3.13.2016

Spring Training: Conquering the Hilly Terrain of Northern Manhattan

Visitors to the Northern Manhattan neighborhoods of Washington Heights and Inwood may realize at some point that we don't call them the "heights" for nothing. Walking a street uptown can involve a steep climb. In several places, the difference between elevations is so great that "step streets" are required.

The step street at W. 215th connects Park Terrace East with Broadway below.
Photo from February 29, 2016.

The W. 215th Street step street in the Inwood neighborhood (above) connects Park Terrace East, a residential street high above Broadway, with the busy thoroughfare below. The nearby Isham Park sits on high land that was once a family estate. The climb to get there makes it feel like a secret park.

There are nearly a hundred of these step streets in New York City, with many of them over a hundred years old. There are 63 step streets in the Bronx and 20 in Washington Heights and Inwood.* The city is currently renovating some of the more popularly used ones.

These well-traveled steps connect Overlook Terrace with a busy block of retail and restaurants above on W. 187th Street.
Photo from February 28, 2016.

The formidable set of steps at W. 187th Street (above) connects Fort Washington Avenue with Overlook Terrace, the street lower in elevation to the east. West of Fort Washington Avenue, a market and a few good restaurants line a busy block of W. 187th Street.

In addition to the steep sidewalks and step streets, the parks in northern Manhattan often involve the sort of climbing typical of hillside communities. In Inwood Hill Park at the top of Manhattan and Fort Tryon Park just to the south, walkers and hikers can find some of the city's most challenging paths and trails. A walk to higher terrain by ascending a park path or by climbing stairs can ramp up the fitness routine and provide health benefits beyond walking on the same level.

Not a step street, but the steps at Fort Washington Avenue near W. 190th St. lead to a subway stop for the A train and to a set of terraces below.
Photo from March 8, 2016.

The outdoor stairs at the 190 St subway (above) connect Fort Washington Avenue with a couple of lower terraces used for recreation. The lowest terrace connects to a path into Fort Tryon Park.

In addition to the health benefits of climbing, ascending the hill can offer rewarding views of the city or the surrounding terrain. The vantage point shown below is taken from a path in Inwood Hill Park that leads steadily upwards and runs underneath the Henry Hudson Bridge. Down below is the Spuyten Duyvil Bridge, a swing bridge that connects the Bronx and Manhattan and carries Amtrak trains on the Empire Corridor. On a clear day, you can see far up the Hudson River. The climb to this spot is fairly gentle, suitable for those just getting back into the swing of things.

The view is worth it. View of the Hudson River from a steep path in Inwood Hill Park.
Photo from March 12, 2016.

References:
* See "Step by Step, Rebuilding New York City’s Open-Air Staircases" by Douglas Feiden,
The Wall Street Journal, July 8, 2015.
"Renovation of Inwood's W. 215th Step-Street Complete, City Says," by Carolina Pichardo, DNAinfo, February 3, 2016.

Images by Walking Off the Big Apple.

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