16 Aug 2008 9:23 pm   //   Filed under: Bicycles, New York is different, Transit

Biking the Vanderbilt Parkway

Welcome to part II of my occasional series, “Weird stuff the Vanderbilts built.” (Previously: Atlantic Avenue Tunnel.)

Today I rode my bike to the abandoned Long Island Motor Parkway. It was built by William Vanderbilt II to connect Queens to Long Island; the first segment opened in 1908. (Hey, that was 100 years ago!) The Motor Parkway operated as a toll road until 1938, when it was unable to compete with the free parkway that Robert Moses built. As soon as it closed, Moses turned it into a bike path. And so it remains today, an overgrown strip of blacktop two lanes wide. It looks like any rails-to-trails bike path, though the hills leading up to the overpasses are steeper than a typical railroad grade. I was surprised by how narrow it is; the parkway was only two lanes wide.

The Parkway was one of the first roads to use elevated bridges (grade separation) to create an express highway. Some refer to it as the country’s “first superhighway,” but the Pennsylvania Turnpike, as a divided highway, has a stronger claim that title.

It never fails to amaze me how much abandoned infrastructure there is in Brooklyn and Queens. As I was riding today, I crossed at least three disused railroad rights-of-way. One is the impressive tunnel and open-cut track that runs beneath the elevated L train south of Broadway Junction. The next was the overgrown right-of-way that runs through Forest Park (identifiably by the abandoned utility poles that run beside where the track was). And finally there was the Central Railroad of Long Island Creedmore Branch, which ran through what is now Kissena Park. It operated from 1872 to 1879 – barely six years!

More info:
NYC Parks Vanderbilt Motor Parkway sign.
NYCroads.com Long Island Motor Parkway page.
Forgotten New York Kissena Park page.