Archive for June, 2009

Industrial Charm: A Greenpoint-Williamsburg Run

The Greenpoint-Williamsburg area is a vibrant neighborhood that has a lot of exciting development going on.  It isn’t an automatic go-to for most runners in New York, but since it has less traffic than most other areas of the city it can make for a very enjoyable run and is a welcome break from the obvious choice of running in Central Park. It’s also pretty much right outside my front door, so I run this route frequently.

So here’s the basic route. We’re looking at the stretch of road that runs from the northern corner of Greenpoint south through Williamsburg until you reach the BQE. In total, it’s approximately 2.75 miles one way, so a there-and-back run brings you to about 5.5 miles. With some variations and a little exploring, you can easily tack on a few more miles for a longer run.

Let’s start at Commercial and Franklin in Greenpoint. It’s steps away from the East River with a great view of Midtown Manhattan. It’s also one of the few water stops along the way – there’s the small Greenpoint Playground with a water fountain in the triangle made up by Commercial, Franklin and Dupont streets. (Note that technically you need to be there with your kid to access the playground.) If you’re well hydrated, though, start the run by heading south on Franklin. You’ll know you’re going in the right direction if the street names start going through the alphabet (Dupont, Eagle, Freeman…).

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Greenpoint Avenue and Franklin. Notice the decorative pencils on the facade of the building.

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Franklin Street near Noble in Greenpoint, facing north.

Greenpoint has quite the hidden history: this is the neighborhood that brought you the U.S.S. Monitor, Eberhard Faber pencils and Mae West. These days, though, Greenpoint is undergoing a bit of a change. This stretch of Greenpoint has a lot of great new boutiques, bars and restaurants opening – and many others are established neighborhood staples. The emerging community is mostly young and hip, and the storefronts cater to this group. Come back sometime when you’re not sweaty and do some shopping, grab a beer, or head up to Manhattan Avenue and find a carb-heavy meal at one of the many great Polish eateries.

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Water tower over the American Playground

Just beyond Greenpoint Avenue you’ll come to the second (and last) water stop along this route. On Franklin between Milton and Noble you’ll find the American Playground complete with water tower looming overhead. Again you’ll find a water fountain in the playground and here you’ll also find a public restroom. If you choose to continue running, keep following Franklin as it begins to curve along the waterfront in Williamsburg. Around N. 14th Street Franklin turns into Kent Avenue (not to be confused with Kent Street, which you crossed about five minutes ago). You’ll notice that functioning industrial buildings start to make way for converted residential spaces and construction sites.

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Great view of the Manhattan skyline from Bushwick Inlet Park

The construction along Kent is a common sight in Williamsburg. Ultra-modern residential condos are going up in every vacant lot and those going up along the waterfront are some of the tallest, making this area look like an extension of Long Island City. You can try and peek through these buildings for views of Manhattan or you can take a stroll all the way down to the water of the East River at Bushwick Inlet Park, which can be found on Kent between N. 9th and N. 10th. This park isn’t much right now, but they planted some trees earlier this spring and it looks like there are good plans for the future. The construction continues for many blocks, so expect some areas where you won’t have complete access to the sidewalk. In these cases, you’ll have to cross the street or brave a couple hundred yards of sharing the road with cars.

(10/27/09 UPDATE: see also my post on the development of the Greenway in Williamsburg, adding valuable bike lanes to Kent Avenue.)

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Kent Avenue, Williamsburg (Summer 2009)

As you continue down Kent Avenue before you reach the bridge, you’ll notice a Williamsburg landmark on the right side of the street – the old Domino Sugar factory. You don’t get much from this view (unless you are fascinated by run-down industrial buildings), but you can get a great view of the huge iconic “Domino” sign from the north path of the Williamsburg Bridge (more on how to get there later). Keep going past the bridge and within a few blocks you’ll notice that you left Hipster Billyburg and suddenly arrived in Orthodox Jewish Williamsburg. Kent will become a wider street once you reach the entrance the Brooklyn Navy Yard, but its direction also turns inland and starts to become more congested, especially once you reach the BQE (it’s a giant overpass that you can’t miss). At this point you have run about 2.75 miles. Turn around and retrace the path to see everything in reverse for a 5.5 mile run or mix it up with one of the following variations:

Parallel Streets: Running parallel to Kent Avenue are Wythe Avenue and Berry Street in Williamsburg. Although you will still find relatively few traffic lights to slow you down along these streets, there’s a lot more foot traffic. With the added congestion, though, comes some of the best hipster people-watching on earth, so it can make for an interesting run. I recommend staying away from Bedford Avenue while running unless you enjoy weaving through large crowds of people. In Greenpoint, try running along West Street, which runs parallel to Franklin and brings you even closer to the river. It’s the center of the industrial waterfront so there’s almost no traffic which can make it a straight fast run.

The Bridge: If you’re looking for some elevation on this run, the Williamsburg Bridge is where you’ll find it. You have your choice of two bicycle and pedestrian paths – one on the north side of the bridge which gives you great views of Midtown Manhattan, northern Brooklyn and Queens, and another path on the south side which provides views of Downtown Brooklyn. The entrance to the north path is at S. 5th Street and S. 5th Place and the entrance to the south path is on Bedford Avenue between S. 5th Street and S. 6th Street. The north path was closed for some time earlier this spring, but it has since reopened. The entrance ramp for the north path is longer but less steep, and it is also wider. When you reach the Manhattan side of the bridge, the paths join together into a single wide ramp that takes you down to Clinton and Delancey Streets in the Lower East Side. Depending on what path you take, the distance one-way will bring you somewhere in the neighborhood of 1.25 and 1.40 miles. Runners, stay to the left and watch out for cyclists!

The Track: If you’re interested in doing some speedwork, try McCarren Park. The quarter-mile track was surfaced with rubber just a few years ago and is kept in pretty good shape. Stadium lights often flood the track at night, making it accessible for more hours of the day. It’s a popular spot though, so watch out for other runners and keep your heads up for flying soccer balls. There are two water fountains around the track and restrooms on the other side of Driggs Avenue. And, if you stick around the park long enough, you can be sure to catch a hipster kickball tournament.

There we have it – a good flat run with great people watching. The area is quiet and the route has few traffic lights which allows for almost non-stop running. You may have to compete with the occasional 18-wheeler, however, and although it’s safe, sometimes it feels downright desolate. Pay attention to where you are going and bring a running partner.

By the way, the NYC Marathon runs through here, so I’ll have more to say about this area when we get closer to November 1st.

How to get there: G train to Greenpoint Avenue or Nassau Avenue stops. L train to Bedford Avenue stop.

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