While a network of parks continues to sprout along the banks of the Bronx River, a dangerous gap between two parks could fester for years, preventing the creation of a continuous, safe walking and biking route for local residents. Advocates have launched a petition asking the city and state to overcome bureaucratic hurdles to complete the missing link, so people don't have to risk their lives biking and walking across a freeway on-ramp between two parks.
A continuous greenway along the banks of the Bronx River, a longtime goal of nearby residents, has been moving ahead piece-by-piece for years. In the next step forward, the state is expected to open the first phase of Starlight Park as soon as this spring, after Hurricane Sandy delayed a fall 2012 opening. Meanwhile, the city is progressing on a greenway section linking Starlight Park to East Tremont Avenue to the north.
To the south sits Concrete Plant Park, a narrow strip of green on the river's west bank, between Westchester Avenue and Bruckner Boulevard. The problem is getting from one park to the other.
To travel between the two parks, residents have to walk or bike along an on-ramp to the Sheridan Expressway. The second phase of Starlight Park, between East 174th Street and Westchester Avenue, would provide a safe route by extending the greenway, but bureaucratic snafus have put it on hold.
"It's so unfriendly to pedestrians and cyclists that we do really need this connection to get between Concrete Plant Park and Starlight Park," said Maggie Scott Greenfield, deputy director of the Bronx River Alliance.
The delays began when the state DOT and Amtrak failed to reach a legal agreement for a greenway bridge over the rail line. State funding for the project expired in 2009.
Looking to get the process back on track, the Bronx River Alliance has launched a petition asking the state to recommit funding and for the city to take over project management from the state so the park can be covered by an existing indemnity agreement between the city and Amtrak.
"We've heard that the state will look to see where funding is available," Greenfield said, "But they are not confident that they will be able to provide 100 percent funding." The state had committed to cover the entire cost of park construction before the funds expired four years ago.
Things look better on the city's side, where Greenfield says they've heard "promising indications" that either the Department of Transportation or the Parks Department would pick up project management from the state.
So far, nearly 50 community organizations have signed on to a letter in support of the campaign, which is being co-led by the Alliance, Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice, and THE POINT CDC. More than 400 people have signed paper petitions, and more than 320 have joined online. The petition, which began in the fall, is scheduled to be active for a few more months.
"This is an environmental justice issue for this community to fight for access to its waterfront," Greenfield said. "Without it, we really don't have a complete Bronx River Greenway."