RED HOOK-BASED BROOKLYN GREENWAY INITIATIVE AND ITS 14-MILE BIKE PATH BRING THE WATERFRONT, AT LAST, UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL
BY CATHERINE GIGANTE-BROWN
It’s an urban paradox: Brooklyn is practically surrounded by water, yet its shores are largely inaccessible. This once vexing situation is but one of the challenges that faced the Brooklyn Greenway Initiative (BGI). For more than ten years, the non-profit organization has sought not only to help to green the borough, but also to make it safer, cleaner, and help revitalize its businesses. In addition to creating bicycle and pedestrian pathways on the waterfront, it has announced a number of new developments and initiatives. Before outlining them, however, BGI cofounder Brian McCormick was quick to pointed out a pivotal fact.
“We’re not just a bike path,” he offered with a smile from his North Red Hook office, and to help illustrate that point, described BGI’s plans to:
Craft public areas at Columbia Waterfront Park in Red Hook, including a natural amphitheater, dog run, benches, bike racks, and lighting. (The first phase, including infusing the park with indigenous plants, began in 2014).
Establishing The Naval Cemetery Landscape, a 1.7-acre oasis that will also be brimming with native plant species beneficial to pollinators like butterflies, bees, and moths. Set on the former Naval Hospital Cemetery site, the project is in partnership with the Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corporation, and is expected to break ground by the end of 2015.
Work on the Storm water Infrastructure. This important initiative will prevent the release of raw sewage into the East River.
It’s fair to say, though, that the jewel in BGI’s crown is a proposed 14-mile bicycle path—an off-street route for pedalers and pedestrians along the waterfront— and stretching from Bay Ridge to Greenpoint (five miles of which are, currently in use, gently meandering through Williamsburg, Dumbo, and Red Hook along Kent Avenue, Flushing Avenue, Brooklyn Bridge Park, Columbia Street and the northern end of Van Brunt Street).
“We’ll begin construction later this year in Erie Basin Park, near the Ikea site, continuing to Pier 11 and the cruise terminal,” detailed McCormick. “When it’s completed, the Greenway will extend all the way to Bay Ridge.”
BGI actually involves itself in no fewer than 23 projects, many going on simultaneously, with funding from foundation partners and organizations like the New York City Department of Transportation and the New York City Department of Environmental Conservation.
“We also depend on volunteers who do some of the actual plantings and cleanup projects,” McCormick said. “We’re extremely grateful to them. The more people use the Greenway, the more it will increase public awareness and the more it will accelerate development. Already, small businesses are popping up—coffee shops, restaurants, drinking establishments. We’re creating a safe commuter route where people can ride or walk to work. It offers a way people can put themselves into the equation of Brooklyn’s economic renaissance.”
In addition to corporate support, several fundraising initiatives help move BGI’s projects forward. First is the 11th annual Brooklyn Waterfront Tastes on June 17.
“It’s literally a moveable feast, because the site for this local eatery tasting event changes every year,” said McCormick. “This time, it’s in an old glassworks, the Glasserie in Greenpoint.” There promises to be surprises, quirky entertainment, and hundreds in attendance at the event.
On July 25, The Epic Ride, which launched about seven years ago, winds 40 miles along Brooklyn’s waterfront from Greenpoint to Rockaway Beach, culminating in a beach party.
“It’s a leisurely, supported ride, both on the Greenway and on streets,” told McCormick. “When it started we only had about 100 riders but now they number in the thousands. We’re getting more participants from the outer boroughs, out of state, and even outside the U.S.”
BGI’s third-annual half marathon hits the starting line on October 18. “It became so popular that we added a 5K run,” said McCormick. “We want people to be excited and support what we do, and this is a great way to increase awareness.”
When completed, the Brooklyn Waterfront Greenway promises to be even more stunning than Manhattan’s cousin on the West Side. “Because it’s in Brooklyn, you get incredible views of the Manhattan skyline,” McCormick gestured, adding that only does the project have a positive impact on the borough’s economy, quality of life, and health, but it’s helping Brooklynites rethink the way they get to work. “I see it as a vast public gym,” he added. “It offers an open space to jog, bike-ride, a quiet place to have lunch or simply watch the sunset. The view plane it provides is just exquisite.”
Brooklyn Greenway Initiative
153 Columbia St. / 718.522.0193 / brooklyngreenway.org