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Posts from the Parks Category


After Hit-and-Run Death, Neighbors Press DOT to Tame Traffic in Astoria Park

Outside of the occasional special event, Shore Boulevard in Astoria Park is dedicated to cars. Photo: Green Shores NYC

Only during the occasional special event do people have priority on Shore Boulevard in Astoria Park. Photo: Green Shores NYC

Park advocates, a local civic association, and Council Member Costa Constantinides are calling on DOT to implement traffic calming around Astoria Park after a hit-and-run driver killed a woman just outside the park last month. The effort could grow much larger than changes to the intersection where the crash occurred: Pressure is mounting for DOT to reimagine the way motorists drive around — and through — the popular Queens park.

Betty Jean DiBiaso, 21, was leaving Astoria Park at about 12:30 a.m. on June 27 when she crossed Ditmars Boulevard at 19th Street. Then Nicholas Colleran, 24, struck her with his Chevrolet Impala and kept going. He later turned himself in to police, but only after filing a report that his car had been stolen, according to WNBC. He now faces charges for falsely reporting an incident, failing to stop at a stop sign, leaving the scene of a crash, and unlicensed driving.

Two days after DiBiaso’s death, reports the Queens Chronicle, the Old Astoria Neighborhood Association passed a resolution asking DOT to install traffic calming on Ditmars Boulevard between Shore Boulevard and 21st Street, an area including the intersection where DiBiaso was killed.

Council Member Costa Constantinides also launched a petition gathering support for traffic calming in the area. “This isn’t about one traffic light or one speed bump,” Constantinides said. “This is about coming up with a real comprehensive plan for the streets that surround Astoria Park.”

One street of particular concern: Shore Boulevard, which runs along the water’s edge through the western side of the park. “Astoria Park was founded in order to give people access to the waterfront, so having barriers to the waterfront, especially something that has the potential for danger like a street, it’s a challenge to the original concept of the park itself,” said Martha Lopez-Gilpin, co-chair of the Astoria Park Alliance.

“Crossing the street, it’s a little bit like playing frogger. It’s not relaxing,” said Katie Ellman, president of waterfront advocacy group Green Shores NYC. “It’s a city street that goes through the park and disconnects the park from its waterfront.”

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Ferreras: “My Focus Is to Make 111th Street One Hundred Percent Safe”

Photo: Clarence Eckerson Jr.

Council Member Julissa Ferreras, left, listens in during a workshop about a plan for 111th Street yesterday. Photo: Clarence Eckerson Jr.

A grassroots effort to improve safety on extra-wide 111th Street in Corona yielded a DOT plan for a road diet, better pedestrian crossings, and a protected bike lane this spring. Then two members of Queens Community Board 4 stymied the proposal, at least for the time being. To keep the project moving forward, Council Member Julissa Ferreras has organized two neighborhood town halls this month.

Nearly 50 people turned out yesterday afternoon for the first meeting at the New York Hall of Science. DOT gave a presentation before splitting participants into small groups to get feedback on the proposal [PDF] and hear concerns about safety on 111th Street, which widens to become a multi-lane divided road alongside Flushing Meadows Corona Park.

The heart of the plan is reducing the street to one motor vehicle lane in each direction and adding a curbside protected bike path next to the park. With fewer car lanes, speeding will be reduced and crossing the street to get to the park won’t be so challenging.

Most attendees were in favor of the change. “It’s going to be safe for me and my kids,” said Delia Tufino, who began bicycling a year ago as part of a program launched by Immigrant Movement International and the Queens Museum. “I think it’s important to bring the community out,” she said of the workshop.

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Central Park Above 72nd Street Is Now Car-Free Forever

Last week, people walking and biking on the Central Park loop had to worry about taxi drivers and car commuters motoring through the park as a rush hour shortcut. This morning was different: Above 72nd Street, you could ride your bike, walk your dog, or go for a run on a safer, quieter path with a lot more elbow room.

Officials and advocates celebrated the permanent expansion of the park’s car-free zone under sunny skies this morning. While traffic is still allowed in the heavily-used southern section of Central Park, today’s ceremony marks a big step on the path to completely car-free parks.

“This is a great day in Central Park,” said Douglas Blonsky, president and CEO of the Central Park Conservancy. “The conservancy for 35 years has been fighting to get cars out of the park and to see this happen is awesome.”

The changes, announced by Mayor Bill de Blasio earlier this month, build upon the gradual expansion of car-free hours that advocates have fought for since the 1960s, when the loop was overrun by traffic at all hours, every day.

Effective today, the Central Park loop north of 72nd Street is permanently car-free, except for emergency and service vehicles [PDF]. In Prospect Park, the West Drive will go car-free next Monday, July 6 [PDF]. Traffic will continue to be allowed at various hours on the Central Park loop south of 72nd Street, and during morning rush hour on the East Drive in Prospect Park.

“It’s terrific that we’re getting cars out of the park for the north side of the loop,” said Council Member Helen Rosenthal, who co-sponsored car-free parks legislation with Council Member Mark Levine before the de Blasio administration took up the issue earlier this year. “I think we have a little bit of work to do to get [cars] out of the south side. I think that’s where the challenge really is. So we have some good work ahead of us to get that done.”

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Will the Parks Department Let Another Sinkhole Swallow the Greenway?

Photos: Ed Boyak

Photos: Ed Boyak

Remember the sinkhole in the Hudson River Greenway that took almost a year for the Parks Department to fix? Now there’s another one.

Streetsblog reader Ed Boyak alerted us and Parks to the new hole, located a few hundred yards south of Dyckman Street. Boyak said it opened up last week.

“There has been a wide depression collecting dirt in this spot for the past few years,” Boyak said in an email. “The now open hole is four to five inches in diameter and appears to be hollow underneath.”

The new hole is nowhere near the size of the Washington Heights crater that formed in 2013, but there is a discernible outline of how it could spread if it isn’t repaired.

Jennifer Hoppa, administrator for parks in Upper Manhattan, said in an email Wednesday that Parks Department staff were on their way inspect the hole. But there was no commitment to fix it.

“One of the many challenges to the site of course is mobilization given that there are stairs to that area and for full repair at a minimum we would need to arrange for a highway lane closure,” wrote Hoppa.

The Hudson River Greenway is the trunk line for bike commuting on the west side of Manhattan. In May the Parks Department and DOT closed sections of the greenway without notice — a routine practice that lengthens commutes and can force cyclists and other users onto streets that aren’t as safe for biking and walking.

The Parks Department didn’t repair the Washington Heights sinkhole for at least 11 months, allowing it to spread most of the width of the greenway.

“I fear the thought of dealing with another six-foot wide hole for the next year or two,” said Boyak.

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Car-Free Parks: The Anticipation Builds

When City Council members Mark Levine and Helen Rosenthal withdrew a bill that would have made the entire Central Park loop car-free for three summer months, the assumption was that City Hall was preparing to lead on the issue.

“The council members have been working with the administration on this, and things are moving forward outside of the legislative process,” Rosenthal spokesperson Stephanie Buhle told Streetsblog in April.

Last year, DOT repeated the Central Park plan from 2013, which cleared the loop north of 72nd Street from late June until Labor Day while allowing drivers on 72nd Street and below. No changes were made for Prospect Park.

Will the big breakthrough for car-free parks come in 2015? Everything is in alignment. Public support is not in doubt. Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams has expressed support for a car-free trial for Prospect Park, and Manhattan beep Gale Brewer has long been a proponent for getting cars out of Central Park.

With the unofficial start of summer upon us this weekend, hopes are high, but time is also running short to get in a full three-month car-free trial.

DOT sent us this statement today:

We continue to have productive conversations with Council Members and other stakeholders on the topic and continue to work on this. Mayor de Blasio is a long-standing supporter of car-free parks.

So it seems something is in the works, but we don’t know what.

One thing to watch is whether both sides of Prospect Park will go car-free. Currently, the east side of the park is open to motorists during the morning rush, and the west side for the afternoon rush. Word is the city has been more reluctant to make the east side car-free because it gets more traffic. Central Park south of 72nd Street also remains a question mark.

We will resume our regular publishing schedule on Tuesday. Enjoy the Memorial Day weekend, everybody.


Eyes on the Street: State DOT Squeezes Van Cortlandt Park Greenway

Car drivers get two spacious lanes on the left. Golf carts get a full lane on the right. In between, cyclists and pedestrians get squeezed into a four-foot-wide path thanks to the state DOT. Photo: Urban Residue

Car drivers get two spacious lanes on the left. Golf carts get a full lane on the right. In between, cyclists and pedestrians get squeezed into a four-foot-wide path thanks to the state DOT. Photo: Urban Residue

The walls are closing in on people who walk or bike on the Van Cortlandt Park greenway in the Bronx. A state Department of Transportation highway construction project has narrowed the shared bicycle and pedestrian path to just four feet, while leaving adjacent car lanes and a golf cart path almost entirely untouched.

The cause of the greenway pinch point is the $27.8 million reconstruction of the Major Deegan Expressway bridge above Mosholu Parkway, which began in May 2014 and isn’t expected to be complete until spring 2017, according to state DOT [PDF].

The golf cart path adjacent to the greenway was narrowed slightly, but remains wide enough to accommodate larger maintenance vehicles, state DOT says. The greenway path, however, narrows immediately after southbound cyclists descend a curved incline. The space that used to be for biking is now a staging area for construction vehicles.

“Temporarily reducing the widths and alignments of both the golf path and pedestrian walkway is necessary to safely reconstruct the south bridge abutment,” said state DOT spokesperson Diane Park. “Throughout the three-year project, access to the pedestrian walkway will be maintained.”

There's about as much space dedicated to storing Jersey barriers as there is to the safe passage of cyclists and pedestrians. Photo: Urban Residue/Twitter

There’s about as much space dedicated to storing Jersey barriers as there is to people walking and biking. Photo: Urban Residue/Twitter

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Will City Hall and DOT Finally Commit to Car-Free Parks This Summer?

Photo: Stephen Miller

The city’s most crowded parks double as shortcuts for taxis and black cars. More than 100,000 New Yorkers have signed petitions asking City Hall to make the park loops car-free. Photo: Stephen Miller

Spring is here, and that means the loops in Central Park and Prospect Park are increasingly crowded, with cyclists, joggers, and walkers squeezed by rush-hour traffic. Will the de Blasio administration finally make the parks car-free this summer?

Last year, DOT repeated the same partially car-free regime in Central Park that the Bloomberg administration introduced in 2013. While the loop north of 72nd Street was free of cars from June 27 to Labor Day, motor vehicle traffic was still allowed in the park south of 72nd Street during rush hours. (The car-free geography in Prospect Park did not change at all.)

Trottenberg explained at the time why she wasn’t expanding car-free hours:

“I’m hearing from a lot of folks who are interested in making both parks a lot more car-free, and I can tell you we’re working on it,” Trottenberg said, adding that traffic signal or engineering changes might be required because traffic picks up after Labor Day. “We would love to expand the program,” she said. “You just have to make sure you have a good plan to accommodate that.”

Now, the question 10 months later is: Does DOT have a plan? Last October, council members Mark Levine and Helen Rosenthal introduced Intro 499, a bill that would have forced the administration’s hand by requiring the entire Central Park loop to go car-free for three summer months, followed by a study “determining the effects, if any, of the closing of the loop drive.”

It looked like the bill was headed to a hearing at the transportation committee last week, but it was removed from the agenda after Levine tweeted out a message urging support for the bill. That could actually be a good sign: Word is that City Hall may take action without legislative prodding.

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Creating Safer Streets Linking the South Bronx to Randall’s Island

Current conditions on 132nd Street, which will provide access to the Randall’s Island Connector greenway segment. All photos and renderings by Civitas courtesy of New York Restoration Project

132nd Street as envisioned in The Haven Project recommendations.

The South Bronx neighborhoods of Port Morris and Mott Haven are a stone’s throw from 480-acre Randall’s Island, but a ring of highways and industry separates residents from all that parkland. Now, the New York Restoration Project (NYRP) is working with local advocates and health researchers to create better walking and biking connections between the South Bronx and Randall’s Island, taking advantage of a long-planned greenway segment set to open this summer.

The South Bronx has high rates of asthma, diabetes, and obesity, making it especially urgent to provide opportunities for physical activity. The Randall’s Island Connector, a nearly-complete greenway segment running beneath the Hell Gate Bridge, will help by linking the South Bronx to Randall’s Island with a car-free path. But to reach the connector after it opens, residents will still have to navigate streets overrun by trucks and lined with industrial uses.

That’s where NYRP and its initiative, The Haven Project, come in. Launched after a community meeting last June, the project aims to create safer access to the greenway. The first round of recommendations has been released [PDF] — including plans for waterfront greenways, new street trees, protected bike lanes, and safer pedestrian crossings — and a full report is scheduled for June.

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DOT Safety Plan for Corona’s 111th Street Faces Uphill Battle at Queens CB 4

This road diet and protected bike lane is too much for Queens CB 4 to handle. Image: DOT [PDF]

This road diet and protected bike lane, which will improve connections between Corona residents and Flushing Meadows Corona Park, doesn’t have enough car lanes for some Queens CB 4 members. Image: DOT [PDF]

A dangerous street that Corona residents have to cross to get to Flushing Meadows Corona Park is in line for a serious traffic-calming plan, complete with a two-way protected bike lane [PDF], but local community board members are balking at the proposal.

Flushing Meadows Corona Park, the largest park in Queens, is ringed by highways that cut off access from the neighborhoods around it. The one exception is 111th Street on the west side of the park. But instead of functioning as a welcoming entrance to the park, 111th Street is designed like a surface highway, with three southbound car lanes divided from two northbound lanes by a planted median. Residents have to walk up to 1,300 feet, or five blocks, before finding a marked crosswalk, and 84 percent of cyclists ride on the sidewalk, according to DOT.

Last year, Make the Road New York, Immigrant Movement International, the Queens Museum, and Transportation Alternatives organized for better walking and biking access to the park. Council Member Julissa Ferreras signed on, asking DOT last fall to install bike lanes throughout her district, including on 111th Street [PDF].

The DOT proposal delivers: It would calm the street by narrowing it to one lane of car traffic in each direction. The edge of the street along the park would receive a two-way parking-protected bikeway with pedestrian islands. Moving lanes would be replaced by parking along the median on the southbound side. At intersections, median extensions would shorten crossing distances for pedestrians, which currently stretch up to 94 feet.

This seems to be too much for some key members of Queens Community Board 4.

DOT presented its plan to three members of CB 4 at a special meeting of its transportation committee last Tuesday. “It was definitely a heated, emotional meeting,” said Amy Richards, who coordinates the Partnership for a Healthier Queens program at Make the Road New York. The board members were very “change-averse,” Richards said. “The meeting was tricky.”

“It’s a tough call,” CB 4 District Manager Christian Cassagnol said of the plan. “We told them to go back to the drawing board and change a couple of the small issues we were questioning.” DOT says it used the feedback to draft minor changes the original plan, which Cassagnol received this morning.

Board members last week were actually looking for major changes to the DOT plan. The big complaint from transportation committee members was “not enough traffic lanes, basically,” Cassagnol said. “That seems to be the main thing.”

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The New Plan to Connect Downtown Brooklyn to Its Waterfront

The "Brooklyn Strand" covers blocks cleared for expressways and parks in the 20th Century. Map: WXY Architecture [PDF]

The “Brooklyn Strand” seeks to improve walking and biking connections in an area cut up by highway ramps in the 1930s. Map: WXY Architecture

Starting in the 1930s, entire city blocks in Brooklyn Heights, Downtown Brooklyn, and DUMBO were razed for expressways and parks. Today, this jumble of on-ramps and disconnected green space separates Brooklyn’s waterfront from its downtown core. A new public-private initiative, called “The Brooklyn Strand,” seeks to knit these disjointed areas back together.

On Monday evening, Claire Weisz of WXY Architecture + Urban Design presented the design [PDF] to the Brooklyn Community Board 2 parks committee, Curbed reports. The project is a joint effort of the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership, Brooklyn Bridge Park, the Mayor’s Office, the Parks Department, and the Department of City Planning.

The plan recommends turning a quiet block of Cadman Plaza East into a pedestrian plaza. Image: WXY Architecture

The plan recommends pedestrianizing a lightly-trafficked block of Cadman Plaza East. Image: WXY Architecture

The plan has been in the works for a year and builds on other initiatives already underway, like bicycle and pedestrian improvements in DUMBO and near the Brooklyn Bridge entrance at the intersection of Tillary and Adams Streets. It also echoes many of the public space proposals from Transportation Alternatives and the Brooklyn Tech Triangle strategic plan.

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