Biking the Big Apple
I had cycled on the Rockaway Greenway several times, never realizing it was in fact a greenway, but always appreciating the break from traffic. As the wind picked up, I could smell the salty air and hear the birds, and enjoy the sensation of passing from the city into wilder, ocean-hugging land.
Tonight I was with my friends Virginia and Cypress. It was the night of the summer solstice and also a full moon. We were biking out to Fort Tilden to join a party to watch the sun set and do a little moon gazing. We had a late start, so we missed the sunset. But it didn't matter. It was Friday after work, and we weren't about to rush.
"I'm telling you man, the fish don't bite on a full moon," I heard a man say as I steered past his cooler and boom box. Gil Hodges Memorial Bridge was an obstacle course of fishing poles and rank slabs of bait fish laid out on the walkway. At first it seemed menacing, but the fishermen were accomodating, and cheerfully squeezed up against the railing to give us space to maneuver around their poles.
Virginia turned to me and said "This bridge is a novel." I knew what she meant. More than a span of road; the bridge was a span of time, with an interesting set of encounters and sensations along the way. And maybe even a moral lesson. Or two.
But I didn't have time to ponder that. We crossed the bridge, and after a couple of sharp turns, entered into the scrub land bordering the beach. Pedalling along the beach road, we saw a stand of bikes chained to a post, and we knew the party was on the other side of the dunes. We dismounted, and walked across the cut-through. A blood-red, misty moon shone a path across the night ocean. I listened hard for sounds of the city. There were none. No traffic. No amplified music. No yelling. No sirens. No dogs barking or kids playing or air conditioners humming.
Just the sound of the waves.
Greenways Borough by Borough
That's what a greenway is all about: a route that shields the user from auto traffic, providing a chance to calm down and appreciate nature's gentle surprises. For me, the most moving views of the Manhattan skyline are from the middle of a life-filled wetlands or forest promontory. New York City has some wonderful open spaces, letting you escape into nature and still be in the city. The enlightened greenway system is beginning to link them together, letting bikers explore routes that travel through urban parks, along river shores and beneath the canyon walls of Wall Street.
Eventually the greenway system will weave throughout the city for 350 miles. So far almost half the distance is in place. Fifty-nine miles are in good cruising condition. Another 106 are marked out but riding them presents more of an adventure -- you might find your way blocked, your path a bit bumpy, or yourself detoured.
The New York City Planning Department publishes the the best guide to the greenway system. The guide is schematic; you'll need a good map to make sense of it. You can order the Greenway Plan through the mail by sending $4.25 to:
NYC Department of City Planning Bookstore
22 Reade Street
New York, NY 10007If you're downtown, you can save a buck by dropping by the bookstore in person. It's worth the trip; this offbeat bookstore has many interesting maps and documents on the changing face of the metropolis.
A savvy way to use the greenway system is to combine it with the subway. Planner types call this intermodal transportation. We call it fast and a good way to bypass some of the gnarlier traffic. Bikes are permitted at all times on the New York city subway system, though you might want to think twice about taking a bike on board during rush hour. New Yorkers don't take kindly to having their work shoes scuffed by road bikes. If you have a foldable bike, this is much, much less of a problem.
The New York City Greenway System opens up the city, making Gotham a safer, more pleasant place for cycling adventures. See you at the beach!
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication