10 Things You May Not Know About Ocean Parkway

Ocean Parkway at Ave C

The 5.5-mile-long Ocean Parkway runs north/south through the heart of Kensington. Today, flocks of children amble along the pedestrian path, older folks play chess on city provided tables, and vehicles race to beat traffic lights.

But have you wondered if this was the original intention of Ocean Parkway?

The answer is both yes and no.

And so we present 10 things you may not know about Ocean Parkway…

Ocean Parkway, Stone Plaque at Ave C, 2001

1. Brooklyn was its own city when Ocean Parkway was designed and built. As mayor of the city of Brooklyn, Frederick Schroeder presided over the construction of Ocean Parkway, built between 1874-1876. During that time, the Brooklyn Bridge and the first elevated trains were also being built.

Avenue Foch, via Studio AK

2. It’s widely known that Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux modeled Ocean Parkway after Avenue de L’Impératrice (now Avenue Foch) in Paris. What’s less known is that Ocean Parkway was to be one of four spokes originating at Prospect Park and spanning across stretching across Brooklyn. Eastern Parkway was the only other of these thoroughfares actually built, even though it didn’t reach its intended stopping point. (Photo of Avenue Foch via Studio AK)


3. Bikes were becoming safer and therefore more popular during the time Ocean Parkway was designed and built. Olmsted took this into account. He widened the esplanade and designated a portion specifically for bikes. America’s first bike path opened in 1894. (Photo via NYC Parks)

Ocean Parkway Bike Path circa 1896

4. Bike traffic clogged Ocean Parkway since the day it was open to wheelmen. 10,000 cyclists reportedly swarmed the bike path on its opening day. By 1896, the path was widened to accommodate demand. In an effort to curb racing, the bike speed limit was 12 miles per hour on the path, and 10 miles per hour on the Parkway. (Photo via Brooklyn Public Library/TransAlt)

Prospect Trotters 2

5. Cyclists weren’t the only ones racing along Ocean Parkway. At least 6 jockey clubs competed along Ocean Parkway, each with its own private track. Though horse racing ended at those tracks in 1908 when open betting was banned, bridle paths on the Parkway remained until the 1970s. (Currier and Ives print of Parade Ground race via Stevapalooza)

Ocean Parkway Mall

6. In addition to being credited as the first bike path, Ocean Parkway is also considered America’s first greenway. The tree-lined pedestrian and bike paths separates the through-traffic from the local traffic and residences. The arterial road/main road setup is now suspected to be unsafe for pedestrians, and Ocean Parkway is the often named the most fatal street for them in Brooklyn. Sadly, the most recent pedestrian fatality occurred in June.

Chess on Ocean Parkway Mall

7. Olmsted designed the greenway hypothesizing that, in addition to being a relaxing promenade, people would want to live along Ocean Parkway’s arterial side streets. During World War I, mansions were built along the perimeter, and after World War II, apartment buildings. Currently, realtors are marketing a resurgence in Ocean Parkway apartments and houses.

Prospect Expressway

8. Ocean Parkway originally began at Prospect Park’s Park Circle (the circle of of grass and greenery there is known as Police Officer Robert Machate Circle). In the 1950s Robert Moses usurped the northern section for the Prospect Expressway. Ocean Parkway was controversially landmarked on January 28, 1975 to thwart further corruptions of the design. City residents debated which was more important: preserving the intent of Ocean Parkway and risk losing federal funding, or widening the traffic lanes to improve safety but at the loss of the pedestrian paths.

3M marker on Ocean Pkwy,via Sheepshead Bites

9. Hints of historic Ocean Parkway are layered under more recent additions — or have been completely stripped away. An engraved stone 5-mile marker (5 miles from Prospect Park Circle) was removed (or stolen?), and so the last engraved stone mile marker, 3M, is somewhat preserved at Ave P. (Photo via Sheepshead Bites)

A photo of fish plaques on the Ocean Parkway Malls

10. One of the more recent additions to Ocean Parkway is a series of fish plaques that are embedded in the malls. They can be found at nine intersections, and they feature ocean creatures with names that coordinate (for the most part) with the initial letter of that cross-street: Avenue C clam, Cortelyou cod, Ditmas dolphin, 18th Avenue anchovies, Webster whale, Newkirk needlefish, Lawrence leatherback, Parkville puffer, and Foster flounder. Some can be found on both sides of the malls, but others — the clam, whale, and leatherback — are only located on the western side of the Parkway, with the bike path.

Do you have any favorite historical facts about Ocean Parkway? Please share them with us in the comments.

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  1. You don’t mention that Ocean Parkway extends through Midwood and Sheepshead Bay and Brighton Beach as well.

  2. Looking at these pictures gives a completely different impression of Ocean Prkway than I have growing up on its other end. I realize the author is writing for a news site focused on Kensington, but ignoring the less gentrified, less glamorous neighborhoods along this road is shabby reporting!

    Has the author of this article ever been to Midwood, Sheepshead, or Brighton?

  3. What are you talking about? That’s like saying writing a story about lemons without discussing other citrus fruits is shabby reporting, when there’s actually just a precise focus to the story.

    There’s a reason this site isn’t called MidwoodBK, SheepsheadBayBK, BrightonBeachBK, or AllOfFrigginBrooklynBK. If you want to read about larger swathes of the borough, there are places for that. This site is hyperlocal, which requires some semblance of boundaries on a map.

  4. Just because a site is “hyperlocal” doesn’t mean it should always limit the content to exclude other areas, especially when something is connecting your lovely Kensington with other neighborhoods. It creates a very narrow impression.

    The article i posted my comment to was about Ocean Parkway, which is a 5.5 mile road going through MANY neighborhoods. The article’s author only focused on the neighborhoods closest to Prospect Park, ignoring all the neighborhoods to the east along Ocean Parkway… which happens to be where I grew up (the Ocean Parkway presented in the article is an entity that is nice but foreign to me, as it will be to many people who live and go about their lives between Ave J and Brighton Beach ave). Is this because the author doesn’t find these neighborhoods relevant, interesting or has no knowledge of their existence?

    If this piece is suppose to describe the Kensington segment of Ocean Parkway, then the title should reflect that.

  5. This is just silly. The only reason why Kensington is even mentioned in that brief sentence is because this blog is about Kensington. The only reason why this piece was written, period, for this blog is because part of Ocean Parkway runs through Kensington. Yeah, the author could have added a few more words and mentioned other neighborhoods, but it isn’t crazy or weird (let alone “shoddy reporting”) that they wouldn’t on this specific blog. If Gothamist had written this piece, I’d say you’d have much more of a point, but the broader context just outright does not matter on a hyperlocal blog like this. So to answer your question: quite frankly, no, the other neighborhoods aren’t relevant in this case. This blog is about one neighborhood. The whole point of its existence is to focus on one neighborhood and not any others.

  6. There is one problem with this otherwise excellent article: When it was constructed in the 1870’s, the portion of Kings County situated south of Prospect Park was NOT yet a part of the City of Brooklyn. Flatbush, Gravesend and New Utreicht were still separate political entities. So it would seem odd to credit the then Mayor of Brooklyn for the construction of this road. This, of course, would not be the case with Eastern Parkway, which was fully constructed within Brooklyn.

  7. these comments illustrate are a microcosm of everything wrong with the internet. Why does everything have to devolve into a flame war. give it a rest!!! So Ocean Pkway goes through other neighborhoods besides Kensington,, big deal.

  8. Good Lord! I was enjoying this lovely article until I got to the snarky comments. I totally agree with Paul. Give this “war” a rest and cherish whatever memories you may have of Ocean Parkway. I have many. Hope you do, too.

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