This 1997 photo shows the Jackie Robinson Parkway looking east from the Park Drive bridge at the Forest Hills-Kew Gardens border. (Photo by Jeff Saltzman.)
"Moses wouldn't even let the dead rest." - Robert A.M. Stern, on the route of the Jackie Robinson Parkway
THROUGH THE PARKS AND CEMETERIES: The Jackie Robinson Parkway, formerly known as the Interborough Parkway, serves as a link between the Kew Gardens (Grand Central Parkway-Van Wyck Expressway) interchange in central Queens and Pennsylvania Avenue in East New York, Brooklyn. Proposed as early as 1901, when a bill had been introduced in the New York State Legislature amending the Cemetery Act to provide for its construction, the Jackie Robinson Parkway serves as a spur of the Grand Central Parkway.
DESIGN AND CONSTRUCTION: Like the eastern half of the Grand Central Parkway, the Jackie Robinson Parkway follows the contour of Long Island's glacial moraine. Reflecting early parkway design, the Jackie Robinson Parkway had a design speed of 35 MPH, 10-foot-wide travel lanes and winding curves. It also lacked emergency breakdown shoulders and acceleration-deceleration lanes. According to Michael Francese, an official at the New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT), the basic design "reflected an era of leisurely Sunday drives."
Contracts for the disinterment of bodies were let along the right-of-way of the parkway through Cypress Hills and Mount Carmel cemeteries. After initial resistance from residents in Forest Hills and Kew Gardens, construction of the Jackie Robinson Parkway began in 1933. The parkway was completed from the Grand Central Parkway (EXIT 8) in Kew Gardens west to Metropolitan Avenue (EXIT 6) in June 1935, and west to Pennsylvania Avenue three months later. When it was finished, the Jackie Robinson Parkway provided a continuous parkway link from Long Island via the recently completed Grand Central Parkway.
In 1941, six years after the parkway opened to traffic, the New York City Planning Department commented on the inadequacies of the parkway and sought to rectify them as follows:
Interborough Parkway: This is an existing parkway linking the Grand Central Parkway and major highways in Queens to major streets in Brooklyn. At the present time, it has no adequate highway outlets at its Brooklyn terminus. The proposed Cross Brooklyn Express Highway (Expressway) would connect with the Interborough Parkway, forming through express routes between sections of Brooklyn and Queens served by them.
At two points in the parkway, there are bad curves that are a serious hazard and impair the usefulness of the parkway. While realignment would be difficult because the parkway passes through cemeteries, it is nevertheless urgently necessary.
GAS STATIONS ON THE PARKWAY: Part of the original parkway contract included the construction of a pair of service stations just west of EXIT 6 (Metropolitan Avenue) in Forest Park. The stone-faced gas stations, which were located along the eastbound and westbound lanes of the parkway, were torn down in the late 1970's.
This postcard from around 1940 shows the Jackie Robinson Parkway -- then known as the Interborough Parkway -- through Forest Park. Note the undivided four-lane design and timber lightposts. (Postcard published by The Albertype Co., Brooklyn, NY; from oldkewgardens.com.)
RECONSTRUCTION EFFORTS AND DESIGN CHANGES: The New York City Department of Transportation (NYCDOT) maintains the Jackie Robinson Parkway, and the New York City Parks Department maintains surrounding rights-of-way. Major reconstruction work is undertaken by the New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT), which also installs signs and reference markers.
The NYSDOT began rebuilding the Jackie Robinson Parkway in 1987. The state rebuilt the parkway mainline and ramps, erected a new concrete ("Jersey") median barrier, and installed new lighting and pavement markers. At Metropolitan Avenue (EXIT 6), the NYSDOT replaced a tight cloverleaf interchange with a four-ramp diamond interchange. At the height of reconstruction, the parkway was narrowed to one lane in each direction. When the NYSDOT finished the project in 1992, it restored the parkway to two lanes in each direction. However, speeds were lowered along the winding section through Cypress Cemetery, and through the curve underneath the Queens Boulevard underpass.
Engineers developed design plans recently for a rebuilt Kew Gardens interchange between the Jackie Robinson Parkway, Grand Central Parkway, and Van Wyck Expressway (I-678). The work will address 17 merging and weaving problem areas at the interchange by extending acceleration-deceleration lanes (and thus eliminate the "stop-sign" interchange movements), and reducing the westbound parkway to one lane to accommodate the expanded entrance ramps from the southbound Van Wyck Expressway and eastbound Grand Central Parkway. The NYSDOT also plans to close off connections from Union Turnpike to local streets. Currently estimated at a cost of $345 million, the project is tentatively scheduled to begin in 2010, with completion scheduled in 2016.
Despite these past and planned safety enhancements, the Jackie Robinson Parkway retains many substandard features. Sharp curves along the main roadway and the continued absence of acceleration-deceleration lanes continue to contribute to many accidents over the years. According to the NYSDOT, the Jackie Robinson Parkway handles approximately 70,000 vehicles per day (AADT).
HONORING A BASEBALL GREAT: On April 14, 1997, the Interborough Parkway was renamed after Jackie Robinson to commemorate the 50th anniversary of his breaking the color barrier in Major League Baseball with the Brooklyn Dodgers. From the New York State Senate archives:
Portion of state highway system to be designated as the "Jackie Robinson Parkway:" All that portion of the state highway system in the counties of Kings and Queens which is identified and known as the Interborough Parkway, running from the vicinity of Jamaica Avenue in the county of Kings to Queens Boulevard in the county of Queens, shall be designated and known as the "Jackie Robinson Parkway."
In his eleven seasons, Robinson helped the Dodgers win six National League pennants, culminating with the World Series championship against the Yankees in 1955. In 1962, five years after his retirement, he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. The parkway passes the cemetery in Cypress Hills where Robinson was buried in 1972.
This 1999 photo shows the westbound Jackie Robinson Parkway approaching EXIT 3 (Cypress Hill Street). The speed limit on the curved section through the cemeteries is 25 MPH. Passing is prohibited through this area. (Photo by Jeff Saltzman.)
EXTENSION THROUGH SOUTHERN BROOKLYN: In 1963, Moses proposed a 3.4-mile-long southern extension of the Interborough Parkway through southeast Brooklyn. The $30 million extension, which was to be routed through the East New York, New Lots and Starrett City communities, was scheduled for completion in 1976. Most likely, a reconstructed Pennsylvania Avenue was to serve as the service roads for the parkway. However, as Moses lost his power in the late 1960's, the parkway extension was shelved.
The route of the extended Jackie Robinson Parkway was to be about one-half mile east of the L subway (Canarsie BMT) corridor, which was to serve as the route of another proposed highway, the Queens-Interboro Expressway (unbuilt I-695).
SOURCES: "New Roads Open Soon," The New York Times (5/05/1935); New Parkways in New York City, New York City Department of Parks and Recreation (1937); "Master Plan: Express Highways, Parkways and Major Streets," New York City Planning Department (1941); "Future Arterial Program for New York City," Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority (1963); "Queens Interborough Expressway: Planning Report," Vollmer Associates (1973); The Power Broker by Robert A. Caro, Vintage Books-Random House (1974); "Reassessing Robert Moses: The Legacy of the Power Broker," The Newsday Magazine (12/04/1988); "Mayor Giuliani Unveils New Jackie Robinson Parkway Signs," New York City Office of the Mayor (4/14/1997); "The Long and Winding Jackie Robinson Parkway" by Reed Albergotti, The Queens Tribune (6/12/2003); "Problem Areas for Van Wyck-GCP Repair Noted" by Linda J. Wilson, The Queens Gazette (7/24/2003); "End in Sight for Van Wyck Work, but More Still Ahead" by Theresa Juva, The Queens Chronicle (5/24/2007); "Tragic Toll of Queens Roadway" by Angela Montefinese, New York Post (2/24/2008); New York Metropolitan Transportation Council; John Anderson; Fred Hadley; Ralph Herman; Nathan W. Perry; Jeff Saltzman; Tom Scannello.
Jackie Robinson Parkway shield by Ralph Herman. Lightposts by Jeff Saltzman.