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Posts from the Parks Category

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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.

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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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Hudson Square Plaza Revamp Leaves Shared Space Street for Another Day

The plaza on the left is getting refurbished, but a shared space plan for this street was tabled in part because it's used as a display space for a motorcycle dealership. Photo: Google Maps

The plaza on the left is getting refurbished, but a shared space plan for the street was tabled because, among other reasons, it’s used as a display space for a motorcycle dealership. Photo: Google Maps

A plan to convert a two-block street on the border of Soho and Hudson Square into shared space is going to sit on the shelf — for now.

The Parks Department and the Hudson Square Connection Business Improvement District are splitting the cost of a $6 million plan to overhaul a triangular park along Sixth Avenue between Spring and Broome Streets. Conceptual plans for the space from 2012 showed Little Sixth Avenue, a two-block street on the west side of the park, being converted to a pedestrian-priority street that would slow drivers by blurring the line between street and sidewalk. But that was dropped from the project over concerns about utility work, costs, and loss of on-street parking.

“We’re not precluding it, but we don’t have the budget to include it,” said Signe Nielsen of landscape architecture firm Mathews Nielsen, which is designing the revamped plaza and worked on the previous conceptual plan. “We’re totally in favor of it. It was an initiative that we actually recommended in our master plan study, but we’re aware that DOT requires a lot of backup before they will allow such a thing to go through.”

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Eyes on the Street: Un-Plowed Bikeway on Parks Department Turf

Photo: Commenter BBNet3000

Pike Street has a bikeway and a pedestrian path, but you wouldn’t know that based on the Parks Department’s snow removal practices. Photo: Commenter BBnet3000

Most of NYC’s bridge paths and protected bikeways seem to have been cleared well in the aftermath of this week’s snowstorm, judging by the lack of snowed-in bike lane photos in the Streetsblog inbox.

It’s a different story on Parks Department turf. This stretch, flagged by commenter BBnet3000 yesterday morning, is the center median bikeway on Pike Street leading to the East River waterfront. (It remained unplowed late this morning.)

The Pike Street bike and pedestrian paths have been ignored by the Parks Department. Photo: Stephen Miller

The Pike Street bike and pedestrian path this morning. Photo: Stephen Miller

Landscaped malls run down the middle of Pike and Allen Streets on the Lower East Side. While the street is under the purview of the Department of Transportation, the malls themselves fall under Parks.

DOT redesigned the street in 2009 to add protected bike lanes and more pedestrian space. Since then, a few blocks have been upgraded from paint to permanent materials. On those blocks, the bikeway is now controlled by the Parks Department. So when it snows, that means a patchwork of agencies are responsible for keeping the bike lane passable on a single street.

North of Division Street, Allen Street’s bikeways are mostly cleared, whether the section is maintained by Parks or DOT. On Pike Street south of Division, the bike lanes managed by Parks are snowed-in. Pedestrian walkways along the entirety of the mall, also maintained by Parks, are completely covered in snow.

The Parks Department, responsible for 29,000 acres of land, says it has 900 staff working on snow removal. It operates 44 plow trucks assigned to a Sanitation Department detail and has 200 additional vehicles on snow removal, including smaller plows and salt spreaders.

“Our first priority is to clear park perimeters to ensure safe access for pedestrians,” said Parks Department spokesperson Sam Biederman. He added that crosswalks, bus stops, hydrants, and catch basins along park perimeters in high traffic locations — such as transit hubs and civic centers, or near schools, recreation centers, and senior centers — top the department’s priority list for snow removal. “Interior paths of all types are a lower priority during snow storms,” Biederman said. “We will be clearing snow from interior play spaces and interior walkways throughout the week.”

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70th Precinct Fines People for Choosing a Safe Place to Walk or Bike at Night

Brooklynites are asking the city to stop penalizing people for walking and biking on a park path that lets them avoid dangerous traffic on a nearby street.

Map: DOITT

The 70th Precinct has deemed the north-south biking and walking path through the Parade Ground off-limits after dark, fining people for using a bypass around dangerous Coney Island Avenue. Map: DOITT

The paved path through the Parade Ground south of Prospect Park links the park loop with low-traffic neighborhood streets, serving as an alternative to Coney Island Avenue, a wide street with four lanes of through traffic. In particular, the path allows people to avoid the intersection of Coney Island Avenue and Caton Avenue, where drivers injured an average of two pedestrians or cyclists per year between 1995 and 2009, according to Transportation Alternatives’ CrashStat. The path is also a designated bikeway on the New York City bike map.

It’s common for people to use the path at night, and over the summer, local residents asked the 70th Precinct to stop issuing criminal court summonses on the path after sunset.

At a September meeting of the 70th Precinct community council, Deputy Inspector Richard DiBlasio said NYPD was issuing summonses for the safety of people walking and biking, reported Ditmas Park Corner. “Unfortunately, there’s been some recent crime in that area — there’s been an increase in crime in that area,” said DiBlasio. “We don’t want to prevent anyone from using our park, but when it gets dark in that park there are different rules because it’s not safe.” The Prospect Park Alliance posted new signs emphasizing that the path closes at night.

But people who use the park path are more concerned about traffic on Coney Island Avenue than traveling through the Parade Ground after dark.

“Many are coming and going to Prospect Park while others are walking home from the F train,” wrote local resident Olgierd Bilanow on a petition asking the Prospect Park Alliance and the city to change the rules and keep the path open until 1 a.m. “For all these people walking through the Parade Ground path is the easiest, safest and most pleasant way to go between home and Park Circle.”

On Tuesday, Bilanow posted an update: “The 70th Precinct has vetoed any changes to the hours at the Parade Grounds.”

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Julissa Ferreras Joins Corona Residents in Planning for a Safer 111th Street

111th Street is a barrier to Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. Local residents, advocates, and Council Member Julissa Ferreras want to change that. Image: Google Maps

111th Street is a barrier to Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. Local residents, advocates, and Council Member Julissa Ferreras want to change that. Image: Google Maps

Residents and community groups in Corona are working to tame traffic on an extra-wide street that separates their neighborhood from the largest park in Queens. They’re backed by a council member who, in addition to putting aside funds for the project, is asking the city to bring bike lanes and traffic calming to the rest of her district.

Flushing Meadows-Corona Park is surrounded almost entirely by highways, making access from surrounding neighborhoods difficult. One section of the park, home to the New York Hall of Science, crosses the Grand Central Parkway and extends to 111th Street. Corona residents must cross the street to get to the park. Even though it’s not an arterial road, 111th is designed like one, with up to three lanes in each direction and a center median.

“It’s a legacy of the planning for the World’s Fair,” said Jose Serrano, a community organizer at the Queens Museum, which is located within the park. “It’s a legacy of a fair that was meant to be a regional destination, and not necessarily about planning for connectivity between the park and the local community.”

Earlier this year, the Queens Museum began working with Immigrant Movement International, Make the Road New York, and Transportation Alternatives to hear what local residents have to say about street safety. In July, the groups hosted a Vision Zero workshop to gather feedback.

“What stood out overwhelmingly was that neighbors wanted to see big-time change on 111th Street, both for pedestrians and for cyclists,” said Celia Castellan of Transportation Alternatives. “It connects everyone to Flushing Meadows-Corona Park.”

“We have a beautiful park here in Queens,” said Cristina Camacho, a member of Make the Road. “The people who live along 111th Street, they were having a lot of concerns about their children.”

In September, the groups organized a daffodil planting on the 111th Street median. At the event, they asked for more feedback on how residents thought the street should be designed. There were lots of ideas, from more stop lights and crosswalks to a protected bike lane. Some residents suggested converting the northbound lanes to a bike and pedestrian zone that could also have space for vendors, Serrano said.

Their ideas could become a reality. In fiscal year 2014, Council Member Julissa Ferreras allocated $2.7 million in discretionary capital funds to a redesign of 111th Street. On Thursday, she is meeting with DOT to get an update on how the money could be spent.

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