Here’s what I saw when I visited Poughkeepsie’s “Bridge to Nowhere”

Posted: August 26, 2013 in Economic Development, Uncategorized, Vision
Tags: , , ,

In reading about the progress of Amsterdam’s pedestrian bridge over the Mohawk River, I was a little skeptical about the attendance estimates of at least 30,000 per year cited in the Maintenance and Economic Impact report for the project. But recently, a co-worker told me about the Walkway Over the Hudson in Poughkeepsie, NY and it’s reported 500,000 annual visitors.

I had not heard of the bridge before, but after taking a look at the walkway’s web site (which mentions the 500K per year statistic) and seeing some of the pictures of the scenery, I thought it might be fun to take the family on a road trip and see if Poughkeepsie’s “Bridge to Nowhere” lived up to the hype.

You can click through the photos and read the captions to see how the trip went…

So here’s my take –

Poughkeepsie’s Walkway Over the Hudson shows that yes, lots of people will in fact travel to a bridge simply to walk over it and enjoy the view. As it is now, there isn’t much to do on either side of Poughkeepsie’s bridge, save for a few ice cream or refreshment stands, so the people you see walking it are there for scenery alone.  The Mohawk River will not provide quite as grand scenery as the Hudson, however the view will still be quite nice.

As far a numbers go for the Poughkeepsie bridge, I’m having a hard time believing the 500K visitors per year statistic (maybe they had that when the bridge opened four years ago.)  But if I guestimate an average of 1000 people per day over the course of 200 days, then 200K per year seems a reasonable number. So if we get even 15% of that traffic, then 30K per year for Amsterdam’s bridge doesn’t seem out of line.

And I think our bridge will actually have a couple of advantages over Poughkeepsie’s. For one, it will be shorter; it won’t take 1-2 hours to cross both directions, which may appeal to some people. Secondly, there will be actual grass and trees on the bridge which will make it nice to spend time sitting while enjoying the scenery. On Poughkeepsie’s bridge, it’s all concrete; you can stop and sit on benches for a while, but generally the idea is to keep moving.

Looking further down the road, I think that once the bridge is connected to Riverlink and Main St, it will be an even more attractive destination. If you can park one place on a Saturday afternoon, walk the bridge, maybe go shopping (one day?), get dinner and then walk to a show at Riverlink, that will certainly be worth travelling an hour to spend the day here. And with the addition of a decent hotel, it will also certainly make Amsterdam an attractive over-night stop for people travelling north to the Adirondacks.

I’ve been critical of the public process (or lack thereof) by which this project has come about. But I think at this point, the wheels are irreversibly in motion and it’s time to stop complaining about it and just get behind it because there is really no other credible plan to develop the waterfront. This project has the potential to put more money in local business’s cash registers as well as more tax dollars in city coffers which can be put toward infrastructure improvement. And just as importantly, the project will improve the quality of life for those living here, helping to shore up those all-important property values.

Now if you want to comment on this, please let’s not re-hash the old arguments. And please do not ask why we can’t redirect this money to fix infrastructure. The question has been answered hundreds of times – it’s state law, it can’t be changed. I might add, however, that it’s my understanding that state money is coming down the pipe for neighborhood improvements in the East End and the Reid Hill area. So it’s all getting done – eventually.

So anyway, let’s discuss the future. Do you think the apparent success of Poughkeepsie’s pedestrian bridge is a good indicator of what we can expect in Amsterdam?

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Comments
  1. I want to preface my remarks by saying I fully support Amsterdam’s proposed pedestrian bridge project and waterfront development for our city. While similar in concept, these two pedestrian bridges are too dissimilar in terms of economic development for a valid study. To start, Poughkeepsie has a population of 32,736 with Amsterdam at 18,620.

    In terms of scale the Walkway Over the Hudson spans 6,758 feet and towers over the Hudson River at 212 feet. The Amsterdam pedestrian bridge will be a mere 500 feet and only 26.5 feet over the Mohawk. The eastern view of the Amsterdam project will be partially obscured by the Rt30 vehicle bridge.

    The Walkway Over the Hudson was funded through a not for profit group, was declared a NYS Park (Historic Site) and is run by the NYS Department of Parks and Recreation who also provide maintenance at no cost to the local taxpayers. There are two parking lots at either end of the Walkway over the Hudson that charge $5 per car to park as an additional source of revenue.

    The estimated cost for maintenance (by the city) for the Amsterdam project is $12,450 annually. Additional costs of building another walkway over the train tacks to Market Street have not been determined.

    I still believe the Amsterdam project, (I don’t recall the exorbitantly long official name given by city planners) is a great addition to our overall waterfront development, which I believe is key to revitalization.

    • diane says:

      Jerry, since you are from that area, do you recall if this was a train crossing bridge and it was converted to a walkway? I thought I had read that somewhere. Could people be parking on one side and going to work on the other? Just curious.

  2. Tim Becker says:

    Those are very good points as far as the differences. Obviously the Poughkeepsie bridge is much larger project. However I think looking at this project does address the underlying question that people in Amsterdam are wondering about – will people travel to walk over a pedestrian bridge over a river with a nice view? The answer is yes. Like I said, if we even have 10% to 20% of the traffic that Poughkeepsie gets, we will be doing well.

    One correction though – the west side parking lot was completely free. On the east side, there were two parking lots, one close to the entrance which charged a fee, another one a distance off that was free. The free one was packed (pictured), the pay lot was almost empty! It was kind of too bad because those were the only spots designated for handicapped parking.

    • diane says:

      Tim, I would agree with your assessment that the 500,000 is too high. Also they can draw from the NYC area for a day trip. Do you think people are going to drive 2-3 hours to come sit on a bridge, if so more than once? I do love the pictures you took. Thank you for the time and effort and glad your family had a nice day……that would be another issue, rainy days and the winters.

      • Tim Becker says:

        Well, we drove 2 hours to walk across a bridge and we enjoyed it and we might go back in the fall. So yes I think it’s possible that people might drive that amount of time to have a picnic on a grassy area of the bridge with a nice view. It’s something new and different. Also, we don’t necessarily have to attract people from 2-3 hours away, we have plenty of cities within an hour’s driving time from here from which would could draw visitors. Remember, the target is only 10% to 20% of what Poughkeepsie gets.

    • Tim, the parking fee information was taken directly from the Walkway website, which indicated paid parking lots on both the Poughkeepsie and the Highland side.

      “Parking Fee:$5/four hours. Automated parking system that accepts cash, credit and debit cards at Poughkeepsie parking lot; pay box that accepts cash only in the Highland parking lot.”

      – See more at: http://nysparks.com/parks/178/fees-rates.aspx#sthash.gMxYHvj7.dpuf

  3. […] In a direct rebuke to established philosophy and with a blistering assault on the prevailing epistemology within this small community, Mr. Becker put forth the radical proposition that a “Bridge to Nowhere” may indeed lead to “Somewhere” in his widely circulated post, aptly named, Here’s what I saw when I visited Poughkeepsie’s “Bridge to Nowhere”. […]

  4. Rob Millan says:

    Diane,

    I’ve done the walk a few times. It’s not short, and I doubt people are walking over to get to work and back.

    The bridge was in fact a former rail line that was renovated in several phases for pedestrian use:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walkway_Over_The_Hudson

    Becker already points out that on a good day, lots of people appeared to show an interest in this site despite there not really much else to do other than crossing the bridge- few concessions and shops- and yet it’s still hard to imagine that people actually go for the sake of just going…

    One big item of note is that the Walkway Over the Hudson runs exactly parallel to the Mid-Hudson Bridge, which carries traffic east/west over the Hudson for people on and off the Thruway. Just like Amsterdam.

    The Walkway Over the Hudson also is near (if not connected) on the east side to the Poughkeepsie Amtrak and Metro North Rail Station:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poughkeepsie_(Metro-North_station)

    Just like Amsterdam’s will have once the Amtrak Station is moved closer.

    Sorry, but these are facts and similarties that cannot be ignored.

    And please don’t make weather an issue. It rains and snow everywhere in the Northeast, Diane.

    • diane says:

      Rob, thanks for clarifying that it was a former rail line. They have done something similar in NYC converting old lines into parks and such and it is a great reuse/repurpose of the property.

      • Rob Millan says:

        Diane,

        You are absolutely correct. The NYC rail line you’re referring to is the Highline and it’s hands-down one of my favorite places to visit in the Chelsea and Meatpacking neighborhoods. It once served as an elevated railroad where the trains would pull right up to factories three or four stories up to load and unload goods and materials, usually cattle (hence the name of the neighborhood) that would be processed for slaughter. My grandfather tells stories of walking nearby and hearing the repeated screams of cattle as they were slaughtered and how it would smell terrible during hot days.
        Once the meatpacking houses moved out, the neighborhood became place for textiles for the nearby Garment District to load and unload fabrics.
        Trouble is, textiles move out just as the meatpackers did before then. The rail lines stayed vacant and abandoned for a few decades until someone creative got the idea to rip out the lines and re-purpose the rail beds as greenspace. Today it’s among the most visited spots in the neighborhood.

        Take a look here and at the pictures (looks like there’s at least one remaining meatpacker left in one pic!):

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High_Line_(New_York_City)

        How this relates to Amsterdam? We have people willing to make the trip, spend money locally, stay at our hotels once better ones come, eat at our restaurants. It’s really no different than any other successful development project.

        All in all it lends credence to the fact that it takes money to make money. This is a great investment in Amsterdam for Amsterdam.

  5. Carol Jordan says:

    Recently, as I exited the train station, (which is currently in no mans land as far as visitors are concerned), my husband and I were greeted by 2 men who had exited the train to explore the “interesting” city of Amsterdam. They asked us how to get to “downtown”, because they were walking and had decided to spend the next day “exploring” Amsterdam, (“because it looked interesting on the internet”) , before they returned to NYC. I realized that these two NYC men might be disappointed with the inaction of Amsterdam’s business district, so my husband and I asked them if they would like a ride to a motel. Thinking about it, I realized that there was only 2 good ones that I know of, and they were both on the Southside, so we gave them a ride over to one. They were very thankful, and we directed them that just down the hill, a few blocks there was a pub, and several restaurants where they could dine and get a drink. Since they didn’t have a car, I couldn’t even think of a place where they could rent one in the city.
    I did apologize for their over expectation of what they would see in Amsterdam, but told them to return in the future and they might be presently surprised. Hopefully I will be right.
    One thing they said, that I found interesting is that the air smelled so good ! I don’t think we really appreciate this, but they did. Amsterdam does have beautiful scenery and will grow, so the naysayers, just need to stop. In the past I have been unable to understand why a multi-million dollar bridge is necessary, when buildings are falling down everywhere, but perhaps a bridge to nowhere will bring in money to make Amsterdam a popular stop…but we DO need to move the train station. If the station is moved, the trains will have to stop in the downtown area, and people like these two wayfarers that we met will be met with more then they are now. Hopefully. There wasn’t even a cab there at the station for them…interesting.

  6. Carol Jordan says:

    I can’t wait to Doodle on the bridge….bring it on…Amsterdam !

  7. Kim says:

    I’m in full support of the bridge. However, I believe it will suffer unless there is other development. I’ve asked many times and never get a straight answer…what’s the plan for downtown? What is the city doing to try to entice shop owners and restaurants to move into downtown? Other cities like Troy and Schenectady seek out small business owners and give them incentive to move to their town. Are we doing that?? Who owns all the vacant buildings downtown?

    People will come to see the bridge if its advertised correctly. The question is, what will make people return?

    • Tim Becker says:

      I think you are exactly right, that is what Robert von Hasseln, The Director of Community and Economic Development should be doing. I’ve yet to see a formal, finalized job description and set of goals for his position yet though.

      • Rob Millan says:

        And no one has seen a thing from AIDA, whose sole responsibility is industrial development.

        But that’s what happens when the same group of people wear different hats in Amsterdam.

  8. Kim says:

    I’m not sure either but I do know we needed such a postion. There was so much backlash about his hiring and I was in awe at people’s attitudes about hiring such a basic postion. We should also have a BID. We need to start being proactive when it comes to development. I’m hoping this bridge is the start of something bigger for Amsterdam. I hope it helps the business owners on the Southside. I envision people stopping on the canal and walking North and South. But its like when a new restaurant or shop first opens everyone is eager to check it out…what happens a year in is what really counts.

  9. diane says:

    First, thank you Rob Millan for the info on the Highland Park. I find it very interesting that the trains actually went into the buildings to unload. Neat 🙂

    As for AIDA, they are an independent agency and operate totally separate from the city. When the current executive director was hired, AIDA chose the mayor’s choice. They did not have to do that. They have been updating their property listings to determine which ones can be sold. They are working with entities to bring jobs to the city, and when it is time to announce they will. As for finances, as a courtesy, in the past they have provided the mayor and council with updates. All of their info including their financials can be found on their own web page which is updated routinely.

    In the meantime, they have purchased a couple of pieces of property downtown, Emmy Lou’s and the United Way Building (the light blue one). Working with the Urban Renewal Agency on grants for facades, they have painted the Wrestling Hall of Fame which they also own, and Emmy Lou’s. The United Way Building has been a complete gut job in order to renovate and bring it up to code. When finished it will have 4 apartments and two street fronts available for rent. I feel this is good for the city, because they will be able to rent fully operational units that are up to code. Not all of the buildings downtown are up to code and it only makes it more difficult for someone to come in and spend their own money on rental property. To me that is not right. These properties especially the street fronts will be able to do whatever they want, retail, or restaurant. They can be built out to the renters specs if need be.

    Also Mr. Teseiro has been working on his building, which has to have a new elevator installed. The pool hall redid their facade this summer after loosing part of it in a spring storm. They have a new canopy that was installed during the rehab and there is outdoor seating with lovely planters. They have tournaments on the weekends. There is talk of changing the parking (again) downtown, as the current arrangement is not safe in some opinions.

    If you have any questions you can contact AIDA any time, their office is in city hall. Also, their meetings along with all city meetings are open to the public and mostly posted on the city website.

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