Back to the suburban wilds again – this time central Westchester County. I took a drive around these parts the other day and coming home along the Sprain Brook Parkway, which runs into the Bronx River Parkway, I got a little glimpse of the original intention of parkways in general: namely that they were supposed to be like parks that you could drive on. You still get that feel in places and, as opposed to say, coming into the city on I-95 for example, it almost feels like a stealth approach – especially this time of year when the trees are all in full regalia, blocking the urban scenery. One minute you’re driving past the almost beautiful and totally unexpected Grassy Sprain Reservoir, saying to yourself, “What the hell little lake is this?” and the next minute (or sure maybe 15) you’re in the South Bronx.
Which again, I guess was pretty much the intention. The term parkway was actually coined by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux way back in the 1860’s and envisioned as a landscaped road for “pleasure-driving” (horses and carriages naturally). Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn, designed by Olmsted and Vaux has the distinction of being the oldest parkway in the country, nay, the world – running from Prospect Park to Evergreen Cemetery. If you can picture Eastern Parkway today you can imagine why it’s actually a great example of why parkways aren’t exactly what they used to be. The problem is we’ve got these things called cars now, that go really really fast and that a lot of people own, and so because of them we’ve got something else we call traffic and something else we like to call holy shit this is a really dangerous road to drive on.
So yeah, that’s the problem these days with the Bronx River Parkway too. It honestly is a pretty road in places, especially considering its location, but it’s hard to really enjoy when you’re going 65 mph just to keep up and then slamming on your brakes as you hit a logjam (good word though, right?). Of course the reaction of a lot of people in charge of these kinds of things is to make the Bronx River Parkway more like an interstate in general – get rid of its many curves, widen it, homogenize it, that kind of thing; again: make it easier to drive really fast on. But believe it or not there are people who are opposed to that kind of thing. Yes, there are actually people who want to try to keep the Bronx River Parkway pretty. In fact the National Trust for Historic Preservation has designated the Bronx River Parkway as one of the 11 most endangered historic spots in the country. In the country! Man, I’m not kidding when I say this is one reason that I love America. I mean, I’m sure they’ll probably lose eventually (I don’t know, if they haven’t already), but at least these kind of groups exist. The same thing is not happening in China.
The Bronx River Parkway was actually the first road in the U.S. built through a park (Bronx Park – home of the zoo and the botanic gardens), as well as the first to use a median and the first with bridges to carry traffic from cross streets over it. At the time of its construction, in 1907, it was the first limited-access highway in America, although the first leg of it, in Westchester County, didn’t open till 1922. All right you might say, but does it really matter? It’s just a highway right? Ture, true, but we can still try to make our highways kind of pretty, can’t we? And instead of making it easier for cars to drive on make it harder instead, you know to decrease incentives to drive in general (with the added benefit of probably pissing off a lot of Republicans – a la the current rabid hatred of New York’s bike shares.) Hey and speaking of bikes and decreasing cars on the road it turns out that Westchester County closes a 7 mile stretch of the Parkway most Sundays in May, June and September for bike riding. You can cruise along slow enough to actually catch glimpses of the Bronx River, which the Parkway parallels and from which it gets its name.
Anyway, my intention in even writing this to start with had been to talk about the Bronx River – one of the only (if not the only, and certainly the longest) fresh-water rivers in New York City. But I was driving so fast on the Parkway that I didn’t even have time to take it in. Ah well. Maybe I’ll take a bike ride one of these days and let you know.