Friday, January 22, 2010

Fast vs. Clean Travel Routes Brooklyn > Manhattan

Okay, okay, I don't have a new job yet, which means I'm not technically a "bike commuter" since I don't have anywhere to commute to. But I do like to think of myself as a wellspring of practical information on riding the streets of Gotham, wisdom that I've gained on hundreds of round-trip commutes through the city in all seasons. I'm going to lay out my accumulated wisdom bit by bit in coming posts.

Today's topic: the quickest, safest and least air polluted routes from Brooklyn into the City (that's Manhattan for those who aren't intimate with NYC). First of all I'll say that riding in New York presents fundamental compromises for a bike commuter: in other words, a Gotham cyclist is not likely to find a single route that fulfills the criteria "quick", "safe" and "clean air".

Looking for a safe ride? That means you'll likely have to avoid the major Brooklyn thoroughfares and ride a more roundabout route through Brooklyn to either the Brooklyn or Manhattan bridge, the only links between the two boros. Looking for a fast ride? Then take the major roads, but realize you're putting your life in increasing danger. Your lungs won't appreciate the added pollution from multitudes of busses, semi-trucks and general traffic jamming on the big roads, either.

My pick for the FASTEST RIDE from the south Park Slope neighborhood to either of the bridges (which originate in pretty much the same place along the bank of the East River):

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1. Ride 9th Street (bike lane) west (downhill) to 3rd Avenue and turn right. Ride along 3rd Avenue until Bergen Street. 9th Street and 3rd Avenue are both wide open thoroughfares (by Brooklyn standards) with heavy traffic and well synchronized traffic lights that require relatively few stops. Drivers tend to drive so fast along these roads that you, as a bicyclist, will discover that you ride faster than you thought possible as you attempt to go with the flow and minimize yourself as a traffic target.

2. Turn left onto Bergen (it’s a one-way street, as are most non-major roads in this part of Brooklyn), which gets you back onto a designated bike lane. Take Bergen all the way to Smith Street, where you turn right. Smith isn’t the widest street, but it does have bike lanes that should provide a modicum of protection from frequent heavy traffic. Smith will change names as it crosses Fulton Street, becoming Jay Street. Jay will take you through the heart of “downtown” Brooklyn, a jungle of soot-spewing busses, rush hour drivers and pedestrians that venture onto the pot-holed road at will. Ride fast but keep a couple of fingers on the brake levers at all times.

3. Following three or four minutes along Jay you’ll come to Tillary St., where you’ll have to make a decision: ride straight ahead and take the Manhattan Bridge, or take a left and merge onto the Brooklyn Bridge. I’ll discuss the relative merits of travel along each bridge in a future post.

The total travel time getting out of Brooklyn is about 15 to 20 minutes. If you’ve made it without a scratch, your lungs will nevertheless be aching from all the crap you’ve breathed in, which brings me to my FIRST RULE OF COMMUTING IN GOTHAM: Get started early.

Rush hour traffic picks up significantly by about 7:45 AM as drivers rush to make it to their offices by 8. Plan to finish your commute before rush hour takes hold. A 40 minute ride into the Village dictates leaving home by 7:15 or so. Take this recommendation seriously.

SLOWER, CLEANER RIDES: If you’re not particularly competitive, type A or in a general hurry, you can avoid traffic by taking smaller roads and an enjoy a more leisurely commute through historic brownstone neighborhoods.

View Larger Map

1. Take 6th Avenue through Park Slope, rather than 3rd Ave. 6th Avenue is a residential street through the heart of picturesque Park Slope. Thus, there are relatively few trucks although you might find yourself stuck behind the odd school bus. The drawback to this road is that it’s relatively narrow so you’re more likely to get stuck if and when traffic piles up, slowing your commute. Ride along 6th until Prospect (the last place you can turn left before getting to Flatbush Ave, a major congested artery). Turn left on Prospect, ride one block to 5th Ave and turn right.

You’ll ride along 5th Avenue, a relatively narrow, heavily trafficked commercial street, for just a couple of minutes until you get to Bergen Street, where you’ll hang a left and join the bike lane. Ride Bergen all the way to Smith.

2. Remember, Smith is the main, polluted artery I discussed in the fast route. Smith is commercial and mega-urban, not a pretty site. It gets worse once it changes into Jay Street and enters downtown Brooklyn.

So, take this route (a painted bike lane the whole way - a Gotham city planner knew what he/she was doing): Once you get to Smith, turn right and ride 2 blocks to Pacific Street, where you’ll turn left (as I said, the bike lane will follow). You’ll ride two blocks to Clinton Street, where you’ll dog leg to the left to cross Clinton and pick up Pacific again on the other side of the street.

You’re now entering Brooklyn Heights, the chi-chi neighborhood of Brooklyn. It’s full of luxurious Brownstones that are furnished with the money of investment bankers.
Ride along Pacific two blocks ‘till Clinton Street and turn right. You’ll ride Clinton all the way through Brooklyn Heights, including its cafĂ©-lined downtown, until the bike path dumps you onto Tillary Street. Ride Tillary downhill until you get to the bridges, where you’ll get to make the Brooklyn-or-Manhattan Bridge decision.

You’ll see that this ride is a bit longer and slower than the faster option, but it’s a whole lot prettier. If you’ve got the time, I recommend it.


Deb said...

Stay off any street where a driver has a reasonable expectation of speed. They're not out for safety- they're out to beat lights and they are not looking for bicycles.

I like 7th Ave. It's a commercial strip and is relatively empty early in the morning. In the evening, crazy pedestrians are a bigger problem than cars, but ride slowly and no one will get killed.

6th Avenue is just too narrow and cars waiting to make left turns set up dangerous situations.

CatZoo said...

Hi Deb,
I agree, 7th ave can be pretty relaxed. I tend to get out of the house too late at times, too close to 8, and by that time 7th can start to be pretty busy with busses and cars, especially in front of Methodist hospital. That's when I like 6th, which never gets quite so busy.

Marah said...

Hey Andy and fellow bike commuters. Thought you'd be interested in this petition to tell the Department of Transportation to make safe cycling a priority. Check it out: