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Greenway Along Brooklyn Waterfront
Begins To Take Shape

Cycling Tour From Greenpoint to Red Hook Will Give Preview

By Amy Crawford

April 30, 2008

BROOKLYN — When his daughter, Jordan, was 10, Milton Puryear bought her a bicycle. The pair rode across the Brooklyn Bridge and through Manhattan, to ride along the bike path in Hudson River Park. It would be the first and last time.

“It was too stressful,” Milton Puryear recalled. Jordan is 17 now, he said, and “she’s never ridden her bike in New York City since.”

Puryear grew up in Washington, D.C., where the streets were a little friendlier.

“You could take your bike out of the garage and ride in the street,” he said. “Not that many kids in New York have a bike. When I was a kid, most kids had a bike.”

Puryear moved to Brooklyn in 1978, and over the years he has watched the Brooklyn waterfront change, its once busy warehouses and docks falling into disuse. It would be great, he thought, if the blighted shoreline could be used by local residents for strolling, jogging and riding a bike.

Today, Puryear is vice chairman and director of planning for the Brooklyn Greenway Initiative, which is organizing the construction of a landscaped pedestrian and bicycle route that will eventually stretch from Bay Ridge to Greenpoint.

Though most of the greenway is still in the planning phase, the Greenway Initiative is offering cyclists a preview of the route between Greenpoint and Red Hook, as guides lead a 10-mile ride this Saturday morning.

‘Great Waterfront Views’

“What they’re going to see is the route and some great waterfront views,” said Puryear. “But they won’t see anything built.”

The Greenway Initiative has organized an annual preview ride since 2003, but this year, the landscaped route is a little closer to becoming a reality. The first segment will be built along Columbia Street in Cobble Hill, and Puryear expects half a mile to be completed this summer. Community Board 1, representing Williamsburg and Greenpoint, just approved the project at its April meeting, and designers will begin work on the five-mile stretch in Northern Brooklyn this summer. Old warehouses are now being demolished for the new Brooklyn Bridge Park, through which part of the Greenway will also run. “The overall picture is that we’re moving into design,” said Puryear. “We’re hoping that we can get five miles constructed within the next two years. When you’re coordinating with multiple agencies,” he added, “it can take years.”

Funding Is Key

Funding, Puryear said, is another challenge.

So far, Rep. Nydia Velázquez, whose district includes most of the future greenway, “has done most of the heavy lifting,” said Puryear. Velázquez, who has called Brooklyn’s shoreline “one of the greatest waterfronts in the nation,” secured $6.6 million in federal funding for the Red Hook, Navy Yard and Greenpoint sections and $8 million for the Sunset Park section.

“She’s definitely been dedicated to the greenway,” said Gail O’Connor, a spokesperson for Velázquez. While this is an excellent start, said Puryear, the entire greenway could cost as much as $50 million. Borough President Marty Markowitz has sponsored planning money from New York state, but the initiative still needs construction funds. Puryear also plans to approach City Council members Letitia James and David Yassky for funding. Meanwhile, private donations support the initiative’s operating expenses.

Noah Budnick, projects director for Transportation Alternatives, said the cycling and pedestrian advocacy group was doing whatever it could to support the Greenway Initiative. Budnick said the greenway would enable more people to commute to work, which is especially important in areas that are far from the subway.

“In Greenpoint, Red Hook, even in DUMBO, transit access is very much lacking,” Budnick said. “People are happy to have the prospect of a safe, car-free bike route.”

Budnick, who bikes the six miles from his home in Bedford-Stuyvesant to his office in Chelsea every day, has a personal stake in making bicycling to work safer. In 2005, he was badly injured when his bicycle hit a pothole on Sands Street, near the off ramp for the Manhattan Bridge bike path. But, poorly maintained roads are not the only hazard cyclists have to contend with in New York, he said. Beware of (Some) Drivers

“There are drivers who speed, cars parked in bike lanes, lawlessness. New York drivers aren’t looking for cyclists,” he said.

Eventually, Budnick hopes there will be protected bike paths branching off from the completed greenway, taking cyclists safely into neighborhoods and to parks, transit and the East River bridges. Though the greenway is still a long way off, Brooklyn cyclists are already looking forward to it.

“I think it’s a great idea,” said Thomas Kim, who owns Verrazano Bicycles in Bay Ridge. Kim, who bikes a mile to work every day, said that more of his customers would commute by bike if they had a route that was safe from traffic.

Phil Cabbad, who owns R & A Cycles in Park Slope, agreed that biking in Brooklyn could sometimes be tough.

“Cars don’t even look at bikes,” Cabbad said.