I’m really not asking for a lot. Just a simple, safe way to ride my bike from my house to Manhattan — or at least to a boat or train that will take me there. The only way to really ride all the way in is via the GW Bridge and that’s way too far for all but the most adventurous of days. When I used to live in Hoboken I frequently rode up River Rd. and across the GWB. I rode in to do the Central Park training rides and commuted to work in midtown. It was an easy and fun 18 miles or so. Now, however, living here in the ‘burbs things become more of a challenge.
I live, give or take, 20 miles from the Hudson River. With that fact in hand someone from another part of the country or world might think it wouldn’t be too hard to find a bike route to the Big City that is relatively direct and, more importantly, safe. The cold reality is that social scientists would refer to that person as a doofus.
I’ve lived in NJ my whole life, so I know what I’m up against – a stunning amount of cars, aggressive drivers, bad roads, “bike routes” that don’t go anywhere but around in circles and a culture that says, “why would you want to ride your bike, what are you some kind of dick?” All that aside, I am determined to come up with a way to do this if for no other reason than I am, in fact, a bit of a dick. I don’t like to be told no and will often carry things to illogical extremes to prove that I am right. I also don’t like to do lots of planning, so I asked the friendly gas station attendants at Google Maps to direct me from my house to Newark’s Penn Station (I’d like to get closer, but that’s more than 1/2 way to nyc and east of there the riding options get worse) and requested the “walking” directions. They said it was 13.7 miles and would take 4 hours and 31 minutes. I was presented with 3 possible routes and chose the NJ/124-Springfield option.
I’m on a recovery week in my training, so this kind of ride was just what I needed — not too long, mostly flat. I’d also be hitting a lot of roads that I’d never been on which is always (usually? sometimes?) nice. The fact that I don’t often ride these roads goes back to the basic problem that is the crux of this whole thing — the closer one gets to NY the more of a post-apocalyptic, urban-hell-scape NJ roads become. Unless I’m doing a loop I like to the east, I generally head west out of the driveway since there’s less traffic and more options that way. Today it was eastbound and down. The first several miles were on familiar roads — lots of cars, but not more that the usual.
I should add that I’m in no way a traffic sissy. Living and riding in and around Hoboken for 6 years got me rather comfy riding in traffic and asserting my place on the road. In 15 years of serious road riding I’m been clipped a time or two and once ended up sprawled on the trunk of a car (totally my fault).
The first time on this ride I felt less than safe was on the overpass crossing over Rt. 78. I’ve ridden here a few times and never liked it. You’ve got this big 2 lane road in each direction and a sweeping corner. There’s also no shoulder. The cars roll up on you really fast. And the pavement is really crappy too, so you’re constantly have to dodge holes and cracks while simultaneously glancing over your shoulder. Not fun, but also not a very long stretch of road.
Next up is Springfield Ave./Rt. 124. This runs through a little bit of Union, Maplewood, Irvington and into Newark. The first part through Springfield and Maplewood is small-city riding w/ moderate traffic and decent roads. It’s certainly not a “nice” ride and becomes less nice as it moves into Irvington and Newark. Also, lots of lights. I took Springfield all the way up to Market in Newark. From there it’s not long to Penn Station, but by that time I’d already decided this would not be my route. I turned around and made my way back, ditching off Springfield ave. when I got back to Maplewood and wending my way home of some less-busy roads.
Next up on the list will be the route via Ferlinghuysen Ave on Newark — looks more direct on the map.