New York – Robert Moses Freeway Express: Queens, BQE, Coney Island (Part III)

BQE to Flushing Meadows

We drove an old blue tank of a Volvo on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway to Flushing Meadows park in Queens to see the Queens Museum of Art. The BQE is a crazy, crazy road. Narrow, fast, elevated, old and in New York City — it’s horrific and awesome at once. The lanes seem too narrow, not up to interstate standards. Similarly, the concrete median looks temporary. It’s a kind of anarchy, Live Free or Die style. Like being on the subway, it took us a while to get to Queens from central Brooklyn, “driving” home, again, the size of this city. The Queens Museum is on the site of the 1939 and 1964 World’s Fairs, both personal Robert Moses projects. Like walking around Jean Drapeau Park in Montreal, site of Expo ’67, there are very few reminders left that this was a site of intense focus for a brief period. It’s like the future has gone back to seed — or lawn — and only a handful of structures are left, as well as the elaborate pathways between them. One of these remaining buildings is the New York City Pavilion that now houses the Queens Museum. We arrived at the museum with only 20 minutes before closing — and headed straight for the New York City Panorama.

The Panorama is the size of an NHL hockey rink (these pictures do not capture the vast scale at all) with a catwalk that circles around the edge (in darkness). I was expecting something on the scale of the model of downtown Toronto in the lobby of City Hall, not a recreation of just-about-every building in the city represented in miniature. Built for the ’64 fair, it includes tiny airplanes on looped wires that land and take off from La Guardia. Even with Google Earth making views like this accessible from home, seeing the “real” simulation is overwhelming (certainly Baudrillard would have something to say about this). If the woman with the authoritative New York accent didn’t tell us it was closing time in that get-the-hell-out-of-here New York kind of way, we could have spent an hour more looking at it.

BQE to Coney Island

Another day, same old blue Volvo, more crazy BQE. This time leaving Red Hook and heading southish around the Brooklyn coast.

Like the Don Valley Parkway, even these highways can be beautiful at times.

Varrazano-Narrows Bridge. When the new Queen Mary II leaves New York Harbour, it only has a few meters of clearance.

Coney Island

It was late April and Coney Island was not yet at the height of its seasonal powers, but the melancholia of a place that can’t possibly live up to its mythic history is a heavy thing, even on a sunny day. Famous Nathan’s does not have a vegetarian option, so I can’t give a review.

Such buildings, standing around, everywhere. Not ruins, but not loved as they should be.

Why cinderblock in the windows? What sad moment or circumstances inspired this move? Was there even pause — is this the right thing to do?

Feeding pigeons gulls in mid-air. We watched for a while. He was throwing them Nathan’s hot dog bun bits. “Astroland” was closed on this Tuesay, so the midway was quiet, but the wind howled through one of the rides, so a long moan was coming from the crummy looking park.

No more parachutes fall anymore — but ballgames are played in the new stadium, with interesting circular lighting rigs.

Robert Moses high rise housing projects in the distance. They replaced some of the mythic amusement parks. He found them “tawdry.” One of them, before Moses, was called Dreamland.

New York City comes right up to the Atlantic Ocean with no barrier. They seem about equal, though.

Fake palm tree made-in-Montreal.

The boardwalk had many loose screws and worn out wood. Michael Bloomberg has a long to do list.

In season, there is an actual “freak” person in this vacant lot that people can shoot paintball pellets at. The yard was covered in exploded paint. “Only in America” is a cliché , but sometimes, you see something, and ask what it is, and somebody tells you, and you say aloud — before you know what you’re saying — “Jesus Christ, only in America.”


  1. re: cinder blocks in the windows.

    I think the Taco Bell sign says it all. That stuff is toxic!

  2. I was under the impression that Coney Island had been closed permanently for redevelopment.
    When is that supposed to happen?

  3. Gulls, yes. I think the incessant cooing of the colony of pigeons outside my window have some influence.

    Don’t know when, but something is supposed to happen. In that once picture, lots of space has been cleared and the signs say “The Future of Coney Island”.

  4. Does the panorama still have the WTC buildings? I remember reading that they were to be removed or commemorated in some way…

  5. Massive change is coming to the area.

    I am surprised it has taken so long. I love the area but have to admit that it has been in a slow decline for some time. I hope the flea market stalls on Surf Avenue stay. One thing I can never figure out is the appeal of Nathan’s hotdogs; they are small and bland but people come from all over to have one.

  6. Wonderful photos. There is a fantastic overview of the BQE (and other NYC roadways) here:

    Sidenote – I’m writing this from Porter’s lounge at YTZ as I head back to NYC. If you want to save tourism in Toronto, make all the tourists use the Island airport. The experience is incredibly sophisticated, from the materials to the infrastructure, right down to the signage. Unlike suburban sprawl at Pearson, with it’s lack of a rail link and sea of strip hotels, visitors arriving from the Island get off the sleek ferry terminal in the midst of midrise condos and parks. A more perfect ad for Toronto as “the city that works, circa 2008” could not be conceived. Suck on that, Vancouver!

  7. Is the last article on your trip? I hope not, I’m really enjoying these little tours!

  8. I went to NYC last month and visited Coney Island. It has the potential to really be a hotspot to hang out, or a tourist destination. But it’s starting to turn ghetto. Hopefully the redevelopment will change that.

  9. Great posts on NYC, a whirlwind tour, so much to see and do here without even trying. I moved from Bathurst & Dundas to Bed-Stuy last October and would love to hear your thoughts on Bed-Stuy. This neighbourhood is rapidly ‘gentrifying.’ Every time I take the subway home from work I see more and more working professionals get off at my stop. I am one more. Like Bathurst-Dundas, Bedford-Myrtle here in Bed-Stuy is a confluence of distinct communities. The Marcy Houses, Hasidic temple, black & hispanic evangelical churches all here all at once. Steps separate these institutions. Did you walk through Bed-Stuy during your stay?

  10. By the way, what’s wrong with Porter Airlines? I liked it, I took it from Newark back to Toronto. The airfare was almost 1/2 of that from Pearson, check in was twice as fast. And the airplane wasn’t crowded at all, which is a bonus!

  11. Shooting paintballs at a freak. You would really have to be desperate to take that job. i can’t imagine doing that all day. I would have welts on top of welts.

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