You've lived in New York City 3 years and you've never run over the Brooklyn Bridge! Wow, you are in for such a great surprise.
et me take you down along the East River and over to Brooklyn. But not just over to Brooklyn — over and back and over again on 3 beautiful suspension bridges that have been doing their job for over a century. You'll end up in Williamsburg, that gentrified bit of real estate that has 3 or 4 places per block to find any kind of food you desire. I've tried many of them and my favorites range from a $3 bargain (excluding tax and tip) of a toasted bagel with cream cheese AND coffee, to a $25 treat (excluding tax and tip) at a French Bistro including coffee, Salmon Benedict and a Bloody Mary.
Maybe it's time you moved Beyond Central Park.
t the right is the map of the route, to which I've added a number of points of interest. It's taken from the USATF runner's mapping program and if you click on the map you'll get the original USATF Google Map.
For those who care about mileage (I'm sure that's not you ), the total distance is 12.5 miles, and if you're not quite up to that yet, you could start at Stuyvesant Cove Park around 20th Street and you'll knock off about 4 miles, leaving 8.5 miles. IMHO, the best part is when you go over the bridges, so it's still a great run if you skip some of the beginning miles. The mileage given for each section is the cumulative mileage at the start of that section.
Please note: the original USATF map (which you get when you click our map) was laid out from Williamsburg back to Carl Schurz Park, in other words backwards. So the mileage shown on their map goes down in stead of up. Sorry.
And here's a tip — the only tricky parts are getting from one bridge to the next over the streets of Manhattan and Brooklyn. But even those are not bad, so just make sure you understand those few parts, and you'll be fine.
ll the photos in this report were taken by me with my point-and-shoot camera while on the run (or sometimes slowing to a walk to get the best angle), so what you see here is what you'll get — I didn't make any of these gorgeous views up or steal them from the net.
And another trick I use is to put a whole set of photos at each point in the report "behind" the photo you see. If you click on a photo, you'll get the next one in the set. This way we save space and the text keeps moving along. At the very end there is a complete set of slideshows (courtesy of my photo host), one for each section, which include all my shots, not just the ones you'll find in the body of the report. If you're interested in seeing great views on a sunny day, check these out. They're worth a look.
arl Shurz Park is built at the foot of 86th Street, right where the East River makes a turn and opens out between Roosevelt Island, Wards Island, and the Queens shore across the way. It was a strategic spot in the Revolutionary War (called Hoorn's Hook) and was fortified first by the Americans and then by the British during their occupation of Manhattan. Gracie Mansion, which occupies the northern section of the park, was originally built in 1799 on the ruins of a previous house that was lost in the war, and has been used as the official residence for the mayor since the 1940s. The park itself dates from 1891 when the City of New York "demapped" the last block of 86th Street to create the park land. Until the 1930s, the park dropped down to the shore of the river, but in 1935 the East River Drive was put through, which cut off waterfront access for most of the East River, and the park was rebuilt on a platform over the highway as we see it today. See this for more details: Carl Shurz Parkhttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carl_Schurz_Park.
One of the neatest sights is not in the park, but right in front of it — Blackwell's Island Light — which stands at the northern point of Roosevelt Island (formerly Welfare Island, formerly Blackwell's Island) literally a few hundred yards distant. Click on the picture to the right, and the lighthouse will appear. There's an interesting "legend" of who built it, but it was designed by James Renwick (architect of Saint Patrick's Cathedral) and completed in 1872. See this: , for more information.
You can reach the park from the Lex 86th Street stop, or from any east side bus. Just head east on 86th Street to the river. I suggest finding a Starbucks somewhere and make a bathroom stop before starting your run.
The run starts to the south where you will see the Queensboro Bridge in the distance. At about 82nd Street, you must head to the left and down the stairs, where you will start on the East River Promenade, a narrow route between the highway and the river. The very first 5 borough New York City Marathon followed this route and the runners actually had to run up these stairs. It was soon moved to First Avenue where it has stayed ever since.
I'd like to say this run goes all the way down along the East River, and maybe someday you'll be able to do that, but there is a major interruption starting at the Queensboro Bridge and on down to around 37th Street, and a few more spots below that, where you will have to detour away from the river. But it's all beautiful — even some of the interruptions — so enjoy it. If you click through the set of photos, you'll see highlights of the route.
Follow this section down for about 1.5 miles. On the left across the channel you'll see Roosevelt Island — that enclave of mixed income housing that is politically part of Manhattan, but is in reallity, another world. Straight ahead, the bridge looms closer and closer, and to the right across the highway, you'll see some elegant condos and some big institutions (such as Rockefeller University) built high above what was once a sheer dropoff to the river. Take advantage of your pace and enjoy these sights, which you can hardly, if ever, appreciate from a car zooming down the FDR drive.
Soon you will reach the end of the promenade. At 63rd Street there is a pedestrian overpass across the highway. Don't take that. Keep on the promenade and there will be a construction fence and an old highway ramp, no longer used, coming down. Go up this ramp and you'll find yourself on top of a building that crosses the highway. This used to be a storage garage for a heliport that was on this site. There is a playground on top and some futuristic metal sculptures plus the best view of the Queensboro Bridge you'll get.
The Queensboro Bridge is the fourth of the major East River crossings, all of which were completed over a century ago. We don't cross this bridge (or else this would be called 4 Bridges to Brunch) but it quite noteworhy nevertheless. It's a cantilevered bridge (completed in 1909) rather than a suspension bridge like the 3 lower crossings and has lots of interesting history. See .
A short run along Sutton Place and a turn on 53rd Street over to First Avenue, where you will soon see the United Nations Headquarters, completes this section of the run.
nce you've left the somewhat distilled atmosphere of Sutton Place and hit First Avenue, you have a little over a half mile of hustle and bustle. The primary point of interest is the United Nations. I like to run along the west side opposite the UN, since you have a better view of the sites, but running right along on the east side is also good since there are no cross streets all the way from 49th Street to 42nd Street on that side. Either way you'll have to dodge the tourists and diplomats. The day I went along to take the pictures was a beautiful sunny day and the long row of national flags was inpressive. And I never tire of the sculpture of Saint George slaying the dragon. A close look will show that the body of the dragon is made up of balistic missile casings — these are actual parts of US and Soviet missiles. The fact that the sculpture was donated by the Soviet Union during the cold war is especially ironic, especially with the religious symbolism.
After crossing 42nd Street, there is an area of construction on what used to be a Con Edison plant. Once you get to 37th Street, turn left and in one block you'll come to the East River Esplanade Park, a small, hidden gem that is but one block long. Unfortunately, there is a section of 3 or 4 blocks of parking lots on the grounds of the old 34th Street heliport site before you get to the Water Club restaurant where the promenade resumes.
You pass in front of Waterside Plaza, a set of tall condos (THIS is where you want to watch the fireworks on the 4th of July! — if you were only lucky enough to live there). After passing by the only gas station on the East River south of 96th Street, you reach Stuyvesant Cove Park, and you are back in a lovely riverside park.
tuyvesant Cove Park is a miracle! Click on the picture of the park below on the right. That next photo in the set is what this area looked like in 1994. The story actually started in 1979 during the Koch administration, when the city approved a proposal to develop this area into a set of high rise towers called "Riverwalk". The local community board, community activists and the local tenants association all fought this proposal and worked to build a park on the site. The effort went on for over a decade until the city finally reopened the issue in 1990 when the Dinkins administration came into power. Then in 1992, the Riverwalk development was officially de-designated and plans were started to build a park in its place. Funding for the park was then undertaken and community board debates went on until finally ground was broken in 2000. In June of 2003, after over 20 years of effort, the park was dedicated. Its very existence is a tribute to the many members of the community (some of whom did not live to see its completion) who never gave up the effort to make this park a reality. Yes, sometimes you CAN fight City Hall and win! As you run through this beautiful little gem, give them a silent "Thank you!".
After passing through the park, you will find yourself on a narrow promenade which snakes around to the east and then squeezes past the huge 14th Street Con Edison Plant. The long brick building on your left was originally built to unload coal which was then transported to the plant on conveyor belts under the highway. Coal has long since ceased being used, but the building remains.
Once past this constriction, the park opens out and you are now in the East River Park. The promenade and sea wall have been under construction for what seems like forever, so you may or may not be able to get further down along the river than I did when I took the photos. Sooner or later you'll have to move off the river and run along the road next to the highway. You pass under the Williamsburg Bridge, which although you pass under it first, is the last one you will cross.
You exit the park at Montgomery Street and then there is about 2 or 3 blocks of sidewalk under the highway along the street before you turn back into the promenade and can once again follow the river. This is the last section along the river, and you will see first the Manhattan Bridge and then the Brooklyn Bridge. When you get close to the Brooklyn Bridge, you must leave the river and cross the street over to the Alfred E. Smith housing project which goes all the way up to the bridge itself. Turn right on Robert F. Wagner Place and follow up along the side of the bridge all the way you can go. When you cross the last street, you'll see a police booth on the left and the roadway blocked. Just keep on the sidewalk and keep going under the scaffolding until the very end and then you will see some stairs up to the right. Take these and you'll find yourself in a plaza behind the Municipal Building (see the photo). Go around to the left, under the building, and you'll come out to a traffic light and a bunch of tourists waiting to cross one of the bridge exit lanes. Once across this spot, bear to the left and you are there — the Brooklyn Bridge.
Since the walkway is built above the traffic lanes, this bridge has the best views. It also has the most tourists, by far. Looking to your right is lower New York harbor and the Statue of Liberty. To the left through the cables is the Manhattan Bridge, its blue painted steel structure in stark contrast to the Brooklyn Bridge's stone. If you look down you'll see the East River shoreline, now mostly parkland to the north. In the 1880s, this was a beehive of commercial shipping activity with piers and ships lining the shore for miles upriver. On the Brooklyn side there is also some park land (new), and remember, until 1898, Brooklyn was a separate city, the 3rd largest in the state (after New York — just Manhattan at that time — and Albany).
After passing the east tower, the slope will head down. Keep your eyes open for the stairway down off the ramp on the left. The main ramp goes straight and bends to the right, but you'll need to get over to the left (watch you don't get hit by a bike) and head down the stairs. At the bottom when you get to the street, go to the left and immmediately go right on Prospect Street. After just 2 1/2 blocks on Prospect, you will come right up to the Manhattan Bridge. Go to the right along the side of the bridge and you'll get to Sand Street in one block. Cross this and then cross Jay Street to the left, and go up the stairs to the bridge walkway. Now you are on the Manhattan Bridge.
You'll immediately be struck by two things, 1) there are no tourists - hooray! and 2) it's a grittier experience and you'll feel very close to the structure and the commerce. Subways cars are going by a few feet to your right and the steel beams and support cables are within touching distance. I have read that this walkway was reopened in 2001 after being closed for 60 years. Yikes — fixing things takes a long time in this city. You'll also get a different experience since you are literally on the outside edge of the bridge. The views south to the Brooklyn Bridge are breathtaking. Here's the background on this bridge: .
When you get to the Manhattan side, you'll be nestled up close to the lower Manhattan skyline. Look for two buildings: the Woolworth Building (Cass Gilbert - 1913) and the Municipal Building (McKim, Mead and White - 1915). The former was the tallest in the world when it was built, and the later is considered one of the most influential examples of civic architecture in early 20th century America — and each is a beauty. Now, close to a century later, they are surrounded by nameless ugly towers. There is a great view when you get near the end of the bridge along East Broadway (it's the picture after the one of the Brooklyn Bridge), where a corridor of century old brick tenements leads to the two landmark buildings with the rest of the modern skyline on all sides. A beautiful mixture of the old and the new.
When you get off the bridge you'll be in Chinatown. It's easy to get lost and you'll have a tough time finding the next bridge. Go straight across the wide intersection at the foot of the bridge, then turn right slightly down hill (back along the north side of the bridge) and immediately take a left on Chrystie Street. This street has a set of parks in the middle. You can run through these parks and one has a bathroom. Go 4 blocks (Hester, Grand, Broome and Delancey) and turn right on Delancey. You can't miss Delancey since it's very wide and as soon as you turn the corner, you will see the Williamsburg Bridge. Run a couple of blocks till you are opposite the old bridge trolley toll booth; wait for the light, then cross to the middle and head under the toll booth and straight up the walkway of the bridge. .
This walkway is wide, and it's above the traffic, but because of the bridge structure and the high fence, the views are not as good as on the other two bridges. But there's good views nevertheless, especially as you get to the Brooklyn end and look back down the river at the Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges. Stay to the right when the walkway splits. After you pass the anchorage, go down the slope and you'll end up on Bedford Avenue. Turn left under the bridge and you'll be in the center of Williamsburg.
think of Bedford Avenue as Williamsburg, but of couse it's just a small part of it. The New York City Marathon comes through here and when you go under the Williamsburg Bridge in the marathon, you'll be right here. But you go through rather fast in the marathon and with the crowds (both in the race and on the sidewalks) it's hard to notice the eating places. A short note on geography — when you pass under the bridge, you will cross South 5th Street. The cross street numbers will go down (So. 4th, So. 3rd, etc.) until you reach Grand Street where they will start to go up again starting with North 1st Street. Metropolitan Avenue crosses where North 2nd should be and then the numbers continue to increase. The photos show a few of the eating establishments. I think I've tried most of the ones shown except the Turkish one, but two stand out, at opposite ends of the price spectrum.
First comes The Bagel Store, on the right (east) just after you cross Metropolitan. It's got all kinds of bagels, plus pastries, and a wide assortment of cream cheese and other stuff that goes on bagels. My favorite is a toasted cinnamon raisin bagel with cream cheese and coffee — $3 bucks — you can't beat that. It's Manhattan bagel quality at Brooklyn prices!
A few blocks further down Bedford you'll come to North 5th Street. Go left and look for the crowd waiting to get in on the right side of the street. That's not it! That's a very trendy food place called "Egg" and I have no idea what attracts the crowds. My favorite, Juliette, is just to the right of that (actually there is an Indian Restaurant, the Taj Mahal, squeezed in between. Where but in New York?), and on a Saturday morning (after 10:00 AM) you will find a lovely French Bistro serving brunch. Inside you will see just-out-of-college twenty somethings taking their parents to brunch (I think the parents will pay) and explaining why 4 of them are living in an expensive 1 bedroom apartment on a back street that looks like a dump - whoops, there I go again.
Inside we like to sit under the sky light and in warm weather you can go up to the roof. It's not just a brunch place — I've come here on a Friday evening with my wife. After all, it's just one subway stop from Manhattan. The brunch menu has very well prepared breakfasts such as eggs benedict, French toast, and my favorite, salmon benedict. I usually start with coffee and end with a Bloody Mary. I was there a month or so ago with a running friend and we stayed what must have been an hour. When we paid the bill she said "Wow, did we just spend $50 for breakfast?". Yes we did (for two, including tax and tip) and we enjoyed it immensely. Not for your everyday run, more like your special first day of spring brunch, but it's nice to treat yourself once in a while, don't you think?
After brunch, walk (no running now, please) a couple of blocks further to North 7th Street, turn right at the corner and there is the Bedford Avenue L-train subway station. It's one stop to Manhattan (First Avenue and 14th Street) and 3 stops to the Lex (Union Square station). A great run, a great brunch and now it's time for a nap before the rest of a great weekend.