InstaBlog: Ocean Parkway

Author's note: Warning—this is a blog-style post based on a social media post. Beware typos and poorly elucidated thoughts. For more polish, perhaps try an article!

Ocean Parkway—seen here as it crosses Avenue U on the border between Gravesend and Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn—may be a classic, late 19th Century urban boulevard. But that doesn't mean I have to like it.

The Parkway has a storied history. Designed by Frederick Law Olmstead & Calvert Vaux (the architects of Central, Prospect, and many, many more famous Parks), Ocean Parkway was an attempt to bring a majestic European boulevard to Brooklyn. Opening in 1880, it runs from Prospect Park all the way to Coney Island, and has that standard boulevard typology: a wide central roadway flanked by service roads. The islands that separate those service roads are quite park-like, & are lined with benches. Also of note, the Parkway was the site of the first bike path to open in the US (in 1900), and for a long time also had bridle paths for horses.

The entire boulevard was landmarked in 1975 after its northern end was converted into the stub-ended Prospect Expressway, and not long after a Robert Moses proposal to convert the entire road into a limited-access highway was narrowly averted.

Sadly however, this is one of the few times I wish a space were *not* landmarked. While it may have avoided expressway conversion, the Parkway still acts as a highway first and foremost. Its park benches face nothing but cars: the central six lanes of high-speed vehicles act as a traffic sewer. Long, unbroken vistas of tree-lined pavement are here simply dehumanizing: to walk along it can feel like walking along a (tree-lined) Interstate. For a place designed in the 19th Century, it is shockingly non-human-centric (although, to be fair, at the time there were no cars to dominate its length). While loved by many, it is a space which could be so much more.

I'm often not one for grandiose ideas, but imagine if, for the length of the road, the central lanes were turned into an actual park, forcing traffic to the slower service roads. The Parkway would then be a true amenity for the many neighborhoods it runs through. At the very least, it needs a significant redesign, with traffic calming facets like bus lanes and pedestrian islands.

Put simply, while it may be historically significant, Ocean Parkway is often not a nice place to be—or at least, nowhere near as nice as it could be.

Based on an Instagram post.
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