Friday, May 25

ride to the sea

This week I fulfilled a long-time wish and rode my bike down Ocean Parkway to Coney Island.

IMG_0302aThis tree-lined path starts just south of Prospect Park and continues about 5 miles until reaching the Atlantic Ocean. It's a lovely ride, if a bit bumpy.

Culturally, the route was dominated by orthodox Jewish communities: it seemed that there was a Hebrew school or Synagogue on every block. The most unique of these buildings, from an architectural perspective, was the Mirrer Yeshiva, which seemed to have been redesigned mid-construction. At first glance, I thought that the school was adding a rooftop addition to take advantage of unused FAR, but closer examination revealed that the steel had been exposed for some time. I've never seen a building quite like it.

IMG_0429.JPGThere are basketball courts on the roof of the brick structure below the two steel floors. Oy, what a design!

Ocean Parkway also passes several unique features of Brooklyn's built environment. In between Avenue H and Avenue I, for instance, the boulevard passes over the Bay Ridge Line, an underutilized freight line that once linked the piers of Sunset Park to a rail hub in western Brooklyn at Broadway Junction.

IMG_0430.JPGThe Bay Ridge Freight Line.

Several years ago at an old job, I examined the feasibility of re-using the Bay Ridge Line as a cross-Brooklyn light rail route. Adapting the right-of-way for light rail would be a relatively inexpensive way to link areas without transit service to existing subways.

Combined with other efforts, such transit improvements could spur substantial economic development in the area. Ultimately, however, the proposal was dropped from the final report I was working on. I still think it's a great idea.

bayridgeline_aBrooklyn Google map with subways, via OnNYTurf. The Bay Ridge Line is the hatched double black line curving from east to west. The route of my ride, Ocean Parkway, is between the orange and yellow/orange lines in the center of the map.

But back to the ride...

At Avenue U, in a landscape of single-family homes that bore little resemblance to the Brownstone Brooklyn I left at the start of my ride, I passed a mysterious cast-iron tower unlike any I'd ever seen in the city before. I wondered if it was perhaps a remnant of Brooklyn's once comprehensive trolley system, but found no evidence that Ocean Parkway ever had streetcars. As it turned out, the tower had a far less romantic origin.

IMG_0308.JPGObsolete sewer ventilation tower. Many thanks to Forgotten-NY's Kevin Walsh for the explanation.

Finally, I reached Coney Island. The ocean was beautiful.

IMG_0314.JPGConey Island Boardwalk.

On a whim, I departed from my plans and headed east, away from Coney Island. Before long I reached Brighton Beach, one of New York's classic Russian neighborhoods. The boardwalk wasn't crowded, and the few people I saw certainly weren't speaking English.

IMG_0338.JPGAt least I could understand the URL at the bottom of the sign.

Eventually I made it to Kingsborough Community College, which has a beautiful campus at the entrance to Jamaica Bay. Across the water I saw Breezy Point, where I helped plan a marina that would have hosted sailing if New York had won its NYC2012 Olympic bid. I eyed the shore sadly, thinking about what an amazing venue it would have been.

Rounding the tip of the peninsula, I reached Sheepshead Bay, one of my favorite parts of the city. Besides City Island in the Bronx, Sheepshead Bay is the most 'New Englandy' part of New York City with active fishermen and a harbor filled with bobbing sailboats. (Check out the blog Sail Brooklyn for more about Sheepshead Bay.)

IMG_0386.JPGYou can just see the top of the Verrazano Bridge in the distance.

Riding slow to soak in the scenery, I was nonetheless going fast enough that an unseen speed bump flipped me neatly over my handlebars, almost ending my ride. Refusing medical attention from a startled security guard, a quick survey found my bike and body functional enough to continue -- my helmet had spared me a trip to the hospital. Bloodied but not beaten, I headed back to the beach.

IMG_0398.JPGThe New York Aquarium. Stupid place for a wall.

Back on the Coney Island boardwalk, I noticed the sorry state of the New York Aquarium, which was once located at Castle Clinton in Manhattan's Battery Park. Fortunately, the Aquarium is about to be rebuilt with a design by Enrique Ruiz-Geli, my favorite of a new crop of Catalonian architects transforming Spanish design.

Ruiz-Geli's design for the New York Aquarium. (Via Gowanus Lounge)

The new plan, which I love, interacts with the boardwalk much more than the existing building and has the potential to create a powerful waterfront-based aesthetic experience like that of the Milwaukee Art Museum, which was designed by Ruiz-Geli's Spanish compatriot Santiago Calatrava.

Further down the boardwalk, I felt conflicting emotions as I checked out Astroland in its final year of operation. On the one hand, I fear that new developments might destroy the kitschy charm that has given Coney Island its unique character for so long. On the other hand, I felt that some aspects of the boardwalk are ready to be retired. 'Shoot the Freak', for instance, which encourages children to fire paintballs at a 'live human target', is best left in the past.

IMG_0405.JPGAstroland Park may be closing, but the world-famous Cyclone roller coaster will survive, thankfully.

Heading back to Ocean Parkway and concluding my adventure for the day, I reflected that there was nowhere in the world quite like Brooklyn. I had seen but a thin slice of the borough on my bike ride, but witnessed a rich diversity of landmarks created by the people of the city. From temples and trains to roadways and restaurants, the environment of Brooklyn was one truly reflective of the broad range of people that live there.

IMG_0418.JPGThe Coney Island Parachute Jump.

Sadly, I'm leaving Brooklyn soon to move west. It's tough to leave, but this unique city will always have a place in my heart. Will I miss Brooklyn? Yes. Will I remember it forever? Fugghedaboutit.


sonia a. mascaro said...

Love your photos and reportage! I am glad I found you!

Anonymous said...

Good photos!!!

Anonymous said...

as a new yorker and past frequent visitor of Coney Island, i'd like to say that there's nothing left there too see except broken glass, gangsters, and the tearing of history.

nice blog, very descriptive.

Jin said...

Nice photo and nice place.

MANEL said...

I was looking for a blog like yours and I found you! I listed yours on mine.

Cheers from Sydney.


Meghan said...

I recently left Brooklyn to live in Melbourne, Australia. Right now I miss it horribly! Thanks for the post :)

High Power Rocketry said...

Hey I am doing a caption contest, please feel free to join!


Anonymous said...

different and interesting, keep it up, i'll come back to visit again soon...erik

Bebe said...

Great trip log! You missed the brand-new subway station in Coney with it's stained glass murals and the fabulous Keyspan Cyclones Baseball Stadium.
Brooklyn rocks!

Anonymous said...

Oh man, oh man. I'm so proud to call that little section of Brooklyn you decided to bike through home.

You're on my RSS Feed! <3

Anonymous said...

Oh, and I would recommend the book:
Flatbush Odyssey - A Journery Through the Heart of Brooklyn by Allen Abel

It was a little dense for my taste so I only made it as far as the fourth chapter. But it was sooo interesting and it's basically like a (very descriptive) tour through the heart of Brooklyn.

AlegraMarcel said...

Where west are you moving? And why did it take you so lomg to ride five miles? Looks like fun.

When I make it out to NYC, I'll have to check out the ride. My next trip, though, is walking the length of Wilshire Blvd in LA (10 miles); it goes from south central to the ocean, through Beverly Hills. Interesting route, huh?

If you are that far west, perhaps it is a something you can set your sights on...?

IggySingh said...

way cool pictures :) good to have 'stumbled' upon your Blog.

bardass369 said...

Great visual blog- it's good to see what these places really look like rather than the filtered views we get over here in Oz via the media. I think i'll be back for another look so keep it up! I would like to link to it as well, if you're cool with that. Here is my blog on urban issues


Anonymous said...

Have you seen ?

ALF said...

great pictures...gotta love NYC!

clare said...

Great Photo!!

youthinkyouknowme said...

Wow, america looks well good. never been , im in uk. wud love to come.

Mysterious Friend said...

Great photos, some good shots.

Tony Cui said...

Wow, excellent photos and everything. Yeah, it's always hard to leave NYC. There's just so much going on there 24/7.

Gail said...

I enjoy the photos--blogs are great places to share local lore & travel destinations--especially off the beaten path type stuff (such as


aamesrawkz said...

go tree-hugging environmentalist! I support your cause.

Suneetinder Singh Walia said...

cool. . i feel like driving to college on a bicycle after reading your blog. .

Samuel said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kyle said...

Looks like a really nice ride. I love riding.

Anonymous said...

Hey,i saw similar to this in an another blog,I think in

Anonymous said...

Swell job, love


Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

the thing about mirrer yeshiva is that they were building a couple of extra floors, but they ran out of money.