Long Run: The Gowanus Bridges

I’ve written before about my fascination with New York’s waterways and the bridges that cross them and I’ve got a special place in my heart for the Gowanus Canal and the small bridges that cross this polluted little slice of Brooklyn. A couple of weekends ago, I plotted out a 13 miler that crossed all five of the Gowanus bridges and convinced good buddy Joe to come along.  The first half was a blast, second half was a slog. So it goes.

Starting from my hood (Prospect Heights), the bridges over the Gowanus canal, in order, are the Union Street Bridge, the Carroll Street Bridge, the Third Street Bridge, the Ninth Street Bridge and the Hamilton Avenue Bridge.  Pedestrian access to all of them is easy – just run down the street they’re named after until you hit them, then run over them.  Done.

The Union Street Bridge

The Union Street Bridge

Check out the classic Carroll Street Bridge sign. dating from when the Gowanus was still an active industrial waterway

Check out the classic Carroll Street Bridge sign. dating from when the Gowanus was still an active industrial waterway

Joe and I zippered the canal, crossing the Union street bridge, then cruising down Bond street, then back over the Carroll, up third avenue, over the third street bridge and so on until we crossed the Hamilton Bridge.

The view from the Carroll Street Bridge

The view from the Carroll Street Bridge


Wildlife of the Gowanus Canal.

Wildlife of the Gowanus Canal.

Joe thought it was silly, but he lacks a sense of adventure.  I thought it was fun.

Joe on the Third Street Bridge being all, "dude, this is stupid".

Joe on the Third Street Bridge being all, “dude, this is stupid”.

The Gowanus area is a microcosm of the Brooklyn of today. There’s a Whole Foods overlooking the polluted canal, a number of hotels and my climbing gym.  But there are also scrap metal yards, lumber yards, and sketchy mechanics working right on the street.


Ninth Street Bridge

As parts of my borough get more yuppifieid (like where I live) its important to realize that just two miles from multi-million dollar Brownstone Brooklyn there’s an active scrap yard where people pull up in beat up old vans and shopping carts to sell scrap metal, Bubs – style.


Hamilton Avenue from Ninth Street

Brooklyn isn’t all condo and artisanal pour over coffee.  Some of it is very broke and just trying to get by.  As a matter of fact, as this article shows, much of the borough is actually getting poorer.  As our mayor has said, it’s a tale of two cities. You can see that dichotomy on a run through Gowanus.


Hamilton Avenue 

After the bridges, we climbed Third Street to the Park for some loops.  Joe’s knee was bothering him, so he headed home after a half loop.  I completed a standard figure 8 and was feeling pretty gassed by the end.  When I finished the sun was high and the weather, for once, was warm . I was exhausted, but already plotting my next run through this ever changing city.

The Long Run – The Park and the Bridge

I run for many reasons. To stay fit, to stay thin, to sleep at night, to have time to think, to work at the nearly impossible goal of becoming fast, and to explore.  Exploration can come in different forms. It can be exploring new trails and road, or seeing old roads in a new way.  This weekend’s long run included a bit of both new roads and time spent in familiar places.

Things began with two figure eight loops in Prospect Park.  The figure eight loop takes you down West Drive to Center Drive, across Center to East Drive, where you take a right, cruise past the lake, and up the West Drive hill, then a right back down Center Drive over the East Drive where you take a left and head up Zoo hill.  From my house and around the figure 8 is just over six miles, two of them is makes it just about ten.

The Grand Army Entrance on a perfect early spring day.

The Grand Army Entrance on a perfect early spring day.

I’ve run thousands and thousands of miles in this park — 2,858 actually, according to my running ahead log.  I’ve run through all conditions. I’ve run alone and with friends.  This weekend, it was a prefect early spring day and I did the first loop with my Saturday run buddy, Joe.  We talked about life, love, work and kids.  We talked about running, rock climbing and how fat and old we have become.  It was a great way to spend an hour.

After Joe left, I did another figure 8 alone listening to a mad decent podcast.  The roads were packed with Brooklynites running, walking and cycling.  Kids were pushing scooters; hipsters were riding long boards.  It was all “tres Brooklyn” as, allegedly, the French say.

Two loops equals ten miles.  Three more to go.  I headed down Union street through the heart of strollerfied Park Slope all the way  to the Union Street Bridge and the majestic Gowanus Canal.


The Gowanus Canal, Brooklyn’s New York’s finest superfund site has been described by the Environmental Protection Agency thus:

The Gowanus Canal, in Brooklyn, New York, is bounded by several communities including Park Slope, Cobble Hill, Carroll Gardens and Red Canal was once a major transportation route for the then separate cities of Brooklyn and New York City. Manufactured gas plants, mills, tanneries, and chemical plants are among the many facilities that operated along the canal.


You can’t really read it, but there’s a sign in this photo that warns you, among other dangers, not to smoke near the water.

 As a result of years of discharges, storm water runoff, sewer outflows and industrial pollutants, the Gowanus Canal has become one of the nation’s most extensively contaminated water bodies. Contaminants include PCBs, coal tar wastes, heavy metals and volatile organics. The contamination poses a threat  to the nearby residents who use the canal for fishing and recreation.


This gorgeous piece of waterway is crossed by five bridges. Over the next couple of weeks, I plan to run them all.  In fact, inspired by Phil McCarthy’s excellent “Bridge of the Week series” I plan to spend a lot more time exploring the cities bridges. Some of theses bridges, like Union Street are old friends. Others will be new.  I’m looking forward to seeing them all.

After Union Street it was down Nevins to Dean. Its amazing how industrial Nevins still is in this area.  Seven years from now, the fabrication and demolition shops will be apartment buildings people by finance and advertising professionals, just you watch.  I’ll run the street again then, and it will be like exploring a new world.


A Post Hurricane Run

I am lucky enough to live in a neighborhood in Brooklyn called Prospect Heights.  Heights is in the name for a reason- we’re on relatively high ground and far outside the evacuations zones.  All we saw from Hurricane Sandy were a couple of downed trees and some blown over signs.  We were very, very lucky.  Many of my fellow New Yorkers and people up and down the east coast weren’t so fortunate.  My sister in Connecticut  my in-laws in the West Village, and many, many others are without power.  Whole neighborhoods will need to be rebuilt and billions of dollars will have to be spent.  Its going to take awhile, but we’ll get it done.

My office is without power, and our remote server were down so there was no work for me today.  Instead, I did a six miler around the neighborhood to see what I could see.

The scenic Gowanus Canal.

The Gowanus Canal is a superfund sight and one of the most polluted water ways in the New York area.  There were worries that it would overflow its bank sending god knows what into the streets of the neighborhoods near by.  Thankfully, this does not appear to have happened to any large degree.  Any overflow was long gone when I ran by there this afternoon.  It looked like  the same old canal,  though the smell was even worse than normal.

Your humble editor at the canal, the smell was pretty bad… even for industrial Brooklyn.

After the check in at the canal, I ran up to Prospect Park to check out the damage in around my favorite loop.  The City had already cleared the debris from the roadway which circles the park, but dozen of trees were down around the perimeter including many which had been pulled from the ground.

Hundred of people were out survey the scene, taking pictures of themselves in front of downed trees.  I was out there two, taking photos, and thinking about how lucky I am that I get to go home, shower, turn on my computer and post this little piece to my stupid blog.

Downed trees in Prospect Park

New York and the whole east coast are going to need a lot of help in the coming months.  I know that New York Cares is already out in many parts of Brooklyn giving a hand, you can donate to them here.