24 November 2012

America's First Bike Path

A running joke among New York City cyclists (particularly those in Brooklyn) concerns the Ocean Parkway Bike Path:  It is the world's first bike path, and looks it.

In other words, maintenance seems to have been deferred ever since it opened in 1894.  

The Ocean Parkway Bike Path when it opened in 1894.

Still, it's an interesting--and even fun--ride for all sorts of reasons.  For one, you can use it to ride from Prospect Park to Coney Island, as I have often done.   For another, it's separated from the pedestrian path and rows of benches by an old railing.  If it's not raining, some of the last remaining Holocaust survivors will share bench space with Hasidic and Orthodox Jewish women and their children, wizened Russian men and Middle Eastern people in various states of being covered up.

Plus, the Parkway is a cross between one of those grand Boulevards you find in European cities, and an urban highway.  That is not surprising, when you consider that Frederick Law Olmstead--who designed Prosepect Park (as well as Central Park, Fairmount Park in Philadelphia and Mount Royal Park in Montreal)--took those boulevards as his inspiration when he built the Parkway. Whereas most European boulevards lead from one grand square or plaza to another (as the Champs-Elysees leads from la Place de la Concorde to l'Etoile), Olmstead's parkways led to or from one of the parks he designed.

Ocean was thus the first Parkway ever built; Olmstead followed it with Eastern Parkway which, as its name indicates, radiates from the park to the eastern edge of Brooklyn.  

Olmstead designed those boulevards in the 1860's, before bicycling became popular.  So, of course, he wasn't thinking about bicycles, let alone automobiles, when he planned his parks and routes.  However, he seems visionary in that it was relatively easy to incorporate bike paths into the Parkway routes as well as in the parks he designed.

But I don't think he planned on the kind of maintenance they would--or, more precisely, wouldn't--receive!


  1. It looks pretty sweet in the NYC propaganda site!

  2. Also to note: The Olmstead firm was pretty much hired by every city in the US (and probably a lot of Canadian cities, too) to design a grand park plan. Portland got its park plan around 1905, with its grand boulevards and all that. The city looked at it and pretty much did nothing with it other than a few things. Because of the park plan a lot of folks believe that the Olmsteads designed every park in Portland, like Laurelhurst, which is simply not true.

  3. Steve--Thank you for calling the propaganda site what it is.

    Adventure--As soon as I take some new photos, I will. It's pretty hard to ride and take a photo when you're jarred by the cracks and holes!