Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Many of NYC's best destinations accessible only by bike

Bicycling can be an alternative form of transportation, i.e. an alternative to traveling by car, bus or subway.  In New York, however, bikes provide practical freedom of movement and are an essential form of transport.  And, without a bike, many of the city' most interesting and off-the-beaten-path destinations remain practically out of reach.

Take, for example, the hole-in-the-wall Mexican bakery I happened upon on a 1 a.m. ride home, where I got the next morning's fresh bread straight out of the oven (subject of a future post).  I'd have never found the place, sniffed that luscious bread, had I taken the train.

New York's subway system is famous for its spiderweb of lines that seem to reach into every corner of the city.  The reality, however, is that the web is a loose and sloppy one with big gaps, particularly in sprawling boros like Brooklyn and Queens.  Sites (stores, cafés, bars, museums, whatever) that are close to the lines get lots of attention.  But most destinations fall in the vast space in between and remain lost opportunity, like flies that got away.

For me, those otherwise lost destinations include swimming pools.  During two precious months in the summer I swim outside at the Red Hook Recreation Center, which has what must be the biggest pool in NYC, in my guesstimation 100 yards long and 40 yards wide (the width being confirmed fact).  There are two daily lap swims, from 7:00 to 8:30 a.m. and p.m., in addition to open swimming during the day.  In the morning, when the air is still relatively cool and a breeze sways the trees surrounding the pool I almost feel like I'm on vacation someplace relaxed.

 Red Hook Pool

The pool really is that nice, but it's in an otherwise industrial neighborhood, Red Hook, that's served by a skimpy few bus lines and no subway.  It would probably take 40 minutes to walk to the pool, but it's less than 10 minutes away by bike (at last night's evening swim EVERYONE appeared to have ridden in, telling from the number bikes locked to the fence outside)

(BTW– Red Hook also has what may be Brooklyn's best supermarket, Fairway, which is on the waterfront overlooking New York Harbor. It's a great place to grab lunch and sit on a bench to watch ships pass by.)
 Old streetcar in front of Red Hook Fairway supermarket
Photo courtesy of bayridgephantom

The pool I frequent the rest of the year is at the St. John's Recreation Center in Crown Heights.  Without convenient subway service the options for getting to St. Johns are limited to car (where to park?), taxi ($15 each way for a 45 minute swim?) and of course bicycle.

My route includes a ride along the new Prospect Park West bike path to grand Army Plaza.  From there I proceed on a dicey one-half mile ride along Eastern Parkway before picking up its protected, tree-lined bike path, which runs through one of New York's famed Hassidic neighborhoods.

 Eastern Parkway bike path in winter
Photo courtesy of unchienandalusia

After a couple of miles I take a left at Troy Avenue and ride a few blocks to Prospect.  The rec center is on the corner. Note that a year membership costs $75 and gets you into all the city's rec centers, all of which have gyms, some of which have indoor pools.  The Red Hook pool is free in the summer, but you have to show the guards your swimsuit and a lock to get in.

Without my bike, all these places would be out of reach.  Enough said.

1 comment:

Andrew Brown said...

Hello, I just started reading your blog and I saw a picture of my bike commute to work and I had to speak up. I love my commute by bike which is 30-35 minutes unless there is serious wind. By train AT BEST it is a 47 minute commute. The Eastern Parkway bike path is a big part of it. I ride from Buffalo to Classon on my way in.