The New York City Inline Skating Guide
Where to Skate: Manhattan South
A great place to skate is the bike/skate/ped path running alongside West St. and the Hudson River north, starting from Battery Park, passing Battery Park City and the World Trade Center site, entering Hudson River Park at Chambers St., passing the Chelsea Piers complex in the 20s and then the Intrepid Air/Space Museum, and then finally linking with the promenade in Riverside Park north of 59th St. The park also includes a skatepark on Pier 62 at 22nd St.. Often called the West Side Bikepath until the late 1990s, the bulk of the path is now part of Hudson River Park, the strip of shoreline and many of the piers between Chambers St., on the north side of Battery Park City, and 59th St.
(Note: As construction of the Freedom Tower and reconstruction of the WTC complex moves along, the section of the bikepath between Liberty St. and Vesey St. has been torn back up. You may have to skate on the sidewalk in that area or take a detour through Battery Park City.)
The path is double width (for north and south travel), and runs along the street edge of the park. Immediately east of the bikepath is West St. and the Joe DiMaggio Highway, aka the West Side Highway, aka Route 9A. In many places, there are planted dividers between the path and the highway and between the path and the waterfront promenade. Except for a couple places, lighting is generally pretty good for skating at night.
As you can imagine, the path usually sees a lot of activity on weekend afternoons from skaters, cyclists and joggers, and traffic is both ways, so please keep your head screwed on when skating at that time. Stay to your right except when passing, and pay attention for people who want to pass you from behind. (A lot of skaters strap on their headphones and skate along sedately, totally oblivious to any traffic jam of cyclists and skaters that might be building up behind them.) Be prepared to shout a warning at oblivious cell-phone users meandering the wrong direction and paying no heed to anyonee.
Aside from possible congestion, the chief problem you will experience along the park bikepath are the park access points crossing the path, where you have to cope with pedestrians and in some places motor vehicles. Possibly the busiest are the block in front of the Winter Garden (across the street from the WTC site) and the area around Pier 40 (i.e., between Houston and Christopher Sts.); the former is of course a popular tourist area and the latter seems to be an incredibly popular spot for people to hang out in the evening, and into the night on weekends. Additionally, there can be vehicular problems at a number of locations, including the Pier 40 parking garage, the Chelsea Piers complex, the ferry dock near 35th St., and the USS Intrepid museum. The area from 35th up to 55th Sts. seems to be especially problematic.
Something else to watch out for at these access points are the brick slowing strips crossing the path. Although these may serve as simple warnings for cyclists, they can be a bit trickier for skaters to cope with.
A few of the piers sticking out into the Hudson River are open to pedestrian access. The asphalt on most of them is often quite messed up and unskateable, but some are okay. The concrete pier leading out to the Holland Tunnel ventilation tower should be okay for a slow scenic roll when it's open.
Most of the paths in Battery Park are smooth, but the large number of tourists passing through here on the way to the Statue of Liberty or Ellis Island ferries makes skating here during the day a bad idea. It's nicer during the evening.
Battery Park City:
In addition to the ten-block section of the bikepath extending south out of Hudson River Park, Battery Park City also features a riverside promenade which has been a popular venue for recreational skaters. The promenade connects to the main bikepath on the back side of Stuyvesant High School at Chambers St., and its southern end is a moment's roll from Battery Park.
Roughly speaking, the area inside BPC may be divided into three parts, Wagner Park, the central esplanade and Rockefeller Park, with the dividing points being the South Cove and North Cove. But in all three areas, there are signs indicating paths which are off-limits to skaters and cyclists, and rangers do enforce the regulations.
On the south end of Battery Park City, immediately adjacent to Battery Park, is Wagner Park, which includes the Holocaust Memorial and some very interesting statuary. Although the entire BPC waterfront is scenic, this may be the most scenic of all, offering a terrific view of the Statue of Liberty. However, the area is not terribly large and the signs indicating which areas are no-skating can be confusing. So pop in, take a look around, but don't expect to spend much time here.
North of Wagner Park, the many buildings in Battery Park City come almost to the river's edge, leaving only a pleasant esplanade along which to skate. The walkway is divided into two levels by trees and bushes, and skating, cycling, etc. are barred from the upper, inland path. (Again, park rangers and/or security guards will be more than happy to point this out should you err.) There also tend to be many sight-seers and romantic couples walking the esplanade, so while it's scenic, it's not particularly the best place to do much skating. However, near the north end of the central esplanade is the plaza between the North Cove and the Winter Garden (a huge atrium in one of the buildings of the World Financial Center), where things are bit more wide-open, although it can still be crowded with pedestrians on nice days.
Right next to the mercantile exchange building (a very congested spot due to the ferry landing also located here), the riverside esplanade continues into Nelson Rockefeller Park, probably the best section of Battery Park City for skating as it is larger, is more wide open and probably has somewhat fewer pedestrians. The only problem is that there do tend to be a lot of kids running around, so keep an eye out for knee-high, random missiles.
The stairs at the north end of Rockefeller Park make some good bashing, but while aggressive skaters have been seen doing so, it's a no-no. There're often some park security folks wandering around in little white trucks, and whenever they get to the steps, they chase away anybody they catch skating on them. Periodically, they get tough about it and may even try to confiscate skates.
Several potential points of conflict between pedestrians, cyclists and skaters were mentioned above. BPC authorities became concerned enough about this that they adopted a preliminary plan in early 1997 for dealing with it. A copy can can be found on the the Central Park Skate Patrol website.
East River Bikepath:
There is a marked bikepath, separate from the street, which runs along the East River from the South Ferry to Montgomery St., north of the Manhattan Bridge. It is parallel to South St., directly below the FDR, and lies between the parking area and the waterfront promenade. Except for a stretch near the Brooklyn Bridge, it is generally smooth. However, the area around the South Street Seaport is usually busy with tourists, so watch it along here.
At Montgomery St., one can connect to East River Park along an access road. However, the pavement on the access is in terrible shape and I don't recommend that route.
There is an outdoor rollerhockey rink with some okay asphalt at Martin F. Tanahey Playground, located at Cherry and Market Sts. behind the New York Post's offices. However, I have heard some very negative comments about the safety of the neighborhood. It's hard for me to tell as I've never visited the rink except on night skates with at least 15 other people.
Dr. Sun Yat Sen Intermediate School (IS 131):
At the northeast corner of Canal and Chrystie Sts., right across Canal from the entrance to the Manhattan Bridge and immediately adjacent to Intermediate School 131, is what appears to be a paved-over football field. By this I mean that it is a paved area of about that size and dimensions and it has some small seating areas along the sides. The surface is in decent shape for skating, excepting a couple of major cracks. The lighting here is also good. Thus, this would seem to be a great place for a pick-up rollerhockey game or for wide-open skate tag. There also used to be markings painted along one side which seemed to indicate that someone was using the area to skate laps, but the field has since been re-painted and the markings are gone.
Immediately north of this "field" is the south end of Sara Delano Roosevelt Park, a collection of park benches, planters, etc., which look like they might make some okay grinding for aggro skaters.
Downtown Aggressive Skating:
Near the East River, directly underneath the Brooklyn Bridge by the intersection of St. James Place and Wagner Place, there is an area known as the Brooklyn Banks. There are some rails here plus a ramp-like area known as the Wall which are popular among aggro inliners, skateboarders and BMX bikers, despite the brick surfaces and the broken glass strewn liberally about. Police headquarters is two blocks away, but the area is fairly secluded so that it's perhaps not a great idea to skate here alone, especially after dark.
Besides the Brooklyn Banks, there are numerous plazas in the downtown area which are skateable and are perfect for grinding, bashing, and rail slides. Perhaps the greatest of these is the rebuilt 30-step sequence on the front of the state courthouse on Foley Square (60 Centre St.). However, security guards are usually keeping an eye out for something to do and chasing off skaters does relieve their boredom.
There are several marked north-south bike lanes in the Village area, possibly making this the neighborhood with the densest collection of bike lanes in Manhattan. Just about anywhere, you should be able to go no more than a couple blocks east or west and find a bike lane.
Washington Square Park:
After a major renovation project, Washington Square Park re-opened in May 2009. The new pathways are silky smooth and make sweet skating. However, pedestrian traffic here is almost always very high, so this is generally not a good place to skate.
Tompkins Square Park:
The paths in Tompkins Square Park (bordered by Avenues A and B and East 7th and 10th Sts.) are in generally good shape. The park can be pretty busy, but generally not so much as Washington Square Park, plus it's bigger.
In the northwest corner (10th St. and Ave A) of the park there are stickball and basketball courts. The former an incredibly smooth surface, useful for even advanced skaters to practice their stuff. The latter was once used by the roller basketball league during summer weekend mornings, but now seems to be used for weekday pick-up rollerhockey.
The quality of the neighborhoods near Tompkins Square Park had a mixed reputation in the past, varying block to block, but in the 1990s it became progressively more gentrified. Today the big problem is probably the large number of restaurants and nightclubs in the area, especially to the west, which means a high traffic density on narrow and not well-lit streets.
East River Park:
This park stretches from Jackson St. south of the Williamsburg Bridge up to 13th St. and is supposed to have a riverside esplanade the whole way. The park was long in such bad shape that it wasn't worth any effort for skaters to visit, but that is changing.
Because of rotted pilings and other problems, the esplenade was thoroughly decrepit and other parts of the park also needed significant work. Reconstruction park began in late 2001, and even as lots of stuff (e.g., renovating ballfields and the boathouse) got done, the city kept finding that other stuff was going to require much more work than expected.
As of June 2009, the riverside esplenade has been restored from 6th St. up to 13th St., and the access road parallel to the FDR has been repaved north of about 9th St. These sections are gloriously smooth, and the only problem is that you'll have to watch out for fishermen, kids and dogwalkers on the esplenade.
However, the esplenade south of 6th St. is still under reconstruction. Further, the access road alongside the highway is just marginally skateable, being prone to puddles and suffering from broken asphalt in some areas.
Access to East River Park is via by pedestrian overpasses at 10th St., 6th St., East Houston and Delancey. Also, the access road at the south end leads to the East River bikepath down at Montgomery and the FDR. At the north end, there is a narrow sidewalk that connects with a riverside promenade at about 15th St. and which is accessed at 23rd St.
Several of the avenues in Midtown are generally good skating for those travelling north-south because of the bicycle/skating lanes which they sport on the left side of the street. For uptown travel, there are bike lanes on Sixth Ave. from 9th St. to 42nd St., and on Eighth Ave. up to 57th St. (with a gap in front of the Port Authority). Heading downtown, there is a bike lane which runs down Broadway from Columbus Circle to Union Square and another on Fifth Ave. from Madison Square to Washington Square. However, the mayor's "traffic calming" initiative of spring 2009 that bars auto traffic through Times Square also destroyed the Broadway bike lane from 47th St. down to 42nd St, and the pedestrians wandering every which way have made Times Square a skate/bike-hostile location.
The skateability of the other Midtown avenues, and of the bike lanes themselves, varies from year to year, depending on how recently they've been resurfaced, how bad the last winter has been, etc. And don't forget: Midtown is a high auto traffic area -- Webster's dictionary defines "gridlock" as Midtown at 5 p.m. on a weekday.
See also the Hudson River Park section above for details about the bikepath along the westernmost edge of Midtown.
Union Square can be a fun place to skate after dark or on Sunday, when the greenmarket crowds are gone. The north side of the square, along 17th St., is a large, wide-open paved area where you'll often see newbies trying out their new wheels and more experienced skaters practicing dancing moves, maybe playing a pickup game of rollerhockey, or even doing some slaloming or ramp jumps. If you skate here on a Tuesday night, just be sure to stay out of the way of members of the Society for Creative Anachronism who are whacking at each other with swords. Not only is it a good idea to maintain good relations
On the south side, along 14th St., there are a lot of shallow steps that are great for practicing stair bashes and curb grinds. There are some signs mounted on lamp posts on the south end of Union Square park that say, "No skateboarding no rollerblading [sic]", However, enforcement of whatever ban there might be seems to be episodic. There've been some evenings when I've been there for 30-45 minutes, watching skaters or boarders bashing and grinding away without any harassment. On one of these occasions there was even a cop who was coolly watching the scene but leaving the skaters alone. On the other hand, there are supposed to be park rangers who are not always so passive, and I have on occasion during daylight hours seen a Parks Dept. Bronco parked at the top of the steps, presumably with the idea that it would deter skating activity.
Robert Moses Playground:
Just across 42nd St. from the United Nations is Robert Moses Playground, a very smooth asphalt area which is painted for rollerhockey, with organized league play on weekends. The only deficiencies are that the playground has a slope (the south end is low) and that it's occasionally cluttered with twigs. Most of the gates are locked at night, but the one at the southwest corner is usually open around the clock.