In 2010, the Q79 bus route - regarded as a lifeline for those without cars seeking access to Manhattan and Brooklyn - due to lack of ridership.
The MTA says that average ridership for city buses is somewhere around 12,000. Still, the 650 weekly commuters that relied on the Q79 were understandably incensed that their line was eliminated.
While biking is certainly not an option for everyone (much of the Q79's ridership consisted of the elderly), it did seem worth investigating whether the route was at least rideable.
A look at the map reveals that Floral Park has one major thing going for it, and that thing is Belmont Park in nearby Elmont, Long Island. The track is home to Belmont Stakes, the third leg of the country's most famous horse racing event, the Triple Crown. Horses or not, Belmont Park promised an interesting adventure. It didn't disappoint.
Departure time (from Little Neck LIRR): 1:50 p.m.
Arrival time (at Floral Park LIRR): 2:23 p.m.
The Ride: The Q79 route is a straight shot down Little Neck Parkway, connecting the Little Neck Long Island Rail Road station with the Floral Park station, which ferries commuters all the way to Atlantic Terminal in Brooklyn. From Floral Park, Belmont Park is a scant mile away.
You probably drive on Little Neck Parkway all the time. I know I do. What you might not know, though, is that much of Little Neck Parkway is on a nice, slow, leg-melting grade.
Grades are easy enough to ignore in a car, as hitting the accelerator requires about as much effort as changing the radio station or chewing a piece of gum. Encountering a grade by bike is a whole different issue. The threat of cars was minimal enough, but by the time I arrived at Little Neck Plaza, my legs felt like paste.
Complicating matters was a woman in a minivan, who pulled up right behind me and started honking. Not just once, but persistently, as though she had a very important social engagement with the upcoming red light and my presence was just ruining everything.
The payoff to the uphill grade came after a final brief slog past the Samuel Field Y. I swooped jubilantly downhill, thinking about the other things the minivan woman regularly honked at. Birds? Concrete? Rain? The Higgs Boson? Heidegger's theory of intentionality? The possibilities entertained me for the rest of the ride.
The Destination: Since moving to Queens in June, I was under the impression that Little Neck was New York City’s easternmost edge, considering the frequency with which I unintentionally wind up in adjacent Great Neck, Long Island.
As it turns out, this honor actually belongs to Floral Park, a neighborhood that photographer Robert Mapplethorpe once called “a good place to come from in that it was a good place to leave.” Mapplethorpe would know. He was raised in Floral Park, passing his days as an altar boy at at Our Lady of the Snows before moving onto a life that would include lots of art, controversy and Patti Smith.
While Floral Park may be a good place to leave, Belmont Park is an excellent place to explore. On this day the stands were empty, but it requires little imagination to envision the place packed to gills with people, gimlets sloshing over the sides of glasses and women in garish hats the size of dollhouses. When the wind picked up, the air was filled with the unmistakeable scent of horse. A paved road takes you from the entrance on Plainfield Avenue, past stables, practice rings and, inexplicably, a parking lot filled with what appear to be brand new taxis.
Even on non-race days, visitors can - and do - come to Belmont Park to watch and bet on other races. Patrons flock to an indoor area that looks a lot like the DMV with fancier benches and more TVs, pouring over betting slips and tip sheets. While the race-watching may be good, the people-watching is invariably better. Buy yourself a paper cup of Sprite for $2 and enjoy.
This ride is great for:
Erstwhile riders of the Q79 bus
People who are OK with gentle grades/getting honked at
Anyone who wants to visit Belmont Park without the anxiety of trying to park there.