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Located 25 miles north of Midtown Manhattan, the Governor Mario M. Cuomo Bridge connects two sides of the Hudson River across a 3.5-mile stretch of motorized freeway. More than just an Interstate route for vehicular traffic, the bridge also provides a Shared Use Path for joggers, hikers, and cyclists. SEGD member firms Exit Design and J2 enriched this new public amenity with a vibrant brand identity, a robust wayfinding system, and engaging interpretive elements.
When the Tappan Zee bridge opened in 1955, it connected two New York counties—West Chester and Rockland—across the Hudson River at one of its widest points, completing the long-planned New York State Thruway. Officials at the ribbon cutting ceremonies promised that the Tappan Zee would bring “boundless economic expansion and prosperity” to the communities north of the city as well as the entire state.
But the original cantilever structure, built on floating caissons, wasn’t engineered to last more than a generation. Less than 50 years after its completion, funding was secured for a new bridge to replace it, this one featuring a striking cable-stayed structure. The Mario M. Cuomo Bridge now spans the Hudson between Tarrytown and South Nyack just north of where the old bridge once stood and features an element that the designers of the original Tappan Zee might find truly remarkable: a major recreational component in the form of a 12-foot-wide pathway stretching the length of the bridge and designed exclusively for walkers, hikers, joggers and bikers.
Exit Design (Philadelphia) won the contract to develop the new Mario Cuomo Bridge Path and create its graphic design elements and wayfinding system. They collaborated with sister firm, J2, who handled the path’s brand identity.
When Exit and J2 started on the project, little had been designed except for the path’s essential structure: a 3.5-mile long concrete platform separated from the motorway, including six “bump outs” or overlooks.
“The design of the bridge path really needed a higher level of finish and a cohesive voice and identity,” says Mark Vevle, Studio Director and Project Lead at Exit about the initial challenge of taking on the project. “Everyone wanted this to be a really great experience.”
Before Exit and J2 started the process, the project’s landscape architects had designed the landings on either side of the bridge, including parking lots, pavilions, and other amenities for visitors. They also had met with community groups to develop the initial furnishings plans for the overlooks and a series of panels displaying information about the surrounding region—including its history, ecology and communities—as part of the pathway’s public education mission.
“The six overlooks were developed as part of a community design initiative with the landscape architect,” says Mark. “The groups had already carved out those stories a little bit [when we began working on the project]. But it was up to us to connect it all.”
Exit and J2 did this by creating a visual communications master plan and designing a strong brand identity for the pathway. This included a comprehensive signage system which helped unify a wide range of physical elements, from monumental arrival moments and welcome center marquees to mile markers and safety guidelines. The two firms also designed a new logo mark and icon system, which is featured throughout the site and nearby communities, along with new directional signage guiding visitors toward the path’s entrances.
But the biggest connector of all—and perhaps most impressive—is the pathway’s signature blue surface. To meet the project budget and durability requirements, Exit specified a slip-resistant epoxy which is color-matched to the New York State brand identity. The bold coloring, combined with the colossal scale of its application, makes the path as emblematic of the bridge as the eight towers supporting the main span.
“For me, I’m most excited about the blue path. There are only a few major pathways in the world that have this kind of bright fun color,” says Mark. “That was an awesome bold commitment the Thruway made, and I had a lot of fun pushing them to go with the bright brand blue which went against conservative inclinations.”
In addition to the environmental elements, the team also designed the path’s website which serves as the first touchpoint for many visitors to the bridge. Digital information displays, installed on path’s overlooks, compliment the design of the website.
“When you visit the path and see all the finishes and all of the signage and all of the banners and all of the interpretative graphics, it feels like a constant continuation of the website experience,” says Mark. “Everything feels super cohesive.”
One of the more unique aspects of the bridge path is its program of public art. The New York State Thruway worked with the West Chester Arts Commission to put out a call for artists to create original sculptural works. The Commission encouraged artists to submit proposals using decommissioned steel and other components from the old Tappan Zee bridge.
“Along with the art pieces, there were other elements, like bike racks, that the Thruway had commissioned by artists,” said Mark. “These were inspired by themes surrounding the river and the bridge.”
All of these features have made the new bridge path more than just a connector. The path has quickly become a popular public amenity and a new part of the Hudson River Valley’s extensive trail system.
“It’s a great trophy piece that expresses what happens when our studios (Exit and J2) collaborate and where the brand and the experience feel so cohesive,” says Mark. “It was so awesome that we got a chance to touch all the parts and pieces.”