Traffic: Light (nonexistent on bikeways)
Facilities: Restrooms, food stops, and water fountains are found at the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Area, Jacob Riis Park, Floyd Bennett Field, and Canarsie Pier. In addition, several fast-food and local restaurants are found along Beach Channel Drive. Food is also available at Carnarsie Pier.
Things to See: Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, Jacob Riis Park,
Fort Tilden, Breezy Point Park, Floyd Bennett Field, Canarsie Pier
When it opened on October 27, 1972, Gateway National Recreation Area integrated several local and county parks in a necklace of unique outdoor facilities that string together like pearls around New York harbor. Included in this, the country's largest national recreation area, are Sandy Hook in New Jersey; Great Kills (visited in Ride #11), Miller Field, and Fort Wadsworth on Staten Island; and the Jamaica Bay area in Queens and Brooklyn, site of this ride.
The Jamaica Bay portion of the Gateway National Recreation Area, comprises the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, Jacob Riis Park, Fort Tilden, Breezy Point Park, and Floyd Bennett Field. All can visited by bicycle by riding along some of the most scenic roadways in New York City.
The ride disembarks from the parking lot of Saint Helen's Church in Howard Beach, Queens. The church, located on the corner of 84th Street and 157th Avenue (also known as Monsignor McGuinness Place), is highlighted by a distinctive facade of yellow brick. Head south on 84th Street through a pleasant neighborhood of one- and two-story homes. As you travel along, look to the right at each intersection, toward 83rd Street, to see the first signs of Jamaica Bay. If you want, take a short side diversion to view the scene close-up, but return to 84th Street to continue; 83rd Street in one-way, the wrong way.
At the end of 84th Street, turn left onto 165th Street, which parallels marshland along the right side of the road. About a half mile ahead, turn right onto Cross Bay Boulevard and proceed across Congressman Joseph P. Addabo Bridge. The bicycle-advocacy organization, Transportation Alternatives, proclaims this as the winner of its "Fiboro Award for Best Bridge" for its wide bike lane separated from the three lanes of automotive traffic. The riding surface is smooth and the upward slope is slow enough to be pedaled by most cyclists without much trouble. A sidewalk also passes along the roadway, but is usually populated with folks fishing for "the big one." As such, cyclists are strongly urged to stay on the road.
Coasting down the bridge, the bike lane enters onto Broad Channel Island. The wide road expanse passes through a portion of the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge. The refuge is famous as one of the finest birdwatching areas along the entire east coast. Thousands of water, land, and shore birds stop here each year during the spring and autumn migration seasons. Several pull-offs are found along the road, though most people will want to continue south for about a mile or so to the area's visitor's center, on the right. Pull in, park and chain your bike to one of the bike racks, and take a short side trip inside. There, you will find restrooms, a water fountain, book shop, and an exhibit area. Visitors can also explore the refuge's unique ecological habitats along a wonderful mile-and-a-half hiking trail around a man-made freshwater pond (sorry, no bikes allowed) by obtaining a free hiking permit in the visitor's center, open every day from 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
From the visitor's center, turn right to continue south on Cross Bay Boulevard. Shortly, the population begins to grow as you enter the seaside village of Broad Channel. Looking more like some areas on Cape Cod than Queens, Broad Channel includes many small shops and even more boats. Be careful as you approach the area, as the bike lane veers into the road to allow cars to park next to the curb. Remain especially vigilant for that suddenly opening car door!
Leaving Broad Channel, continue to the Cross Bay Veteran's Memorial Bridge. Signs just before the toll gate direct cyclists and pedestrians to a narrow sidewalk along the east side of the bridge; cyclists are not allowed on the bridge's roadway. This is a popular place, especially on a warm summer day, so be careful of any anyone walking or fishing as you pedal up and over the bridge.
As you coast off of the bridge, you exit onto Beach Channel Drive. Did someone say McDonald's? If so, you'll a pair of the golden arches waiting for you at the foot of the bridge. (Just to be fair, you'll also come to a Wendy's and a delicatessen in about a mile.) Veer left onto Beach Channel Drive to head west along the north shore of Rockaway Island. Shortly, pass Beach Channel High School on the right and, not long after, look for elevated tracks of Rockaway subway line on the left. Continuing along, you will enjoy some nice views of the distant Manhattan skyline, with the Empire State Building and World Trade Center rising high above the rest. Later, as the road veers slightly to the left, watch for Verranzano Narrows Bridge in the distance and, closer, the Marine Bridge.
As you head west along Beach Channel Drive, notice how most are one-way, with the odd-numbered streets taking traffic to the south, while even-numbered streets head north. If you wish, take any of the odd-numbered streets for a quick side trip to the Atlantic Ocean. Depending on where you turn south, you might also be able to visit the famous Rockaway Boardwalk. The boardwalk spans the beach to Beach 109th Street, where it terminates.
The ride itself turns left onto Beach 131st Street (labeled B131 ST on road signs) and travels through the pleasant residential area of Belle Harbor. Beautiful homes line the streets of Belle Harbor, painting a picture of serenity contrasted against the denser population and heavier traffic that stay to the east, closer to the bridge.
Turn right onto Cross Bay Boulevard and continue west. In just over a mile, the route enters Jacob Riis Park. Follow the road halfway around traffic circle, being careful as you cross lanes of traffic! Riis Park, named for the famed photographer who chronicled the plight of the city's immigrant population in the early 20th century, features several New York landmarks, including the famous bathhouse, boardwalk, and outdoor clock. Bathroom facilities and water fountains are available, although they are only operable during the summer.
Return to the traffic circling three-quarters of the way around, then go up and over a small bridge to land back on Beach Channel Boulevard. Just ahead, at the fork, follow the sign to Breezy Point towards the right.
Turn left into Fort Tilden Park and tour this former military encampment. Encompassing 317 acres, this former Army base was decommissioned in 1974 and is now part of the Gateway National Recreation Area. Although closed to bathing, you'll often find people fishing along the park's natural sand dunes, one of the last remaining dune systems in New York City, as well cyclists touring the camp's many untraveled roads and hikers exploring the abandoned Army buildings. The Fort Tilden Visitor Center is open daily from 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Leaving Fort Tilden, turn right back onto Beach Channel Boulevard and trace the route back to the Marine Parkway Bridge. To cross, you will have to ride along the sidewalk on the left, or west, side of the bridge since cyclists are not allowed on the roadway (good thing, since it has a metal grating surface). As before, be careful for anyone walking or fishing from along the bridge.
The bridge empties onto Flatbush Avenue. Welcome to Brooklyn! After passing alongside the toll gate (no toll for us!), carefully cross the street to rejoin traffic. Flatbush Avenue has several lanes for automotive traffic, but only a narrow shoulder for cyclists, so proceed with caution.
About 1.5 miles after the bridge, turn right into Floyd Bennett Field, another member of the Gateway National Recreation Area. If you are pressed for time, there are bathrooms and a water fountain right at the park's entrance, but try to take the time to tour the park by bicycle, to relive some important moments in aviation history. You'll find miles and miles of traffic-free cycling as you pedal along the Field's abandoned runways and access roads.
The airfield is named for pilot Floyd Bennett, who in 1926, along with Admiral Richard Byrd, were first to fly over the North Pole. Opened five years later, Bennett Field was New York City's first municipal airport, created long before either LaGuardia or Kennedy Airports. It was here that Wiley Post took off to set his round-the-world flying record in 1933, and Howard Hughes departed to break that record in 1938. Other famous pilots to originate flights from the field include Amelia Earhart, Jimmy Doolittle, Jacqueline Cochran, and Douglas Corrigan, who earned the nickname "Wrong-Way Corrigan" for mistakenly flying east to Ireland instead of west to California. At the beginning of World War II, the field was closed to commercial and private traffic, and turned over to the military. In 1941, a Naval Air Station was constructed, which stayed in service through the Vietnam War. The airfield closed in 1972 and became part of the Gateway National Recreation Area.
Today, the field is again alive with activity as volunteers and park employees restore vintage aircraft, such as a C-47 transport, a World War II cargo aircraft; an H-3 Coast Guard helicopter; and and an amphibious PBY Catalina, used during World War II for anti-submarine patrols. The Ryan Visitor Center is open daily from 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Upon exiting Floyd Bennett Field, turn right onto the Flatbush Avenue Bikeway. The Bikeway, parallelling the road, takes you past the front of the airfield, affording another view of any vintage aircraft that might be parked on display. One mile ahead, turn right onto the Belt Parkway Bikeway, where the route turns eastward. The Belt Bikeway features a smooth surface, at least for now, as it skirts along the Belt Parkway's eastbound lanes, heading back into Queens. Cyclists should note that the Belt Bikeway presents certain challenges before they embark. For one, as it crosses several small bridges, the Bikeway comes quite close to the Parkway itself. The first two bridges do not have any physical guard rails between the Bikeway and Parkway, other than an elevated height, which might make some riders a bit nervous. The Bikeway surface over the bridges is also quite rough and rutted, making cycling difficult. Our best advice is to get off your bike and walk across, then remount afterwards. A second problem is that, a few miles up ahead, the Bikeway disappears for about a mile. But more on that later.
Follow the Bikeway towards Canarsie Pier. Built in the 1920's, the pier was part of an ill-conceived plot to lure commercial developers to Jamaica Bay. Though the scheme never panned out, the Pier now acts as a pleasant wayside stop featuring a snack bar, full restaurant, restrooms and a water fountain, and plenty of benches to sit back and enjoy the view.
Not too far after the route rejoins the Bikeway, it passes up and over another bridge along the Belt Parkway. Though there are guard rails here, you should know that a huge puddle of water can accumulate along the Bikeway just to the east; bring your snorkel! Then, not far ahead, just after the Bikeway crosses yet another bridge, all of a sudden the pavement seems to disappear entirely! Instead, the Bikeway becomes an ill-marked path of dirt, mud, and sand! While cyclists on mountain bikes and hybrids should be able to ride along unfettered, cyclists on road bikes will do best to dismount and walk. The "unpath" lasts for about one mile, when the pavement suddenly returns.
About one mile afterwards, the Bikeway will dip down and cross 84th
Street as the Belt Parkway crosses over the road on a bridge. Turn right
onto 84th (unmarked on the Bikeway) and return to St. Helen's Church and
the starting point of the ride.
0.9 At T intersection, turn left onto 165th Avenue.
1.4 Turn right onto Cross Bay Boulevard, then up over Congressman Joseph P. Addabo Bridge. After bridge, follow bike lane (white diamonds).
3.7 Turn left into Gateway National Recreation Area Wildlife Refuge exhibit area.
5.3 At toll gate, cross road and proceed over Cross Bay Veteran's Memorial Bridge using the sidewalk on the east (left) side of the bridge.
6.1 Come off bridge and turn left onto Beach Channel Drive.
8.1 Turn left onto Beach 131st Street (sign says "B131 St").
8.5 Turn right onto Rockaway Beach Boulevard. (A left turn down any of the side roads will lead to the beach.)
9.4 Enter Jacob Riis Park by following road halfway around traffic circle. Be careful as you cross the lanes of traffic!
9.8 After a visit to Riis Park, follow road to left after traffic circle, go up and over bridge and back onto Beach Channel Boulevard.
10.4 At fork with Marine Parkway Bridge, follow road to the right, towards "Breezy Point."
11.1 Turn left into Fort Tilden Park. Afterwards, turn right out of exit to return to the Marine parkway Bridge.
11.7 At Beach 169th Street, shift onto the sidewalk (along the left, or west, side of road) to cross Marine Parkway Bridge. After passing alongside the toll gate, cross Flatbush Avenue to rejoin traffic.
12.8 Turn right into Floyd Bennett Field. Be prepared to ride four or more miles throughout the park during your visit. When tour is done, exit through the park's main gate and turn right onto the Flatbush Avenue bikeway.
14.0 Turn right to follow the Belt Parkway bikeway toward the east.
16.9 Follow bikeway to the right, pausing at Canarsie Pier.
19.9 Turn right off bikeway onto 84th Street (unmarked at the bikeway intersection) towards St. Helen's Church (yellow brick).
20.0 Back at 84th Street & 157th Avenue
and the ride's beginning.
Canarsie Pier (718) 763-2202
Floyd Bennett Field (718) 338-3799
Fort Tilden/Riis Park (718) 318-4300
Gateway Park Headquarters (718) 338-3338
Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge (718) 318-4340
The ride's starting point in Howard Beach can be reached by taking exiting the Belt Parkway at exit 17S and heading south on Cross Bay Boulevard. Two blocks later, turn right onto 157th Street and continue to the intersection of 84th Street, where you will find ample parking.
Alternatively, for those using mass transit, take the IND subway line's
A train to the Howard Beach stop.