Free Trolley Shuttles Visitors to Bronx's Out-of-the-Way Cultural Spots

By Patrick Wall on June 6, 2012 4:59pm 

The Bronx Culture Trolley parked at Westchester Square. The free trolley ferries visitors to South Bronx cultural sites on the first Wednesday of each month.
The Bronx Culture Trolley parked at Westchester Square. The free trolley ferries visitors to South Bronx cultural sites on the first Wednesday of each month.
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Bronx Council of the Arts

CONCOURSE — Last week, eager crowds were led to City Island. This week, they will be escorted to art galleries in the South Bronx and guided on a tour of the borough’s urban farms.

Their host is not some borough aficionado or a politician up for reelection — it’s the Bronx’s free public trolley, which has been shuttling visitors to the borough’s top destinations for the past decade, and remapping perceptions of The Bronx along the way.

“People began to have their eyes opened to what’s out there,” said Phil Cardone, who coordinates the Bronx Culture Trolley for the Bronx Council of the Arts. “It’s not what people heard it was a long time ago.”

This month, the trolley will stop by a book signing at the Bronx Museum of the Arts, a dance recital at Pregones Theater inspired by the Puerto Rican migration to the US, a multimedia show at BronxArtSpace and art exhibits at the Clock Bar and Bruckner Bar and Grill.

The trolley, which is owned by the Bronx Tourism Council but conducted by the Bronx Council on the Arts, made its first trip in 2002 and has continued, making 10 monthly outings a year, ever since.

On the first Wednesday of each month, except in January and September, the trolley takes off from the Longwood Art Gallery at Hostos Community College at 5:30 p.m., then ferries riders between various South Bronx art venues and eateries from 165th Street to the Bruckner Boulevard.

Over the past decade, the trolley has transported more than 5,000 Bronx art-seekers — some coming from as far away as Australia, China and even New Jersey. In 2007, a research center named it the city’s most successful trolley route.

“It’s crazy,” said Cardone. “We never expected it to take off the way it did.”

On the first Friday of each month, the red-and-green vehicle is christened the City Island Seaside Trolley.

Every half-hour, from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m., the trolley shuttles passengers from the last stop of the 6 train, at Pelham Bay Park, to the historic Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum, and onto City Island.

Shops, galleries and restaurants along the island’s one-and-a-half-mile central strip often stay open late and offer discounts for trolley riders.

“Not only is it free,” said Paul Klein, vice president of the City Island Chamber of Commerce, “but you get other freebies associated with it.”

The Bronx Tourism Council often offers up the trolley for other uses, as it will this Saturday, when the trolley will be used to haul passengers along the second annual Bronx Urban Farm Tour.

The theme of this year’s tour, which comes on the eve of the National Puerto Rican Day Parade in Manhattan, is Puerto Rican history in The Bronx.

The tour, which costs $20, departs from Manhattan at 10 a.m. and returns at 3 p.m. It will stop at three community-run South Bronx farms, where visitors can sample fresh-cooked Puerto Rican dishes, listen to live Latin music and even watch volunteers assemble a float for Sunday’s parade.

A tour guide, the Bronx-based storyteller and spoken word poet, Bobby Gonzalez, will provide some historical context, as well as some stories about his own parents, who migrated from Puerto Rico to New York in the 1940s.

“I’m hoping that they’ll see the beautiful side of the South Bronx,” said Gonzalez. “It’s not just an asphalt jungle.”

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