Best route for overland commute in NYC
November 15, 2009 8:17 AM   Subscribe

I live at the top of Central Park in New York City (my park entrance is at 110th and Lenox), and I'm thinking of either getting a bike or rollerblades to commute to my job at 23rd and Fifth (or, perhaps more accurately, to my gym at 23rd and Park, where I can shower and change). What's the most direct path through the park from top to bottom, and which streets should I take to my destination once I exit the park?

Secondary question: which will cost more over time, commute by bike or commute by rollerblades?
posted by ocherdraco to Travel & Transportation around New York, NY (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I would think the East Drive of Central Park is the most direct.

See this map.

Once you exit the park @ 59th, make a left toward Park Ave, then a right down to Park & 23rd.

As for which method would cost less, rollerblades or a bike, the answer would depend, in part, on the kind of bike. Do you have a sturdy mountain bike? Or a road bike? The former handles urban wear and tear better than the latter. The latter would be more expensive to maintain (new tires, etc.)

Plus the ancillary costs associated with locks and general maintenance.
posted by dfriedman at 8:26 AM on November 15, 2009

You're probably safest following the road, down the west side. It's boring, and you start the day with a famously steep and painful hill. On the other hand, you won't be going the wrong way in the bike lane and endangering other runners and riders.
From Columbus Circle you have a brand new greenway most of the way to your office--down Broadway. Enjoy it. Map.
posted by Phred182 at 8:27 AM on November 15, 2009

Commuting by rollerblades will take longer, unless you're wicked fast (it took me about 4x longer to get around the park on roller blades than bike, due to modest hills). I found biking through midtown to be too much of a hassle -- you might want to consider going down the west side (at least below 34th street, I remember it being relatively bike friendly) but for most of the way you'll be battling traffic.

If you haven't checked out this site yet, you should give it a look. If you cut over to the east side and take the greenway down, keep in mind that you have to get out around 57th street (I think, it's been awhile) and negotiate a flight of stairs. Otherwise, that might be the best option for getting there quickly.
posted by puckish at 8:30 AM on November 15, 2009

I've done the route in the opposite direction from the south upwards. Go with a bike, for all sorts of reasons - but mainly because it's kind of hard to maneuver in the snow and ice on the blades.
posted by watercarrier at 8:33 AM on November 15, 2009

Ride the City is a decent resource for this. When you buy a bike, don't forget you'll need a good lock, front and rear lights, a helmet and a pump, as well as yearly maintenance.
posted by hooray at 8:39 AM on November 15, 2009

I think biking is probably the way to go, even if rollerblades are more efficient exercise. Make sure you're ready for winter: find gloves with good grips, ear warmers, and a lightweight but warm jacket that breathes. This question got some good advice on biking in NYC's cold weather.

Another vote for Ride the City, which gives you three options of routes: safest, safe and direct. Really, don't take the most direct route until you're comfortable with busy streets. Central Park streets are probably a decent bet because they have bike lanes, but remember that they get a lot of foot traffic. Pedestrians tend to watch for cars but not cyclists and some people will try to dodge you and then get directly in your way when you swerve.
posted by zoomorphic at 8:52 AM on November 15, 2009

I used to commute from 8th and 53rd to 5th and 27th by rollerblade about 10 years ago, it was faster than the train when you factor in the walk to the train and wait times. Take the west side and make sure you don't start your weave east until you reach the high 20s because you get the added bonus of skating by the blocks of flower wholesalers getting deliveries. Those sights and smells really get you going in the morning. Also with regards to watercarrier's comment about snow, the most fun I've had rollerblading in the city was when there is a light layer of snow. Dangerous? Yes. but it's as close as you'll ever get to ice skating through the streets of Manhattan! Good Luck, rollerblading to and from work were some of my favorite memories from the 90s.
posted by any major dude at 8:58 AM on November 15, 2009

Getting down the East Side is a PITA, I'm afraid.

Getting to Columbus Circle or 59th & 5th through the Park is easy. From there, you're kind of stuck, and your route is really a function of how much you like playing in traffic.

Yes, there's a fantastic bike lane down Broadway, but don't expect to be able to ride a bike (or rollerblade at any kind of pace) through the Times Square area. Cutting it off to traffic has turned the entire area into a massive pedestrian mall (which is pretty awesome), but it has rendered the bike lane useless.

Southbound avenues on the West side get ugly near the Lincoln Tunnel. Southbound avenues on the East side are a mess, period. They are rideable, but it'll be a seriously stressful experience.

It might be a bit far on rollerblades, but if you don't mind a roundabout route, I'd suggest going down the Greenway on the Hudson River, from 110th to 23rd, and then cutting back over. You'll be able to ride (or blade) at a brisk pace, and won't have to be on guard for traffic the whole time.

As for maintenance costs - good question. I'd guess the bike would be cheaper (since tires, tubes and brake pads are the major replaceable items, and much cheaper than rollerblade wheels & bearings), but you need to factor in your bike-parking security. Unfortunately, most bicycle maintenance expense in NYC seems to be related to what others do to your bike.
posted by swngnmonk at 10:38 AM on November 15, 2009

FWIW - I don't know why Ride The City is suggesting Park Avenue - I don't see how anyone would consider that a safe bicycle route - that's a heavily-traveled route chock-full of traffic.

Also - if you haven't already, do yourself a favor and pick up a city street maps (detailing all bike lanes, recommended roads, and roads to avoid) for free in any Bike Shop in NYC. You should also consider joining the group that publishes the map - Transportation Alternatives - they're the major advocacy group in NYC that has been pushing for better travel conditions for the last 30 years.
posted by swngnmonk at 10:45 AM on November 15, 2009

which will cost more over time, commute by bike or commute by rollerblades?

I haven't rollerbladed in years, but, in terms of maintenance, I'd imagine biking would cost you more. Bikes often need repairs (gears, chains, tires, tubes, brakes, etc.) and I've had to repair and/or replace many (most, really) of my bikes' parts at one point or another, though I've used my bikes heavily and done a fair bit of trail riding. If you think of it in time-is-money terms, rollerblades will cost you more.

I'd feel much safer biking in winter weather than I would rollerblading.
posted by HotPatatta at 11:46 AM on November 15, 2009

Consider foldable bikes. I bought a Dahon foldable when I moved to NYC and it's boss. Has a great rack and takes up practically no space in my apartment (I'm still talking about my bike).
posted by HotPatatta at 11:53 AM on November 15, 2009

If I were you, I'd ride the bike into the park, down the west side drive (do NOT go the wrong way on the park drives, e.g., downtown-bound on the east side--really, really dumb). Once you exit the park at 7th Avenue, how you get to 23rd is a matter of which poison you prefer. Before the changeover in Times Square, I would have taken 7th Avenue to Broadway. Having not ridden through there since, I don't know how much of a PITA it is in terms of bicycling through. You could go straight down 5th. Or do a combo of 7th Avenue and cross east to 5th.

And the hill at the top of Central Park is not steep. Ride some hills elsewhere, and you'll see it for what it is: a slightly challenging power hill.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 12:08 PM on November 15, 2009

The answer to your questions will depend on how comfortable you are biking/blading through traffic and pedestrians, whether you have a secure place to lock your bike, whether you will regularly be carrying things with you which are heavy or bulky, what times of day you will travel and whether you will continue through the rain and snow.

The start of your trip is easy, because it will be (with traffic) down the west side park drive. Once you reach the bottom of the drive, you will have to exit at around 7th avenue because you start heading north again at that point. I would cut east across 59th and then down 5th or Park avenue, but I'm used to the traffic. Heading back north would have to be on Park since 5th is one way. Blading is probably a lot cheaper than biking both from a storage and maintenance point of view, though I don't blade enough to know how often you'd need to replace/repair stuff. Biking is faster and (for me) easier, and I can carry things more easily.
posted by Obscure Reference at 12:48 PM on November 15, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks for all the detailed advice, folks. Please keep it coming. I know many are recommending biking over blading, but I'd appreciate hearing from more folks who commute on rollerblades, too.
posted by ocherdraco at 1:05 PM on November 15, 2009

ocherdraco, something I forgot to mention is the convenience of rollerblading over biking if you have plans after work or the weather turns nasty. You can always put the blades in a decent sized back pack that you can easily carry into a bar or onto a subway train.
posted by any major dude at 4:36 PM on November 15, 2009

Response by poster: Tried rollerblades this weekend. Will try biking next weekend.

I suspect biking is going to win out, since when I went down the big hill in Central Park on blades I was saying "fuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuck" under my breath the whole time since my braking skills are, as yet, apparently not up to the task. (Fortunately I neither hit anyone nor crashed, but still.)
posted by ocherdraco at 5:20 PM on November 23, 2009

Response by poster: Well, I never did try out the bike route, but I am now the proud owner of an inexpensive folding bike. Expect bike n00b questions from me shortly.
posted by ocherdraco at 7:18 PM on May 27, 2010

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