12 mile beginner route to Coney Island
Starts at Grand Army Plaza and ends in Midwood
A- Grand Army Plaza
B- Coney Island Luna Park
C- Village Cafe
In today's blog post, I seek to answer the age-old question..is Ocean Parkway still rideable?? This query has been pondered by both casual and experienced cyclists for ages, and I was curious to figure it out on my way down to Coney Island recently. For those who don't know, the idea for a tree line avenue that connected Prospect Park to Coney Island was conceptualized by famed landscape architects Fredrick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux back in 1866. FLO, as us admirers call him, is the man who brought us Central Park and Prospect Park..this dude knew what was up! (Fun fact: FLO was born in the same town as me, Hartford, CT). Ocean Parkway was originally intended as a green corridor that would connect residents from central Brooklyn to the beach, with sections of the corridor designated for "pleasure driving" (hilarious to think about anything about driving in NYC today described as pleasurable..but this was horse and buggy time), pedestrian strolling, and local traffic. The city purchased the land to build the five-and-a-half-mile parkway in 1868, and in response to Brooklyn’s growing interest in cycling, FLO widened the pedestrian esplanade to accommodate cyclists. In June of 1894, the country's first bicycle path was installed on Ocean Parkway, where it still exists to this day. Purportedly, the bike lane designation was so popular that over 10,000 cyclists attended opening day, even though cyclists were only allowed to bike at 12 mph to combat bike racing (though how they possibly tracked this beats me…).
In 1975, Ocean Parkway was designated a scenic landmark after our favorite urban planning villain Robert Moses reallocated a portion of the northern most section for the Prospect Expressway in the 1950s. The parkway used to start at directly from Machate Circle, and now you have to be sure not to miss the entrance off of Church Avenue, but historic preservation ensured that future New York City cyclists can enjoy this tree lined avenue for future years to come. Now at 128 years old this once youthful beauty is showing its age, leading many a thin tire fearing cyclist to ponder, is it still worth riding on?
Before I embarked on this route, I posited my question to the interwebs and received various responses about the rideability of Ocean Parkway. Some people said definitely not, others said still worth a try, some people told me to take Bedford Avenue, and a few said to take the service road. Well, being the intrepid cyclist that I am, I devised a route that took all this advice into account and takes a portion of Bedford Avenue, then cuts over to Ocean Parkway for the southernmost section of the route. And I have to say, I truly believe it's the best of both worlds. In my opinion, yes, Ocean Parkway is ridable, but there were enough portions that felt like I was off-roading through some mountainous region of the mid-west that would make me wary to ride on it on anything other than a well-equipped hybrid style bicycle with thick tires. And while I took a large group of cyclists down Ocean Parkway and we certainly weren't trying to get anywhere fast (ya know..obeying the 19th century 12 miles per hour law), it still felt a little too bumpy to even enjoy at a leisurely pace, and we ended up cutting off it to ride on the service road. All in all, this route offers a smattering of everything on your way down to Coney Island, and who doesn't want to say that they got to ride a stretch of the United State's first bike path?
To begin this route, begin at Grand Army Plaza. It's a great place to gather up a group of friends and the newly installed Flatbush Avenue bike lane on the eastern side of Prospect Park offers a fast and direct connection to the start of Bedford Avenue. Take Flatbush Avenue down to Maple Street, where you will hang a quick right onto Bedford Avenue. Bedford Avenue has an unprotected bike lane, and while it usually offers a pretty chill biking experience I would be on guard until you pass Brooklyn College where it calms down a bit. Turn off of Bedford by taking a right onto Avenue O. Avenue O intersects with Ocean Avenue and Coney Island Avenue, which are two large multi-lane streets, so proceed with caution as you advance onto the left turn onto Ocean Parkway. Once you've made it onto Ocean Parkway, the adventure begins! During my ride, I found that the beginning section of Ocean Parkway on this route was passable (even enjoyable at times..see the above happy biking faces for proof) but as we advanced towards Coney Island the southern section of the Parkway had some larger roots cracking the asphalt making it difficult to safely traverse the path. Thankfully, enough intrepid cyclists had passed through before carved some grooves into the dirt as a way to get around the cracked asphalt, but as I mentioned above, it was around this point that my friends and I acquiesced and took the service road adjacent to the bicycle path. On Sunday that we biked down to the beach, this served as an excellent alternative as there were very few cars driving by and we were able to use almost the whole service road with ease (see photo below). I highly recommend this option!
Once you've reached the end of Ocean Parkway, you can either head west via Surf Avenue or hop over to the boardwalk. While you technically aren't supposed to ride your bike on the boardwalk, people don't seem to mind if you take it slow. Once at Coney Island, there are a plethora of things to enjoy, from riding the Thunderbolt at Luna Park, walking the boardwalk, and sitting on the beach and drinking a nutcracker (this trip I did all three!) However, if you want a truly luxurious end to your travels down to Coney Island, I highly recommend reversing the route down Ocean Parkway and turning off at Avenue P to visit the unassumingly named "Village Cafe". This Azerbaijani restaurant is a hidden gem on Coney Island Avenue nestled in the back of a parking lot, and the visit felt like finding an oasis in a sea of used cars and unassuming bodegas. Once inside, you truly feel transported back to a village somewhere in the Middle East, and the plethora of food options is enough to delight even the finickiest palette. Coming from a pescatarian who struggles to eat dairy..that is saying a lot! My friends and I feasted on some of the most insanely delicious salmon, salads, kebabs, and bread I have had in my life, followed by a delightful cookie and tea service. I highly recommend it! And after all those miles and booty-busting bumps on the Ocean Parkway, you deserve it.
Hi! I'm Rachel.
I'm creating curated bike routes in all 5 boroughs of NYC. Routes include downloadable route map, descriptions of the bicycle infrastructure, and suggestions on places to eat and things to see. Enjoy!