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Brooklyn Greenway Initiative

EYES ON THE STREET: Ocean Parkway Remains A Cracked Ruin As Parks Dept. Delays

12:01 AM EST on December 16, 2022

A cyclist on an e-bike rolls over the bumps on Ocean Avenue near Avenue N on Dec. 12. Photo: Kevin Duggan

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They're wheeling in the years.

A recent ride on America's first bike lane on Brooklyn's Ocean Parkway proved that the busted up path is worse than it's ever been, and cycling advocates are fed up with repeated delays by the Parks Department.

The once-glorious 1894 malls between Prospect Park and Coney Island provide a vital 5.5-mile artery separated from the dangerous speedway cutting through the southern half of the borough, where there is little other protected bike infrastructure (see map — green lines are protected bike paths).

Ocean Parkway's bike lane (in green) stands mostly alone when it comes to safe bike infrastructure through central southern Brooklyn. Map: DOT
Ocean Parkway's bike lane (in green) stands mostly alone when it comes to safe bike infrastructure through central southern Brooklyn. Map: DOT
Ocean Parkway's bike lane (in green) stands mostly alone when it comes to safe bike infrastructure through central southern Brooklyn. Map: DOT

But the scarcity of protected alternative lanes has not spurred the Parks Department into action — in fact, the agency just recently punted repairs of some of the worst sections for another year to 2024, which is five years after the agency got funding for the project.

"Enough is enough and we need real changes in the structure of greenway management at the city. It seems like the Parks Department can’t do a small fix without this years long — approaching half a decade in this case — process," said Jon Orcutt, advocacy director with the group Bike New York.

If this sounds like Groundhog Day, it's because the city's $2.6-million repair project covering avenues R to X in Gravesend has continually been stuck in low gear and at times in reverse.

Parks first pushed back the start of reconstruction from 2021 to 2022 due to the year-long Covid-19 pandemic pause of city projects, and then again to 2023 because officials had to go back and check that the lowest-bidding contractor was paying fair wages. The latest completion date is set for March 2024.

There are plenty of busted-up segments outside of the scheduled work area as well, but the city has no plans for fixing them.

Complaints about the dilapidated greenway predate the proposed fixes by years, and it took then-Borough President Eric Adams and former Council Member Mark Treyger to put up funding for Parks to agree to fix the southern Brooklyn section. Advocates hope that now-Mayor Adams will at last be able to get this particular stuff done.

A bump in the Ocean Parkway bike path near Avenue X. Photo: Kevin Duggan
A bump in the Ocean Parkway bike path near Avenue X. Note how frustrated riders have worn out a detour in the grass. Photo: Kevin Duggan
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On the entire stretch of the roadway between Church Avenue and the beach, there have been a whopping 327 reported crashes this year through November — a rate of nearly one per day, injuring 212 people, including 148 motorists, 42 pedestrians, and 22 cyclists.

A man was also fatally wounded by a driver near Neptune Avenue after the motorist dragged him underneath his car in January.

A recent bill in the Council would make the agency come up with a plan to shorten its notoriously lengthy capital project timelines by 25 percent — hopefully speeding up these kinds of key projects.

The bumps on Ocean Avenue started right away at Avenue X. Photo: Kevin Duggan
The bumps on Ocean Avenue started right away at Avenue X. Photo: Kevin Duggan
The bumps on Ocean Avenue started right away at Avenue X. Photo: Kevin Duggan

But the moves will only go so far, advocates with the Brooklyn Greenway Initiative said, because of Parks's broken approach where the agency's operating budget is too small to adequately maintain its facilities, so officials instead wait for them to deteriorate enough to trigger a larger renovation.

"We have overarching concerns about maintenance limitations of NYC Parks. Of course there are not adequate resources to maintain greenways within parklands. Ocean Parkway is an excellent example of that," Hunter Armstrong, Brooklyn Greenway Initiative's executive director, told Streetsblog.

Earlier this week, we went to see the state of Ocean Parkway for ourselves, starting at Avenue X and pedaling north to Church Avenue.

Some of the worst sections were right at the start on the southern end, where broken pavement along most of the first block going up to Avenue W made me navigate around the worst bumps.

The cracks were so bad at points that desire paths through the adjacent lawns bypassed them, but the workarounds were too muddy to use after rain the day before.

There were more bumps and longer desire paths stretching for parts of the greenway, giving a whole new meaning to off-roading.

A desire path in the mud stretches into the horizon alongside the supposed bike path. Photo: Kevin Duggan
A desire path in the mud stretches into the horizon alongside the supposed bike path. Photo: Kevin Duggan
A desire path in the mud stretches into the horizon alongside the supposed bike path. Photo: Kevin Duggan

The humps knocked around my second-hand bike, and I worried that the old iron horse might give in from the rough conditions if I wasn't paying attention to every crack in my path. (Worse, at night, you'd never see these cracks coming.)

The other cyclists braving the cold temperatures — most of them on e-bikes (which Parks bans from its properties) and appearing to be en route for deliveries — slowed to a crawl over the hilly and puddly parts of the path.

At Avenue S, the metal fence separating bikers and pedestrians was torn out and debris was still scattered on the pathway from a Tesla driver who careened into the path a full week ago.

The site of a crash on Ocean Parkway's malls near Avenue S, where a Tesla driver (inset) slammed into the dividing fence a week earlier. Photo: Kevin Duggan
The site of a crash on Ocean Parkway's malls near Avenue S, where a Tesla driver (inset) slammed into the dividing fence a week earlier. Photo: Kevin Duggan
The site of a crash on Ocean Parkway's malls near Avenue S, where a Tesla driver (inset) slammed into the dividing fence a week earlier. Photo: Kevin Duggan

Smoother sailing followed closer to the northern end of the project area nearing Avenue R, but there were still some rough spots beyond and outside of the part the city is currently proposing to fix, notably around Avenue N, 18th Avenue, and Beverley Road.

"They need to repair it," said one resident of Midwood (outside of the project area) who only gave her name as Sally. "It’s really bad."

Another passer-by agreed, saying the popular paths could use some TLC.

"There’s not many places like this here," said Barry Mann. "It’s one of the few places you can ride a bike in the neighborhood."

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