Historic Ocean Parkway
Ocean Parkway has a place in bike history. It is the first bike path in the United States; so designated in 1894. Ocean, like Eastern Parkway before it, is the brainchild of park architects Olmstead and Vaux. And in this way, looks similar, broad central roadway flanked by greenspaces on both sides and smaller roads and then buildings. The road runs from the southern tip of Prospect Park to Brighton Beach, almost five miles in total.
There’s the grand vision of city planners and then there’s the reality. Ocean Parkway is the fully-executed vision of a parkway joining Prospect Park to another great open space, Brighton Beach. The Brooklyn that the parkway was built in was largely rural in 1880. Now, it is both urban and suburban in many flavors. Could the planners envision today’s Brooklyn? Knowing then what we know now, would they have designed differently?
The ride starts in a suburban stretch of Avenue H. Roll east to Brooklyn College and the ride starts to feel more urban. Roll down the Bedford Avenue bike lane and the neighborhoods change. It’s straight and flat, along Bedford, but with all there is to pay attention to along the road, this stretch of Bedford feels much longer.
Avenue Y’s name gives you the feeling that you’re coming to the end, and indeed, you’re just about at Brighton Beach. But it’s only a small stretch of avenue and then you get to step back in history to enjoy the Ocean Parkway bike path.
First the bicycle and then the car were game-changers. There were horse races and chariot races on the parkway, and there were bridal paths along the parkway until the 1970s. If you experience the parkway in a car today, hard to say if you’ll appreciate the beauty, as you’ll probably be paying too much attention to traffic.
The contrast with riding a bike is dramatic. You get to experience the vision of the plan, have an easy-going ride in a pleasant open space, and observe how various housing booms built up the area.
The only problem is that too soon it’s over. Avenue J comes up fast. Too fast. Our preference would be to go over to the eastern edge of Ocean Parkway and ride back to do it again, but bike riding is only permitted on the western side. Taking H and restarting to down Bedford is a possibility.
Check out Salud at 1308 Avenue H. It’s close to the start, or finish. Organic Mexican with a New Agey vibe. The Mexican hot chocolate is excellent.
The Brooklyn Center for the Performing Arts. Brooklyn has its own cultural and literary traditions that, in many ways, can be argued eclipses Manhattan’s. And this center makes a point of celebrating its home borough. It used to be a home of Yiddish theatre, now it’s focusing more on Brooklyn-based writers and performers.
Deets (Ocean Parkway Bike Ride)
Distance: 7.7 miles
How to get there: You can ride south on the Ocean Parkway bike path from Prospect Park to get to the ride. You can also take the B or Q trains to the ride start on Avenue H. Or get pretty close by taking the F train to 18th Avenue or the 2 or 5 trains to Brooklyn College.
Elevation gained: 615 Feet (feels much flatter)
Terrain: Flat. Half the route is on a bike path
Ride Rating: @@
Notes: Home of the nation’s first dedicated bike path.