Located at West 72nd Street, Riftstone Arch carries all the traffic from this Central Park entrance over the bridle path.
The structure is not even discernable from the busy entrance, but from the quiet path it appears as a rustic stone arch, covered in vines that hang over the archway allowing it to blend in with the surrounding plantings and rock outcrops.
Central Park’s arches and bridges are an integral part of its circulation system. The Park’s designers, Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, created an intricate system of pedestrian paths, a bridle path, and carriage drives to allow visitors to experience the Park’s landscapes in a variety of ways. However, for this system to work safely and in a relatively small space, it had to limit interactions between potentially conflicting forms of traffic. The Park’s arches and bridges separate this traffic by carrying one form of transportation over another.
Between 1859 and 1866, 27 arches and bridges were built in Central Park. All were designed by Vaux—in some cases with the assistance of fellow architect Jacob Wrey Mould. Each one is unique, designed with various materials and decorative motifs and with careful consideration of its placement in the landscape. Over time, six arches and bridges were added and three were removed, bringing the total to 30 ornamental bridges and arches in the Park today. There are also additional bridges in the Park’s woodlands that are smaller, constructed with wood, and typically cross over streams.
Another key part of this circulation system are the transverse roads that allow City traffic to cross the Park. The transverse roads are sunken below the grade of the Park with bridges crossing over them. These bridges were designed as more utilitarian structures and weren’t intended to be seen—but they allow pedestrians and other traffic to seamlessly move through the Park. There are 13 transverse road bridges (one of which, Denesmouth, is also considered an ornamental bridge).