In the 1890s, New Yorkers took a bicycle railroad to Brooklyn’s beaches

August 28, 2018

Boynton’s Bicycle Railroad, via Wiki Commons

As Labor Day draws near and New Yorkers run to squeeze a few more beach days into the end of the summer, packed trains and ferries carry crowds to the city’s sandy shores. But, beachgoers of yore weren’t simply piling onto the Q train to get out to Coney Island. They reached the southern tip of Brooklyn via a much more zany (or visionary?) mode of conveyance: Boynton’s Bicycle Railroad. In the summer of 1890, Boynton’s Bicycle, so named because it featured two rails, one beneath the train and one above it, shuttled passengers between Gravesend and Coney Island via an abandoned section of the Sea Beach and Brighton Railroad.

Boynton Bicycle Railroad at Avenue X and Gravesend Avenue, via Wiki Commons

When it debuted following the 1889 World’s Fair, the New York Times reported that Boynton’s locomotive was “entirely different from anything seen here” and “attracts much attention among railroad men,” because it achieved speeds of 80 miles an hour. By the time it made its way to Coney Island the next year, an improved model could clock in at 100 miles an hour.

Boynton Bicycle Elevated Railroad as shown in an 1894 issue of Scientific American, via Wiki Commons

In 1894, Scientific American called the Bicycle Railroad “one of the last developments of true rapid transit. Inventor E. Moody Boynton was sure his new train would “revolutionize railroading,” but the idea never made it off Long Island.

The original Boynton Bicycle Railroad in 1889, via Wiki Commons

After the Coney Island Bicycle Railroad was abandoned in the mid-1890s, the Kings, Queens and Suffolk Railroad built an experimental section of Bicycle Railroad track at Hagerman, Long Island, but it was dismantled in 1902.

While Boynton never got widespread funding or support for his invention, South Brooklyn remembers its bicycle days. Today, Boynton Place, between West 7th Street and Avenue X, honors the site of the Coney Island Bicycle Railroad.

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