Commentary, Traffic calming, Walking

Appreciating the 39th Avenue Bicycle Boulevard

Dear Commissioner Garcia:

I am writing to tell you how excited I am for the new Bicycle Boulevard configuration on 39th Avenue, and how much I appreciate it.

A woman crosses 39th Avenue on foot pulling a child in a wagon, while another child rides alongside her on a bicycle

When my wife and I were looking for an apartment in the neighborhood, we visited one in Sunnyside Towers at 46th Street and 39th Avenue, and we decided to rule out the entire building because it had no marked crosswalk in front of it.  My wife was pregnant at the time, and we did not want to worry about our child crossing an avenue rife with speeding.

When my mother, who was 75 years old at the time and will be 83 this year, moved to an apartment on 50th Street and walked her dog across 39th Avenue, where there was also no marked crosswalk, to take advantage of the trash cans generously provided by the Phipps Corporation, I feared for both their lives.

When I found out that 39th Avenue was chosen as one of the city’s Open Streets, I was excited to incorporate it into my daily exercise routine.  That excitement was short lived, as speeding drivers ignored the barricades.  After I was menaced and harassed on 39th Avenue by a city employee in a Parks Department pickup truck, I found it difficult to work up the courage to walk outside in my own neighborhood.

Now I am excited once again to see the new Bicycle Boulevard improvements being installed.  There are marked crosswalks and pedestrian refuges in front of Sunnyside Towers and the Phipps Gardens, as well as in front of Sunnyside Gardens Park.  I feel safe once again walking 39th Avenue every day, and I have already lost a few pounds.

Have I been inconvenienced by the Bicycle Boulevard?  A little: when I call a Lyft to bring my mom to the doctor, the driver may have to take a slightly longer route.  Is it worth it to know that my family and my neighbors and I are better protected from speeding cars?  You bet.

I am looking forward to the completion of the Bicycle Boulevard configuration.  If I am dissatisfied, it is that there is still not as much space to walk as I would like.  I would love a design that would give walkers and runners more space on the two-way blocks, between 47th and 49th Streets, and between 51st and 52nd Streets.

I appreciate all the hard work that you and your staff have put in to making not just 39th Avenue safer, but Barnett, Skillman and 43rd Avenues and Northern and Queens Boulevards.  Please keep up the good work!  We all will be rewarded with lower crash and injury counts.


Angus B. Grieve-Smith

Commentary, Empire Trail, Walking

Inn to inn on the Empire Trail

The Empire Trail passes the Ardsley Acres Hotel Court
The Empire Trail passes the Ardsley Acres Hotel Court

You may have heard of “inn to inn” walks.  It’s like backpacking, but with restaurant meals, beds and showers every night.  I’ve heard about it in Europe, particularly in England.  In California, Tom Courtney and his daughter Emily have published a series of books detailing inn to inn itineraries.

Some inn to inn walks are offered as packages by travel agents, and even include a service where you can pack more than you can carry.  While you’re walking you only carry what you need for the day, and somebody will drive all the rest of your stuff to the next inn.

That’s kind of a cop-out, but at least you do all the walking yourself.  One of the services here in the United States relies on a “morning shuttle” for each leg of the trip.  I’m sorry, if someone’s driving you partway, you’re not hiking inn to inn.  But that’s not as bad as the one that says with a straight face, “you’ll need a car to participate in the included innkeeper-assisted shuttling service for your inn to inn trip.”  Just nope.

Still, it may be a while before my wife and I have the time and money to fly to Europe for a trip like this, and with international travel disrupted due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I got to thinking about possible inn to inn walks near our home in New York City.  

Years ago I read Christopher Wren’s Walking to Vermont.  When Wren retired from the New York Times to teach at Dartmouth College in 2003, he decided to walk from his old apartment in Manhattan to his new house in Vermont. He had a great time on the Appalachian Trail and the Long Path in Vermont, but the part of his trip through northern Westchester and Putnam counties was pretty unpleasant, walking between strip malls and speeding cars on Route 22.

Wren’s account didn’t leave me with a lot of hope.  But then the State of New York opened the Empire Trail.  I was skeptical about how usable it would be, but it turns out that over the past few years the New York State Department of Transportation has been actively pouring asphalt, and there’s now a continuous walkable path from Whitehall Terminal in Manhattan to a spot on Route 32 that’s about a mile south of the nearest sidewalk in Kingston.

Some of the trail incorporates existing trails maintained by other entities.  I’ve already spent many hours walking and cycling on the Wallkill Valley Rail-Trail in Rosendale and New Paltz, the Hudson River Greenway in Manhattan, and the trails built on the old New York and Putnam Railroad in the Bronx, Westchester and Putnam counties.

Adding up the estimated trip times given on the Empire Trail website, it would take 40-65 hours to walk from the Battery to Kingston.  If we assume eight-hour days, that’s five to eight days’ walking.  You could just do it as day trips, accessing each trailhead by train or bus, and I’ve already done that from the Battery to Elmsford.

Even as I was planning day trips, I remembered that I’d seen hotels and motels from the Putnam Trail.  I thought about inn to inn walks, and realized that you could do at least some of the trail this way.

Look for some more posts from me this summer about inn to inn walks, potential and actual.  And let me know if you take an inn to inn walk in North America!