Saturday, June 25, 2011

Run Report: Take the A Train

June 25 was a beautiful day for a long run, especially one that ended at the beach.

A few years ago, I got the idea to run the length of the A train, the longest subway line in New York, at over 31 miles, starting at the 207th St. station (the farthest north entrance at Isham St. and Broadway), not far from my house, and finishing at Far Rockaway - Mott Ave. in Queens. The run itself was about 33 miles. With the Meetup ultra and trail running group, I thought I'd put it up and see if anyone wanted to run with me. Fortunately, there was a good group of runners willing to make the journey. Between Meetup and Facebook, there were over a dozen who signed up, and there were ten of us who started: Lanny, Dave O., Leonardo, Dennis, Susie, Pru, Weihao, Joe, Phil and me. Ellen McCurtin signed up, but she gamely arrived at the start to give us her best wishes, saying that a foot problem would keep her from running. Still it was great to see Ellen and say hello!

The 8:00 a.m. start coincided with the 5:00 a.m. start of Western States in California, so we were feeling a kinship and sending those runners our support. The start was cool, overcast and humid. In Manhattan, we ran down the west side bike path, for ease of running. By the time we got to Chelsea Piers the sun came out and the temps went up. But the humidity seemed to drop a bit by the time we crossed the Brooklyn Bridge. Lanny and Dave had gone their own way on the upper west side, but at Chambers St. we were joined by Allison, a Tri-Life friend of Dennis, Susie and Joe. The Tri-Life athletes are really a great bunch of runners! On the Brooklyn side of the bridge, Leonardo went on his own back to Williamsburg, and Pru went home at the Nostrand Ave. station, and Allison ran with us until the Liberty Ave. station.

In Brooklyn, we essentially ran down Fulton Ave. and Pitkin Ave. before reaching Northen Conduit Blvd, in Queens and the Cross-Bay Blvd., which led to the Addabbo and Cross-Bay bridges to the Rockaways. It was roughly at Beach 70th St. that looked like a good place to hit the beach! The weather was warm and sunny, the waves were rolling, and the water was suprisingly clean! (It was filthy there just last weekend.) A perfect way to cool down and have a little fun in the water.

A couple miles later, we were at Mott Ave., and the end of the A train! After some pizza, we all headed back. So a big thank you and nice job to Dennis, Weihao, Susie, Phil and Joe for joining me from end to end! A special shout out to Phil, who ran his first ultra distance, and on his birthday, in preparation for his first ultra race this fall!!!

It was great to run in the company of these young men and women! We'll have to do it again next summer!

Pics: 1. The 207 St. station; 2. Dave and Ellen at the start; 3. The runners - Leonardo, Lanny, Phil, Weihao, Joe, Pru, Dave, Dennis, Susie, me; 4. The gang at the beach; 5. The other end!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Bridge of the Week #61: Ramblersville-Hawtree Memorial Bridge

This week's bridge is the Ramblersville-Hawtree Memorial Bridge, one of those bridges that most people don't know about, that has no major architectural or aesthetic interest, but leads to a lot of fascinating information about its neighborhood and the city.

It is located in Ramblersville, a tiny section of land that it generally considered part of Howard Beach in Queens, although the name Ramblersville predates the name Howard Beach, and in fact Ramblersville was the name for a much larger area at one time. (It was not named for any person as far as I can tell, possibly just a good place to ramble.) The Howard Beach station on the A train (when that branch to the Rockaways was part of Long Island Railroad, and long before Idlewild/JFK Airport was there) was originally called Ramblersville Station. Now, Ramblersville, is restricted to a small patch of land, almost and island itself, south of 160th Ave. and north od Russell St., and east of the Hawtree Basin and west of the eastern branch of Hawtree Basin along the tracks for the A train, and it includes only a few small meandering streets that branch off from 102 St., which runs right down the middle.

The bridge is at the southern edge of the neighborhood, and carries 102 St. over a branch of Hawtree Basin (which curves around to the north toward the A station and JFK Airport). It is a simple concrete bridge, built in October 1931, that slopes down on the southern side to Russell St. and the Hamilton Beach neighborhood (more about that on our next bridge). It was originally named the 102nd St.-Lenihan's Bridge, in honor of the then-state assemblyman. But in 2001 it was renamed to honor seven soldiers from the neighborhood, who all lived within 500 feet of the bridge, who served and were killed in World War II. Today there is a plaque honoring them and an American flag flying above the plaque in the middle of the bridge.

From a runner's standpoint, this bridge and the quiet streets around it can make a nice place to run, and a nice side trip if in the Howard Beach area, for example crossing the Congressman Joseph P. Addabbo Bridge and Cross Bay Memorial Bridge to the Rockaways, or running the Belt Parkway path, or even a nice stroll if waiting for a train from JFK. Along the Hawtree Basin (called Hawtree Creek before it was dredged) are small houses, each with its own dock, which seem reminiscent of another era. To get to the bridge, you can take 102nd St. south from 157th Ave., which is the most direct way from Cross Bay Boulevard, or you can take a footpath/sidewalk that runs from the very southern end of the A train station to Russell St. at 104th St., where you can really get a nice look at the Hawtree. (The Hawtree Creek/Basin by all appearances seems to have simply been named after the tree. I couldn't find any relevant mention of any person named Hawtree.)

Pics: 1. The center of the bridge, with plaque and flagpole; 2. The plaque, commemorating the seven soldiers; 3. Hamilton Beach sign on Russell St. at the southern end of the bridge.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Bride of the Week #60: Borden Ave. Bridge

This week's bridge is another little hidden gem - the Borden Ave. Bridge, in Long Island City, Queens.

This bridge crosses Dutch Kills, a northern branch of Newtown Creek (which separates Queens from Brooklyn), on Borden Ave. between 27th St. and Review Ave. It's a two-lane two-way street with sidewalks on both sides (the south sidewalk is currently closed for maintenance), a clearance above the water of only about four feet when closed, and only 127 feet long total.

What makes this bridge special is that it is a retractile drawbridge, meaning that the trapezoid-shaped bridge pulls back horizontally, diagonally, on rails. It is one of only four retractile bridges still operating in the U.S., one of the others being the Carroll St. Bridge in Brooklyn over the Gowanus Canal.

The first bridge on the site was a wooden bridge, built in 1868, which was later replaced by an iron swing bridge. The current bridge was built between 1906 and 1908, opening on March 25. On Dec. 31, 2008 the bridge was closed due to shifts in the western abutment, and reconstruction was required. This was complicated by soil contamination, but the reconstructed bridge was opened on Dec. 23, 2010.

This area of Long Island City, or Sunnyside by some accounts, is a largely industrial area, no running paths or parks nearby, unless you count Calvary Cemetery to the southeast, generally not much of interest to runners unless you're taking a tour of the bridges of Newtown Creek and its tributaries as I did. But the more popular Pulaski Bridge is close by to the west, and the Greenpoint Ave. Bridge not far to the southeast, so if crossing one of those, it's worth a short side trip to see this little gem.

***Addendum: The Borden Ave. Bridge was obviously named after Borden Ave., but the street was apparently named after the Borden Milk Company that opened a plant in the area after the Civil War.

Pics: 1. North side of bridge, with sign telling of six-hour notification requirement for opening bridge; 2. Bridge at street level from the east, with operator's house on the right; 3. The bridge's rails, on the east bank on the south side (and Empire State Building in background).

Friday, June 3, 2011

Bridge of the Week #59: Marine Parkway-Gil Hodges Memorial Bridge

Back to the bridges! Sorry for the few weeks off. I'll try to get caught up if I can. But this week's bridge is the Marine Parkway-Gil Hodges Memorial Bridge. It provides a link between the Floyd Bennett Field area of Brooklyn and the Rockaway Peninsula of Queens. It was built beginning in 1936 and opened July 3, 1937. It is a vertical lift drawbridge with a lift span of 540 feet and a total length of 4,022 feet. When raised, the bridge gives 150 feet clearance above the water. It crosses the Rockaway Inlet portion of Jamaica Bay, essentially where Jamaica Bay opens out to the ocean. It carries four lanes of traffic on a roadway that is a direct extension of Flatbush Ave., and has a sidewalk on the west side.

The bridge was built by the Marine Parkway Authority, an entity created by, headed by, and entirely populated by Robert Moses. Along with the bridge he built Marine Park in Brooklyn, which consisted basically of a marina and a golf course, and Jacob Riis Park, a beachfront park in the Rockaways. Directly on the north (Brooklyn) side of the bridge is Floyd Bennett Field, which at the time of the bridge's construction was a commercial international airport, although it failed to succeed as such in competition with Newark Airport. In 1974, Floyd Bennett Field, Jacob Riis Park and virtually all parkland in and around Jamaica Bay (except Marine Park) became part of the Gateway National Recreation Area.

In 1978, the bridge was renamed in honor of Gil Hodges, former first baseman for the Brooklyn Dodgers, who also played for the New York Mets late in his career, and managed the Mets from 1968 until his death in 1972. That makes this, I believe, the only bridge in New York City to be named after an athlete.

For runners, the bridge can be an excellent part of a very enjoyable long run. Even aside from exploring Floyd Bennett Field, there is an excellent bike/pedestrian path in Brooklyn along the Belt Parkway from Sheepshead Bay all along the north edge of Jamaica Bay, and along Flatbush Ave. to the bridge. On the Rockaway Peninsula is Jacob Riis Park, and a beach that extends eastward all the way to Far Rockaway at the Nassau County border. You can also include the Cross Bay Memorial Bridge, Broad Channel, the Joseph P. Addabbo Bridge into Howard Beach to complete a large loop around Jamaica Bay, almost entirely on separate pathways or quiet residential streets. And, of course, lots of bridges! More Belt Parkway bridges to come.