Saturday, February 13, 2010

Saturday Morning in Williamsburg: Scenic G Train Substitute Shuttle Bus Ride to Long Island City

Since we are off this weekend, we decided to complete the scenic ride on the (still-running) G train substitute shuttle bus. A few weeks ago, we went from Jay Street in downtown Brooklyn, where one end of the route is, by the Jay Street/Borough Hall subway station, to Williamsburg at the stop at the Metropolitan Avenue station on Union Avenue a block from Dumbo Books HQ.

Today we went from that stop to the other end of the route, not at Court Square, where the G train usually ends, but one stop further in Long Island City, by Queens Plaza, where people can connect with the V, R and E trains (and the N, W and 7 trains if they walk up to the Queensboro Plaza el station).

We take off at Union Avenue and almost immediately go under the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway with Meekever Avenue as its access road. Growing up in remote subway-less southwestern Brooklyn, we started driving even before we legally could, so our early image of Brooklyn, and New York City, comes from the perspective of a car.

It's surprising to us in doing our diary books from the 1970s that, more often than not, we drove into Manhattan rather than took the subway. The BQE was how we always came to Williamsburg - or maybe Bedford Avenue when there was extra time.

There wasn't much traffic, so we went fast up Union Avenue (we almost wrote "Union Street," which we knew from Park Slope before we knew from Union Avenue; we still make that mistake too often, and also sometimes get confused between Clinton Avenue and Clinton Street, Sterling Street and Sterling Place, and Grand Street and Grand Avenue - which actually are the same street, in different boroughs). Anyway, we whizzed by snowy McCarren Park after turning up Bedford Avenue.

We stopped at the usual B48 bus stop at Nassau Avenue by that subway stop. (Yeah, we also mix up Nassau Avenue and Nassau Street.) Taking the G train from points north, those of us who get out at Metropolitan Avenue know to stay in the last car if we want to exit quickly. (Or, coming from Church Avenue towards Metropolitan, we sit in the first car.)

The bus seems to be going just as fast as the subway this morning. We love walking up and down Manhattan Avenue and seeing the stores with the signs in Polish, the dueling Rite-Aid stores a block apart, Russ Pizza, Peter Pan Donuts, the bargain stores, etc. Lately there have been more boarded-up places, but Greenpoint's main shopping drag is still one of our fave places.

We love to look at the architectural landmark St. Anthony of Padua R.C. Church. The name of the parish precedes the arrival of Italian immigrants into this part of Brooklyn because it's from 1858.

Later, the parish of St. Alphonsus was established nearby, but it was merged with St. Anthony of Padua in 1976, so the church is really namesd St. Anthony of Padua-St. Alphonsus now. If you've never gone in there, the organ is incredible.

We turn right at Greenpoint Avenue and stop at the regular bus stop for the B24 bus, which we call the Brooklyn boomerang because it takes the very indirect route from Greenpoint to Williamsburg via Sunnyside, Queens over the BQE.

Now we go where the B62 (formerly B61) bus goes, up McGuinness Boulevard, the wide, car-friendly boulevard that we used to take if we wanted to drive from Williamsburg to upper Manhattan via the Queensboro Bridge. Actually, we're replicating that route pretty much now. We have no idea which streets the G train actually goes under on its way under Newtown Creek to Queens.

We take the bridge, of course.

With the Kosciusko Bridge being rebuilt (of the four proposed designs, we like the arch but then the Bayonne Bridge was always our favorite in New York City), maybe more people will avoid the BQE and take the Pulaski, which was reconstructed in 1994, fifty years after its opening.
The Citigroup Building (One Court Square) dominates the skyline from Greenpoint on, and we've grown fond of it, if only because the construction of the condo across the street, along with Karl Fischer Row on Bayard Street (which we ignored in the fourth pic on this post) have blocked the Manhattan skyline except for the Citigroup Center from our left bedroom window and so we like seeing the Citicorp Building from the right window.

We're in Queens, on 11th Street in Hunters Point, basically mimicking the route of the B62 across Jackson Avenue which eventually becomes 25A and turns into Northern Boulevard. If you have a fetish for straight rides you could take this way out pass Manhasset, Greenvale, Huntington or even almost to Riverhead. (We've taken this route the other way to the Queensboro Bridge from Locust Valley or Oyster Bay on Sunday mornigns and it's pretty fast.)

This afternoon the streets are ugly with the piled-up dirty snow.

We're on the right side of the bus, so we missed taking a pic of PS 1 on the left side and have to settle for this oil and lumber company.

But on the right is a different bastion of art than PS 1: here's 5 Pointz, the Institute of Higher Burnin'. Okay, it ain't a gallery or a museum (yet), but 5 Pointz is a living collage of graffiti art covering a converted warehouse full of artist studios.

The art of famous writers like Stay High 149, Tracy 168, Cope2, Part, and Tats Cru and novice graffiti artists alike covers the building's facade, all done with the encouragement of the building's owner to create what some call the planet's premier graffiti mecca.

There's been a lot of construction around the Court Square (the 7 train stop is called Courthouse Square, and eventually you'll be able to make a direct transfer rather than walking all over the place with your unlimited MetroCard) area lately, both with the el and a Jackson Avenue beautification project. See this story from the great blog liQcity.

During a very hot day last summer, we decided we wanted something quicker than the very nice Court Square Diner and tried to get into Quizno's. But it was closed. Is it ever open on weekends or late nights?

The Long Island City Courthouse is still pretty magnificent. It was built in the 1870s, when Long Island City was the county seat of Queens County (before the 1898 NYC consolidation) in the French Second Empire style and it was redone in 1908 after a big fire.

Weirdly, the bus made a second stop at the Court Square station. This past summer, we took a weekend shuttle bus substitute for the E train from the F train stop near Queensbridge Park and the bus driver asked us, the lone passenger, whether we wanted the north or stop bus stop, so we guess it's a policy for shuttle buses to have two stops at Court Square/Courthouse Square/23rd Street-Ely Avenue (the E/V station's name).

We're left off at the end of the route when the bus turns left. As we head toward the Queens Plaza station (Queensboro Plaza the el behind), we see another substitute G train shuttle bus waiting to take the unwary towards Jay Street in downtown Brooklyn. This was a short, pleasant ride and if you didn't want to go anywhere else, it was free sightseeing in Williamsburg, Greenpoint and Long Island City.

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