Charles Komanoff


Ride Single File? Hell No!

Text and photos by Charles Komanoff

Posted June 14, 2023


It's only a sign on a road in New Jersey. But it feels like a desecration.

In the most perfect place to ride a bicycle, outside the city yet in reach, a place to unclench, exult, immerse, they've put up signs that negate it by announcing: RIDE SINGLE FILE.

I've bicycled hundreds of times on "River Road" (officially, Henry Hudson Drive), the 8 or 9 mile blacktop ribbon alongside the Hudson north of the George Washington Bridge that alternately rolls, rises and plunges through a domain so wondrous that, I like to say, if it were in Vermont or Virginia it would be in the guidebooks.

It's the fulcrum of my all-seasons recreational ride from Manhattan to the riverside village of Piermont, in Rockland County. The road begins at Edgewater, a short, steep downhill to the left off the bridge. Immediately you enter a world of towering cliffs, tall trees, and abundant sky and ride next to hillsides that sprout freshets after rainstorms. And always just a glance away is the lordly, bounteous river.

Once in a while I'll pull even with someone who hasn’t cycled there before and I'll mention that Palisades Park Commission rules used to prohibit bike-riding on it except on weekend mornings. I might add that as head of Transportation Alternatives in 1988-89, along with fellow advocates from the Bicycle Touring Club of New Jersey, American Youth Hostels, and the New York Cycle Club, I secured 24/7 cycling and walking access there, permanently.


If we've summited the saddle on Dyckman Hill Road and I’ve caught my breath, I might point to the spur of road that steepens and corkscrews out of view, and confess that it was I who in 1989 acceded to the last-minute settlement provision that forbids cycling up it to Englewood Cliffs ... and the requirements that riders be at least 14 and wear a helmet. I consented, I'll say, to help the commission director save face after his board ruled in our favor. I'll remark that he returned my good will the following year by encouraging the Port Authority to rescind its ban on biking on the GWB's ramped south path.

"I think the trade-off worked out well," I’ll say.

What I won’t say is that ramped-up enforcement of the Henry Hudson Drive cycling ban in the mid-eighties was part of why I let Trans Alt install me as their board chair — a decision that upended my life, propelling me from a substantial career in energy policy into the tumult of cycling activism, and then the world of transportation advocacy. Not to mention into a new marriage and fatherhood.

Years later, after 9/11, when the towers collapsed in front of our young children and chased us from our lower Manhattan home, I found comfort escaping to Henry Hudson Drive, as I wrote at the time.

So, yes, I’m invested. I’m invested in being able to cycle safely and freely on "a skinny stretch of blacktop with the soul of an old carriage road sculpted out of the Palisades," as I described it then, a road that is so peaceable and capacious, so quiet and nearly car-free, so sinuous yet with ample sightlines, and generally so sparse of other people on bikes or in cars that for the most part it regulates itself.

From hundreds of hours spent here, I can attest that cyclists don't have to be told how to share Henry Hudson Drive. When a car looms or approaches, we intuitively melt to the side.


So it was startling when the signs went up, probably in early March, requiring us to ride single file. I emailed the park director (we know each other slightly), heard nothing, wrote again, got a formulaic reply, wrote back proposing we meet on the drive and compare notes, no reply, wrote to the allied Palisades Park Conservancy, waited and wrote a second time, eventually getting a reply that parroted the director: "They're trying to address growing congestion between cars, bikes, and pedestrians on Henry Hudson Drive."

Growing congestion? Are there really many more people using the drive than in the past? Numbers, please? Have any park users reported problems or conflicts? What, exactly? What say the Palisades Park police?

And whence the edict demanding cyclists ride single file? Did anyone on Palisades Park's staff or board confer with cycling groups? Do we who negotiated the 1989 agreement that laid down the conditions for 24/7 cycling, or our successors, not have a stake? Not to mention, does anyone who has a hand in setting park policy ever cycle on Henry Hudson Drive? What do they report?

Okay, I get that obsessing over a road sign may seem precious, if not downright privileged. But for thousands of us from miles around, Henry Hudson Drive is, in fact, precious.

Moreover, while recreational cyclists may cultivate an aura of invincibility, with our fitness and gear, we're also vulnerable to drivers' caprice. And maybe about to become more so here, if a driver having a bad day decides to menace non-compliant cyclists, as I remember being menaced by drivers in Manhattan in 1987 while New York City signs banning cycling on midtown avenues remained in place after a court ruling overturning the ban.

I raised that scenario with the park chief and the conservancy director. Neither addressed it.

I'm headed to River Road soon, perhaps this weekend. I intend to comport myself as I always have: single file on the challenging climbs and the heady downhills, side by side with a riding partner when I'm able. While I don't expect to be pulled over — I'm white, by the way — you never know.

I'm bringing a sweater. When park police detained me during the spring 1988 Trans Alt ride that launched our organizing campaign, the police holding pen was way over-air-conditioned.

This post was originally published on June 13, 2023 in under the title Regulating cycling on Palisades Park's Henry Hudson Drive is unfair. This is why. An abridged version appeared on Streetsblog on June 14.