28 September 2012

From Motor Parkway To Bike Lane

In France, I did most of my cycling on Routes Departmentales.  They are designated with "D" or "RD"  and a number on road signs and Michelin maps.

Route Departmentale 618 in the Pyrenees, which I cycled in 2000.

The Departmentales wend along rivers, climb mountains and transverse sunflower fields, vineyards and all manner of verdant landscapes and villages in every part of the country.  Most were built early in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries; a few were built by paving over roads that date to Roman times.  

They were constructed while bicycling enjoying enormous popularity and as the automobile was in its early stages of development.  As automobiles became more common (though still not as common as they were becoming in the US), a new system of roads--Routes Nationales--made their way through the country and connected the cities.  The Departmentales then fell into disuse in many areas.

A similar process occured during the 1950's and 1960's, when Autoroutes were built to connect the cities.  Then, even more Departmentales lost whatever traffic they previously had.

Although not intended as bicycle lanes,  Deparmentales became wonderful venues for two-wheeled travel through the French countryside.  In spite of how little traffic most of them see, they are remarkably well-maintained.  Many of them run more or less parallel to Nationales or even Autoroutes.  So, getting around is relatively easy, even for someone who is as navigationally-challenged as I am!

I was thinking of Departmentales when I came across this photo taken in July 1939:

No, they're not in the Dordogne.  They are commemorating the conversion of two and a half mile stretch of the Long Island Motor Parkway--which had been closed down three months earlier--into a bike lane.  

Financier and railroad mogul William K. Vanderbilt Jr. built the Parkway early in the 20th Century as a racecourse.  By World War I, it had been turned into a toll road used mainly by wealthy socialites en route to their weekend and vacation homes on eastern Long Island.  However, after the Northern State Parkway opened in 1929, it fell into disuse and was closed three months before a stretch of it re-opened as a bike path.  

In time, about eight miles (13 kilometers) of the Motor Parkway would re-open as a bike path. It's a very pleasant ride that meanders through some of the nicest parkland in eastern Queens.  I sometimes ride the westernmost part of it--which ends near the Kissena Velodrome--during my commutes.  

What made it an innovative road when it was built is also, in part, what makes it a nice bike lane now.  In addition to having lovely settings, the Parkway was one of the first concrete-paved roads in the United States (Asphalt was not yet in use.) and the first to use bridges and overpasses.

In an earlier post, I proposed turning the roadbeds of no-longer-used railroad tracks in Queens, and other parts of New York, into bike lanes.  Now I wonder whether there are some similarly-disused roadways that could also be converted.  I can just imagine pedaling through the urban, industrial and pastoral landscapes of New York, and the rest of the country, the way I cycled along the departmentales in the French countryside.


  1. I was just reading about this exact parkway last week while perusing something bikey on the Internet. It's a very unique "roadway".

  2. Annie--It is indeed unique. I am happy that such a parkway exists a relatively short distance from where I live.