridges Comes Full Circle in New Jersey

By: Dan Cahalane

Missed the PATH? Walk to work.

Or at least that’s what the Liberty Bridge would allow you to do. Last year, a group of Jersey City residents, under the banner of the Liberty Bridge Organization, proposed a 5,000 foot long pedestrian and bicycle bridge across the Hudson River. The plan calls for the new bridge to start at the Jersey City embankment and end in Battery Park City, complete with two levels of pedestrian paths, similar to New York City’s Highline and Brooklyn Bridge, with retail shops lining the bridge.[1]

Proposal design of Liberty Bridge, bewteen Jersey City (left) and Manhattan (right)
Proposal design of Liberty Bridge, bewteen Jersey City (left) and Manhattan (right) Source: Liberty Bridge Org

The proposed bridge would provide an alternative for Manhattan for commuters — who could choose to make the 20-30 minute walk or the 5-10 minute bicycle ride instead of taking the PATH system. Going pedestrian also has other benefits: the proposal’s mission statement suggests that the pedestrian bridge could provide an important above-water evacuation route from Manhattan in the event of a major storm.[2]

At first blush, this pedestrian bridge matches the wave of active transportation developments on both sides of the Hudson. Since 2005, New York City has doubled the number of bicycling trips while Citibike has expanded to Jersey City.[3] Together with the proposed bridge, these trends would make bicycling an easy means of commuting between these two cities.

However, a 5,000 foot long and 200 foot high bridge across the Hudson River could be costly to build and maintain, and potentially be disruptive during its construction. The proposed 5,000 foot single-span pedestrian bridge could cost hundreds of millions of dollars, which is not uncommon. The repurposing of an old railroad bridge into the popular Walkway Over the Hudson, a pedestrian bridge that spans the Hudson River between Lloyd and Poughkeepsie, New York, cost in excess of $30 million.[4] The new Tappan Zee Bridge across the Hudson River, just north of New York City, will cost approximately $3.9 billion dollars for a 15,000 foot double span bridge.[5] The Liberty Bridge could also severely disrupt commuter service for the 70,000 daily Staten Island Ferry commuters as well as shipping. Moreover, as the proposal stands now, there are no provisions for a revenue stream to fund or maintain the bridge after construction, making it dependent on tax dollars every year.[6]

Liberty Bridge is another example of an attempt to provide better bicycle and pedestrian connections between existing networks and to accommodate the commuting needs of a growing population in the New York-New Jersey metropolitan area. The New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT) has recognized the importance of doing so, providing technical considerations for bridges and overpasses in their handbook, Pedestrian Compatible: Planning and Design Guidelines. Further, research done by the New Jersey Bicycle and Pedestrian Resource Center for NJDOT provides considering the following criteria during the decision-making process: the number of pedestrian trips, the distance to the nearest alternative crossing, and case by case judgement.

Lumberville-Raven Rock Bridge between NJ and PA across the Delaware River. Source: By Aerolin55 - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7985588
Lumberville-Raven Rock Bridge between NJ and PA across the Delaware River.
Source: By Aerolin55 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7985588

There are several New Jersey precedents for pedestrian-friendly bridges. The two pedestrian-only bridges span the Delaware River, the Portland-Columbia and the Lumberville-Raven Rock Pedestrian Bridges. In 2013 the latter, originally built in 1947, received significant upgrades.[7] Additionally, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey permits pedestrian and bicycle traffic on the George Washington Bridge from 6:00 am to 12:00 am every day.[8]

Done well, non-vehicular bridges provide vital connections between bicycle and pedestrian networks, advancing NJDOT’s goal of making New Jersey “a state where people choose to walk and bicycle.”[9] Whether or not the Liberty Bridge gets built, the proposal continues the important conversation about how to best provide bicycling and walking options to New Jersey residents.

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[1] “Why,” Liberty Bridge Organization

[2] “Why,” Liberty Bridge Organization

[3] “Bicyclists,” New York City Department of Transportation

[4] “Bridge Facts,”Walkway Over The Hudson

[5] Joseph Berger, “Braving the Elements Atop the New Tappan Zee Bridge,” The New York Times

[6] “The Making of a Cross-Hudson Pedestrian Bridge Proposal,” Politico New Jersey

[7] “Lumberville-Rock Raven Pedestrian Bridge Rehab Wins Design Award,” NJ.com

[8] “Pedestrian & Bicycle Information,” Port Authority of New York & New Jersey

[9] NJ Statewide Bicycle & Pedestrian Master Plan: Phase 2, New Jersey Department of Transportation

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