Renovation of Crumbling, Dangerous 215th Step-Street Delayed [Updated]

Residents of Inwood were excited by last year’s news that the 215th Step-Street — a block-long staircase linking Broadway to residential blocks in the northern reaches of the neighborhood — would soon be receiving a long-awaited rehab. But officials announced last week that the project will again be delayed.

215steps.jpgThe 215th Step-Street: still broken. Photo: Brad Aaron

Step-streets, staircases built in places deemed too steep for roads, are fairly common in Upper Manhattan, and can also be found in the Bronx, Brooklyn and Staten Island. With its cracked stairs and broken lamps, the 215th Step-Street has been in dire need of repair for a decade or more. Last August, DOT officials joined Assembly Member Adriano
Espaillat at the foot of the stairs to announce that a reconstruction
project would finally be completed in 2009.

It was at Espaillat’s June 25 "town hall" meeting, reports neighborhood blog Inwoodette, that the Department of Design and Construction broke the news — to a chorus of boos — that "pre-design" work will not be complete until October 2010. Said a second local blogger, Jewyorican: DDC personnel "made it sound like we wanted the city to build the 215th street space elevator to the moon."

It isn’t the first time the city has promised to fix the steps only to later renege. As we reported last year, a previous commitment was made in 2005. For whatever it’s worth, Streetsblog has messages in with DDC and Community Board 12 to determine the latest project time line.

Update: From Mark Levine, chair of CB 12’s transportation committee:

A lot of us are livid about this delay. Originally construction was to begin this year (and even that was two years after the project was funded!). DDC says they are now negotiating with the consultant on the pre-design scope package for OMB review. Espaillat has contacted the mayor’s office and DDC commissioner in an effort to expedite matters.

  • It seems ludicrous that these steps can’t be fixed in short order. I suggest neighborhood residents find some civic-minded–or at least rebellious– construction workers to go fix it for themselves. Nothing like a a little DIY project to bring the neighborhood together.

  • Larry Littlefield

    I suggest a trip to my childhood neighborhood in Southwest Yonkers, for a look at the “city stairs” from Beech Street down to Oak, and from Van Cortlandt Park Avenue down to Walnut. I know the shape they were in 40 years ago. I can’t imagine what it must be now.

    That picture looks pretty good to me, in comparison.

    Another childhood memory: looking up step streets from the Major Deegan while riding home from a trip to Manhattan, and seeing the piles of garbage tenants in the adjacent apartment buildings had thrown out the window so they wouldn’t have to carry the trash down the stairs.

    I know I complain a lot, but there is bad and there is bad.

  • As a car-free street, it clearly doesn’t matter, because car-free people don’t matter. Not like my stretch of West End Ave, which gets a new coat of asphalt every other year whether it needs it or not.

  • J-Uptown

    I have to disagree with your assessment that step streets are common in Upper Manhattan and also found in the Bronx. I can think of 2 step streets in Manhattan, 215th St. and 155th Street. I can think of at least 20 or so in the Bronx. In Upper Manhattan where roads meet grade changes that are too steep, the whole area is typically turned into a park, with no connecting roads (Morningside, St. Nicholas, Jackie Robinson, and Highbridge Park). In the Bronx, however, the roads simply become step streets where the grade change is too severe.

  • There’s also 187th Street in Washington Heights (which I walk sometimes to get to my favorite bar), and I did say “fairly common,” which is subjective. But yeah, “fairly common in Upper Manhattan and the Bronx” would probably have been better.

  • Very minor correction: My recollection is that it’s the design phase of the 215th St steps that supposed to be finished in October 2010, not the pre-design phase. I have no clue what this means or whether it makes a difference, though. After the design phase, it’s pre-construction followed by construction, and supposedly it’s taking so long because it’s a complex engineering job involving pipes and wires and other infrastructure underneath the steps. Still, none of this really seems to explain the delay.

  • vnm

    J-Uptown, you are right they are much more common in the Bronx than in Manhattan. However, there are a significant number of these blessedly people-only, car-free streets in Manhattan as well. Besides 215th & 155th Streets as you noted, here are some more:

    W. 214th Street bet. Seaman Avenue & Park Terrace W.
    W. 187th Street bet. Overlook Terrace & Ft. Washington Avenue
    Pinehurst Avenue @ W. 181st Street
    Sylvan Terrace @ St. Nicholas Avenue
    W. 157th Street @ Edgecombe Avenue
    W. 160th Street @ Riverside Drive
    W. 128th Street @ Convent Avenue
    W. 128th Street bet. St. Nicholas Avenue & St. Nicholas Terrace (no actual steps on this one)
    E. 43rd Street @ the United Nations

  • Hm. There are a couple of these near me in Bay Ridge and the one I’ve walked down was in perfect condition. No garbage either. Then again, it’s lined with mansions, so–there you go. Maybe they had a deal with the city to maintain it themselves.

  • Wow, vnm, I thought W. 214 at Seaman/PTW was was just a staircase through Isham Park. But if you check Google Maps, sure enough, it’s marked as a street.

    So there’s at least one more step-street in Upper Manhattan than I thought.

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