You can sometimes tell the old roads in a developed area because of the way they twist and turn and cut strange swaths through an otherwise orderly street grid. Two of the older roads in Queens are Broadway (although it’s western terminus in Astoria/Long Island City is somewhat younger) and Grand Ave., which becomes Grand St. in Brooklyn. Grand Ave./St. is particularly old, as it used to be the main drag to get to the ferries that would take the masses to Manhattan in the pre-bridge era. And both these streets have the interesting property that they meet exactly at their terminus at Queens Blvd., as if they were one continuous road.
So I vowed that one day I’d walk Broadway/Grand from terminus to terminus. That day was today.
I started at Broadway near Costco at about 1:00 PM. I stopped off to use Costco’s restroom, as it is one of the few places along the way that I’d have a chance to do so without buying anything. The trip began through the familiar territory of the Astoria/Long Island City border. (I had a doctor in the hospital tell me quite emphatically that Broadway was that border…)
Broadway is one of the great international streets of Queens. It’s got some Greek flavor in Astoria, which rapidly becomes Hispanic as you approach Woodside. Then it actually becomes quite Asian for a bit, then tilts back to Hispanic. At Northern Blvd., you encounter one of my favorite sights: the viaduct that carries Amtrak traffic out of the Sunnyside Yards and eventually to the Hell Gate Bridge and points north. The cement work is beautiful, but is falling apart with pieces of ancient rebar visible.
A bit further down Broadway, you cross over the BQE for the first time, and just beyond you cross over the Bay Ridge branch of the Long Island Railroad (which now carries only freight), also for the first time.
After about two hours of walking, I hit Queens Blvd., the aptly named Boulevard of Death. In fact, when you go to cross it at Broadway/Grand, there is a sign that specifically says that a pedestrian died here, and you should be careful.
Shortly after crossing Queens Blvd., I hit Patacon Pisao, a place that serves Patacon: a Venezuelan sandwich that uses smooshed-together plantains in place of bread. I’d been holding out for some good ethnic food, and I was not disappointed. Just as I was leaving, Paula texted me, “Where are you?” “Elmhurst.” I replied. What else is there to say? When I go on these long walks, I walk a long way, and then I come home…
Grand Ave. gradually morphs into Maspeth and Ridgewood. I crossed the LIRR Main Line, and then the Bay Ridge branch again, with even less fanfare. During its stint as the main drag of Maspeth, the street is downright quaint, dotted with old looking pizza places that I would assuredly have patronized had I not already had my fill of Venezuelan goodness. It crosses over the LIE… It was at this point that I bailed the last time I attempted this walk, scurrying down 69th Ave. to catch the M train. But not today. Today, I was determined to make it to the sea.
I briefly stopped at an Italian pastry shop called Russo’s, to grab an apple turnover and a coffee. I’d been out in the cold for about three hours now, and it was starting to get to me. It was unremarkable, but warming. I continued along some lovely residential areas, that gradually became less lovely until, quite suddenly, I came to the real fascinating part of the trip: The industrial wastelands near Newtown Creek.
During the week, so I hear, the area is a busy industrial zone. But during the weekends, the only time I can visit, the place is eerily desolate, with huge, idle factories the only thing in sight. Occasionally, a car will race by at a completely unsafe speed. I passed the aptly named Rust St., and the almost-never-used Lower Montauk Branch of the LIRR (which I vow to ride someday while it’s still in passenger service).
It is in the industrial wasteland area where you cross the Grand Ave. Bridge, which traverses the fascinatingly polluted Newtown Creek and brings the road into Brooklyn. Large swaths of the waterway were frozen when I crossed.
At this point, Brooklyn and Queens are indistinguishable zones of the same wasteland. Then, gradually, life returns to the road, now called Grand St. Crossing over the Metropolitan Ave. Bridge gave me my second view of Newtown Creek. Shortly thereafter I stopped at a gas station to use the facilities and grab another cup of coffee. The sun was setting, and a real chill was setting in.
It’s hard to say when one crosses from hardscrabble East Williamsburg to Williamsburg proper. (Well, I’m sure it’s easy to say if someone knows where the specific border is.) But the neighborhood just becomes gradually more human, and then more hipster. I got to Bushwick Ave. and the L train, the first subway I’d seen since Elmhurst. It was about here, Paula texted me again, “Are you still in Elmhurst? You okay?” Imagine her surprise when I replied, “No, I’m in Williamsburg right now. Almost at my final destination.”
And so I was. I was somewhat depressed but unsurprised to find that the ancient and storied Grand St. was cleft in twain by the BQE. I knew I had to meet that road again, but I had no idea our second encounter would be so abrupt. I walked around to Borinquen Pl., up Marcy Ave., and continued down Grand.
Grand St. here showed its next personality, transitioning from hipster poverty to hipster wealth. Upscale restaurants, boutique stores, art galleries. And then, just as I reached Wythe, I could see it: The shining blue waters of the East River, and the island of Manhattan beyond. There was a spring in my step despite the blister developing in my right foot. Finally, I went beyond Kent, to the End of the Road. I stopped only briefly to appreciate my accomplishment, and the lovely views of the Williamsburg Bridge at sunset. The time: 5:07 PM.
I texted Paula about my Great Pedestrian Accomplishment, and somehow she wasn’t feeling the same sense of victory I was. Her response was, “Are you crazy! Get in a train and come home, please.” Well, that was going to take some doing, as the closest train was the L, which wasn’t going my way, and the second closest was the G which wasn’t running this weekend. So I decided to walk some more.
I walked along Kent Ave., past the behemoth condo towers, that, while I’m sure someone will buy, I can’t imagine who. I mean, at the prices they charge, I’d rather live closer to, you know, things and people. But whatever. I continued along Kent, where industrial Williamsburg is engaged in a pitched battle with condo development. I passed Bushwick Inlet, near which industry is still very much in the lead. Kent became Franklin, and industry became actually kind of quaint Greenpoint, a place I might like to live, but the utter lack of G train today wasn’t selling it very well. I turned down Greenpoint Ave., and then up McGuinness, with an eye to crossing the Pulaski Bridge. I’d never noticed how narrow Greenpoint proper is, and how the almost highway-like McGuinness Blvd. separates residential from the hard-core industry near Newtown Creek. On the way, I saw a “ghost bike” tied to a sign, another sobering reminder of the danger of the roads I like to travel on.
As I crossed the Pulaski Bridge (and hence, Newtown Creek for the final time at its widest point), the wind really began to pick up, and the chill of the evening started to reach my bones. But I did take the time to appreciate the lovely views of Manhattan, and then on the Queens side of the creek, the very end of the LIRR Old Montauk Branch at Long Island City Station, and the entrance to the Queens Midtown Tunnel.
Just as I finished crossing the bridge and headed down Jackson Ave., a B62 bus appeared and opened its door. Chilled to the bone, I ran to it appreciatively. My walk was done.
Here’s how far I went:
View Walking the Broadway/Grand Ave./Grand St. Trail in a larger map
According to Google Maps, I walked about 12.3 miles, and cut a satisfyingly large section of Brooklyn and Queens. It would have been nice to have made it all the way home, and completed the “D” shape, but by the time I got on the bus, I was freezing and exhausted.
I love these long walks of mine. It may seem trite, but setting an ambitious goal and reaching it, even if it’s simply a long distance to walk along a specific path, is extremely satisfying. When I’m in a funk, as I was earlier this weekend, it’s quite restorative.