Archive for the ‘Travel Guide’ Category

Williamsburg Update: The Greenway

Great news for recreation in Williamsburg! Over the past few weeks crews have been busy developing the Brooklyn Greenway along the waterfront on Kent Avenue. Don’t know much about the Greenway and why this is exciting for joggers, walkers and cyclists? Here’s a little background from the Brooklyn Greenway Initiative’s website:

In 1993, the Brooklyn Waterfront Trail was identified as a priority route in the Department of City Planning’s Greenway Plan for New York City, which outlined a vision for a citywide 350-mile network of greenways. The Brooklyn Waterfront Greenway project area now spans 14 miles of Brooklyn waterfront, from Sunset Park to Newtown Creek in Greenpoint.

The minimum right-of-way sought for the finished Greenway is 30 feet, in order to accommodate two 7-ft. bike lanes, a 10-ft pedestrian path and 6 ft of landscaping.

When completed, it will provide a human scale connection between numerous waterfront communities now divided by highways and transit infrastructure. Benefits will include more waterfront access, better quality of life, healthier lifestyles, more diverse transportation options, and increased economic development, as more people find Brooklyn a desirable place to live or relocate their business.

So now the stretch of Kent Avenue from N. 14th Street down to Clymer Street has been re-zoned to one-way traffic only going in a northerly direction. This has freed up the side of the street closest to the river for recreational purposes and has already been painted with wide green lines to accommodate cyclists. This takes the large 18-wheelers off this road, reduces major traffic, and allows for a safer area to ride or run. Runners, note that the green path is intended to be a bike lane, so if you choose to run here please be mindful of cyclists and their right to use the route.

For more news about this project, take a look at this article from The Brooklyn Paper. I look forward to seeing this extended farther north into Greenpoint!

If you are interested in learning more about running in this area, see my previous post Industrial Charm: A Greenpoint-Williamsburg Run.

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Some Thoughts on Central Park

If you can believe it, last night I took the subway to Central Park to run someplace different for a change of scene. Wait a minute – change of scene? Isn’t this where all New Yorkers go to run? Sometimes it seems that way. But if you’ve read my other posts, you probably know that I prefer to run in quiet and unique places to get away from the crowds we encounter every single day in the frenzy of New York City life. So while I love being in the company of other runners, I have to admit that I don’t make it to Central Park all that often.

But Central Park is legendary and every New York runner should visit every now and then. It might be missing a few trees these days, but it is still unparalleled as far as public parks go.

Now keep in mind that it’s as close to a backyard as most of the nearly 9 million residents of New York City will ever actually have, so crowded paths should be expected. Expect cyclists, dog walkers, baby strollers, in-line skaters, speed walkers, slow walkers, tourists, photographers, sunbathers, ultimate Frisbee players. Oh, and other runners too. I think you get the idea: lots of people. But despite the crowds (or maybe because of them, depending on your point of view), Central Park is a great place to run and shouldn’t be missed. If you’re visiting from out of town, make sure it’s one of your running destinations. If you live here and you’ve never been there, shame on you.

Since there’s already so much information on the park out there I’ll limit this to a few reasons why running in Central Park is a great experience:

1. Variety. There’s a good mix of flat stretches and some challenging hills. You also have the choice between road running on pavement or the softer, cinder trails of the bridle path and reservoir.

2. There are plenty of water fountains (functioning during the warmer months only) and several restrooms (but I will not vouch for cleanliness). If you are looking for locations check out this map.

3. It’s the perfect training ground for New York Road Runners races, most of which take place in the park.

4. You can easily figure out a route for almost any length of run. The circular design of the loop also makes it easy to start and stop in the same place.

5. You get incomparable views of the NYC skyline as buildings peek out between the trees in an incredible juxtaposition of nature and urban life.

6. You can practice crossing the Marathon finish line at Tavern on the Green.

This map from NYRR is a great resource for exploring routes of all lengths. Bored? Find ways to mix it up. If you want more information about the park including its history and upcoming events, visit CentralPark.com.

Picturesque and Grim: Running around Green-Wood

If you are looking for an alternative to running the 3.35-mile loop in Prospect Park, Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn is one option that is very close by. The perimeter of Green-Wood is a decent 3.5 mile run that can be run on its own, or add it onto your Prospect Park run to go for longer distances with a change of scenery. You’ll find some significant changes in elevation, see some fascinating and beautiful monuments as well as what must be some of the most majestic trees in all of New York City.

Now before you criticize me for suggesting such a disrespectful route (or morbid to some), keep in mind that Green-Wood was designed at a time when Victorians used cemeteries such as this one much like public parks. In the 19th Century, Green-Wood was a very popular tourist attraction, eventually influencing the development of Central Park some years later. It is also the final resting place of many famous – and often very wealthy – New Yorkers and also the site of a lot of history.

A QUICK HISTORY LESSON
Sandwiched between the neighborhoods of Park Slope, Borough Park, Windsor Terrace and Sunset Park, Green-Wood is situated on a hill which is the highest point in Brooklyn. It is also the site of the Battle of Long Island (often referred to as the Battle of Brooklyn), which took place during the Revolutionary War on August 27, 1776. At the top of Battle Hill in Green-Wood Cemetery stands a statue of Minerva commemorating the battle. Minerva faces the harbor with her arm raised in salute to the Statue of Liberty. (You may recall that this was the center of a real estate development dispute a couple years ago, where a proposed building would block their line of sight. Fortunately, Lady Liberty and Minerva can still see each other from across the water and it looks like it will stay that way.)

Green-Wood was then established as a cemetery in 1838 and quickly became the fashionable place to be buried. Mausoleums, statues and other grand monuments can be found all over the 478-acre property. Among the nearly 600,000 permanent residents are Samuel F.B. Morse, Louis Comfort Tiffany, several members of Theodore Roosevelt’s family, Henry and William Steinway of piano fame, and Peter Cooper. Many celebrities and artists were also buried here in more recent years, such as Leonard Bernstein, Fred Ebb and Jean-Michel Basquiat.

Also among those buried here is Boss Tweed, whose imprisonment you can learn a little more about if you read my post on Running Roosevelt Island. It’s amazing how history can follow you around this city.

THE ROUTE
It is still an active cemetery and there are some rules that come along with it, so note that jogging in the cemetery is not allowed. This route follows the roads and sidewalks around the perimeter of the cemetery property. Click here for the map.

You can start at the gate located where 20th Street and Prospect Park West meet. If you are running from Prospect Park at the corner of 15th Street, note that the distance from the park to Green-Wood along Prospect Park West is approximately 0.4 miles. Run along 20th Street and follow the perimeter of the cemetery until you complete the loop. For the sake of clarity here, I will describe some of the sights as you come across them in a counter-clockwise direction from this point.

Running along 20th Street, be aware that the sidewalk is not in the best condition so watch your footing. This is also an area where it might be tricky to run two abreast if you are out there with a partner. Conditions improve as you turn left onto 7th Avenue and then eventually wend your way to 5th Avenue. Once you arrive at 25th Street you’ll see the impressive Gothic revival main entrance to the cemetery. (Unfortunately, on this most recent visit, the gate was covered up for restoration.) As you continue along 5th Avenue you can really begin to see the rolling hills that are part of the property. Yes, this really still is Brooklyn.

Green-Wood from 5th Avenue

As you turn left onto 36th Street, however, the sidewalk along the cemetery property disappears. Instead of trying to run on this sliver of grass, simply cross the street and use the sidewalk on the other side.

Green-Wood, 36th Street

Some of these monuments are truly amazing to see.

Mausoleums Near 37th Street
This continues all along this stretch until you reach Fort Hamilton Parkway. As you take a left onto the Parkway, the sidewalk along the perimeter of the cemetery property returns and is in excellent condition. Continue making left turns until you reach 20th Street and until you are back where you started at the gate at Prospect Park West. Note, however, that the sidewalk disappears again when you reach 20th Street. If you choose to run along the dirt path, watch your footing or cross to the other side of the street.

TOURING THE CEMETERY

Since you won’t be able to explore the grounds during your run, come back another time to take a tour of the cemetery or take part in their events. As a member of the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary System, it’s also a great place for bird-watching. For more information, visit the Green-Wood Historic Fund‘s website.

HOW TO GET THERE
You have a few options by subway, each of which will get you started at a different point around the loop:

  • F or G train to 15th Street Prospect Park stop or the Fort Hamilton Parkway stop
  • M or R train to 25th Street
  • M, R, D or M train to 36th Street
  • D or M train to 9th Avenue

No matter which way you go, you’ll have to run a couple of blocks before you reach the cemetery. If you want to start from where I described the route, get off at the 15th Street Prospect Park stop and run a few blocks in a southerly direction along Prospect Park West and over the Prospect Expressway. Study a map before you go and bring fluids with you to stay hydrated because you won’t find water fountains here. The permanent residents have no need for them, anyway.

Green-Wood Monuments

LIC Detour: The NEW Gantry Plaza State Park

For my long run today I decided to include a loop of Roosevelt Island and on my way back to Brooklyn I realized how close I was to the brand new expansion of the Gantry Plaza State Park along the waterfront in Long Island City in Queens. Since I was already running south on Vernon Boulevard I just took a right somewhere around 46th Avenue, then ran south on 5th Street for a block or two and once I got to the park did a quick trot around to see the sights. The promenade provides great views of Manhattan and the park’s design is stylish and contemporary. Adirondack chairs, lounge chairs and even orange hammocks are included in the park in case you just want to lay back and enjoy the sun. They even rehabilitated the famous Pepsi-Cola sign and moved it a little bit north allowing for more room in this section of the park (and it looks like there are plans to extend the path as well, but currently it is fenced off).

The promenade is very short right now – if my Garmin Forerunner 205 can be trusted I logged only about four tenths of a mile – so it won’t really work as the only destination for your next run. But if you are running through the area you should definitely make a detour to check it out. They even have a couple brand new water fountains to help keep you hydrated.

Gantry Plaza State Park
For more information, you can visit the State’s website by clicking here.

Running Roosevelt Island

Roosevelt Island is that two mile long sliver of land, only 800 feet at its widest, that many of us have seen only while riding in a cab down the FDR Drive in Manhattan or while crossing the Queensboro Bridge. But with flat, paved paths running nearly the entire perimeter of the island, cool breezes off the river and almost no traffic, Roosevelt Island is a fantastic place to explore as a runner.

A LITTLE HISTORY
Prior to being named after President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1970s, this island had been called a lot of things over the years: Minnahanock, Blackwell’s Island and Welfare Island, just to name a few. You only need to take a quick look at the eclectic mix of architecture on Roosevelt Island and you’ll notice that it has an interesting history. A farmhouse from 1796. 19th Century hospital buildings. Modern residential units from the 1970s that look more European than classic New York. Brand new contemporary high-rise condos that are still being developed. What was once a Dutch settlement as early as the 1620s later became the home of one of New York’s most important prisons, housing some famous inmates such as Boss Tweed. I hear that Mae West even spent a few days jailed here too (for those who have read my post on Greenpoint, it looks like we’re following her everywhere). What seems like a tiny, quiet island in the shadow of the Queensboro Bridge turns out to be a hot spot for some interesting history.

The first thing you need to know is…

HOW TO GET THERE

By Foot:
Roosevelt Island is accessible by foot only over the Roosevelt Island Bridge (originally called the Welfare Island Bridge when it opened in 1955), which connects to 36th Avenue in Queens. The pedestrian path is on the north side of the bridge. Currently there is a bit of construction here while they rehabilitate the bridge so pay attention to where you place your feet. Once on the Roosevelt Island side, don’t be tempted to run down the vehicle ramp because you won’t find a sidewalk here. Choose the safer option: the terminal next to the Motorgate Garage offers an indoor staircase that takes you down to Main Street and to the path on the eastern side of the island. If you drive here, the Motorgate Garage is the best place to park.

If you are planning on getting here by jogging from the Queensboro Bridge or from one of the Long Island City/Astoria subway stops, you should know that Roosevelt Island is not paticularly close to any of them. Study a map beforehand and expect to add some mileage to your run.

By Subway or Bus:
Take the F Train to the Roosevelt Island stop. The staircase brings you to the western side of the island. By bus, try the Q102 from Queens.

By Tram:
The most eventful way of traveling to Roosevelt Island is taking the tram over from 2nd Avenue and 60th Street in Manhattan. Providing transportation to the island since 1976 at 16 miles per hour, the trip takes about 4 1/2 minutes and departs every 15 minutes (or even more frequently, depending on the time of day). Although the MTA does not manage the tram, the fare costs the same as a subway ride and you can use your MetroCard to enter. It brings you over to Roosevelt Island right alongside the Queensboro Bridge and lets you off right by the Visitor Kiosk where you can pick up a couple souvenirs on your way home.

THE RUNNING ROUTE
The route takes you mostly around the entire perimeter of the island. There are a few spots where the waterfront is not accessible, but for the most part you are just a step away from the East River. Click here for a map. The entire loop including Southpoint Park comes to just over four miles long and can easily be doubled for an eight mile run. You can start anywhere along the loop depending on how you get there, but I’ll describe it here from the Roosevelt Island Bridge going north in a counter-clockwise direction. There’s a lot to see – so keep your eyes open – but here are a few highlights.

Remains of the Lunatic Asylum The first interesting landmark you’ll come across is the Octagon, a white, eight-sided 19th Century building that was once part of the NYC Municipal Lunatic Asylum. According to the Roosevelt Island Historical Society, Charles Dickens visited this site in 1841. Today, the Octagon has been restored to serve as the lobby of an apartment building. Sounds like it could be a fun place to live.
The Octogon

Lighthouse Park The northernmost tip of the island is a nice park capped by a charming lighthouse built in 1872 and restored in 1998. It’s a good place to wave to fellow runners on the other side of the river making their way through Carl Schurz Park on the Upper East Side. Since it stands at the Hell Gate where a couple waterways meet, it’s also a great spot to catch sight of the boats sailing along the river.

Lighthouse Park

Amazing Views of Manhattan The western side of the island provides some of the best views of the Upper East Side and Midtown East. See if you can spot the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building, the United Nations and the Queensboro Bridge – and that’s just the beginning of the list. Don’t be too distracted by the Manhattan skyline, however. You won’t want to miss Tom Otterness’ three-part sculpture, The Marriage of Money and Real Estate, which is installed in the river just feet from Roosevelt Island’s shore on the western side.
Manhattan Skyline

Southpoint Park South of the Queensboro Bridge you’ll find a chain link fence with barbed wire and a gate. Enter here for Southpoint Park.

Entrance to Southpoint Park

Yes, you are allowed to enter, even though it doesn’t look like it, as long as it’s during the designated hours of 8:00 am to dusk. The path turns abruptly from sidewalk and paving stones to packed dirt and coarse gravel (watch your footing). The undeveloped land takes a spooky turn as you come across the ruins of the Smallpox Hospital from 1854, designed by the same architect who gave us St. Patrick’s Cathedral. It’s one thing to see this from the FDR drive in Manhattan, but seeing it up close makes the entire trip worthwhile.

Smallpox Hospital

Run all the way to the southern end of the island and you will have great views of Midtown East right across from the U.N. and also of the famous Pepsi-Cola sign in Long Island City.

Exit the park the same way you entered and follow the sidewalk until you reach the eastern side of the island. Continue along the path until you reach the Roosevelt Island Bridge again, taking you approximately four miles around.

GONE FISHIN’
The path along the river is a popular spot for many fisherman to cast spin rods. Keep your eyes open to avoid tripping over any fishing poles.

STAY HYDRATED
There are several water fountains around the island, usually found in the public park areas and playgrounds. Unfortunately, most of them don’t seem to work. Be smart about hydration and bring some fluids with you or at least bring a little cash to buy a bottle of water.

Finding good waterfront running in New York is a great way to escape the insanity of the city – and Roosevelt Island offers some of the best running on the East River with unbeatable views of Midtown East. Once you’ve completed the run, check out this film by Thomas Edison from 1903 and see if you can spot some of the buildings you just ran by. There are more landmarks and other interesting things to see in the interior of the island along Main Street, so if you have the time, stick around to explore. Visit the Roosevelt Island Historical Society for more information.

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.