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New Riverside Park Master Plan May Send Greenway Cyclists on Hilly Detours

The preliminary Riverside Park Master Plan reroutes cyclists away from the waterfront at 72nd Street. Image: NYC Parks

The preliminary Riverside Park Master Plan reroutes cyclists away from the waterfront at 72nd Street, along the hillier path marked by the bold dotted green line. Click to enlarge. Image: NYC Parks

The waterfront greenway in Riverside Park is one of New York’s most popular places to bike and walk. During the summer, it can get crowded — so crowded that the Parks Department is proposing new detour routes to divert cyclists away from the waterfront path. Those routes are hillier and poorly lit, however, and advocates are worried that the department will compel cyclists to use them at all times.

On Monday, the Parks Department presented parts of its preliminary Riverside Park Master Plan to the Manhattan Community Board 7 parks and environment committee. The plan includes bike detours along three segments of the greenway — between 72nd and 83rd streets, 93rd and 99th, and 145th and 155th.

The detour path between 72nd and 83rd received some funding courtesy of Council Member Helen Rosenthal’s 2015 participatory budget and will be built next year. It includes a particularly steep incline at 79th Street, where cyclists will have to climb up and around the 79th Street Rotunda. Lowering the grade of the rotunda’s access ramps is included in the long-term Riverside master plan, but is not part of the upcoming project and will likely be very expensive.

CB 7 member Ken Coughlin, speaking for himself and not the board, said that while the waterfront esplanade can get messy in the summer, most of the time it is fine. The greenway is the most heavily-biked route in the city, and for much of the year there are more cyclists than pedestrians using the waterfront path.

He warned that the detour paths could pose particular problems during the winter, when there is limited lighting and inclines may freeze over and become slippery. “The absence of notable conflicts on the current riverfront path during most days and times does not justify forcing [cyclists] to divert to a sub-optimal hilly, indirect and potentially unsafe route at all times,” he said in an email.

Rosenthal’s communications director Stephanie Buhle said rules regarding cyclists’ use of the waterfront path have yet to be determined. “[We are] trying to assess and make sense of what will work to make sure pedestrians and cyclists are using the space in a way that makes it possible for everyone,” she said.

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Peds, Cyclists Fend for Themselves While Parks Department Fixes Bronx Paths

The Pelham Parkway Malls, which are used for walking and biking, are set for resurfacing and reconstruction work that's expected to last for two years.

The fenced-off Pelham Parkway malls at White Plains Road, by the entrance to the Pelham Parkway 2/5 station. Photo: Robert Wright

The Parks Department is making much-needed repairs to the Pelham Parkway malls, but the city has failed to provide good detours for walking and biking paths that are now blocked, creating hazards for pedestrians and cyclists.

The Bronx Times reports that both the north and south sections of the malls are closed off east of White Plains Road, where some people now walk in the roadbed.

The construction project is slated to take at least two years. While the work will improve conditions on paths that were falling apart, it looks like the Parks Department has failed to consider how people walking and biking will get around in the meantime.

Rehabilitating the Pelham Parkway malls, which run east-west from Bronx Park to Stillwell Avenue, has been a priority of Bronx Community Board 11 for many years. The current $1.35 million capital project, between Boston Road and Wallace Avenue, is the first of three phases of reconstruction expected to cost around $8 million.

“The intent for this project is to reconstruct the Malls providing a safe, attractive recreational space for pedestrians, cyclists and runners,” a Parks Department spokesperson told Streetsblog.

Construction began last month and is slated to finish in March 2018. Barebones information on the project is on the department’s website, and “signs are clearly posted to inform the public of this closure,” according to the Parks spokesperson.

Signs marking the closure don’t seem to be enough, though. Joe Menta of the Pelham Parkway Preservation Alliance told the Bronx Times that people are walking in the roadbeds next to the malls, where many drivers are coming or going from the high-speed Bronx River Parkway. Without a clearly delineated construction detour, there’s also one less decent option for east-west cycling in the central Bronx.

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DOT’s Astoria Park Safety Plan Calls for 3 Protected Bike Lanes

DOT wants to turn Shore Boulevard into a one-way street with a protected bike lane. Image: DOT

DOT wants to convert a motor vehicle lane on Shore Boulevard into a two-way protected bike lane [PDF]. Image: DOT

Last June, a hit-and-run driver killed 21-year-old Betty DiBiaso at the intersection of 19th Street and Ditmars Boulevard, next to Astoria Park. The loss of DiBiaso prompted a neighborhood-wide discussion about the need to improve street safety around one of Queens’ most visited parks, and on Tuesday night DOT showed Queens Community Board 2 its proposals for the area [PDF].

Despite all the pedestrian and bike traffic, streets near the park lack basic traffic-calming features and safe access for people walking or biking. Since 2009, more than a hundred people have been injured on streets around the park.

The plan DOT showed Tuesday calls for major changes to sections of Shore Boulevard, 20th Avenue, and Hoyt Avenue, with new two-way protected bike lanes on those streets. Separately, DOT is studying a number of other possible improvements for the area, including daylighting intersections and improving pedestrian crossings around the park’s borders and adding speed bumps by the intersection where DiBiaso was killed.

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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.

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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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