Bronx CB 8 Committee Deadlocks on Putnam Trail Paving

Last night, Bronx Community Board 8’s parks committee deadlocked, 3-2, with two abstentions, on a resolution to support the Parks Department’s plan to pave the Putnam Line rail-trail. The community board serves only an advisory role, however, and the Parks Department is likely to proceed with the plan after it receives a permit from the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

Under the proposal, the 1.5-mile Putnam Line rail-trail would be paved and include a soft-surface jogging path. Image: ## Department##

The resolution needed four votes to pass. Committee member Robert Press said he supports paving because it would be easier to maintain than a soft surface path, but voted to abstain after Parks Department representatives failed to guarantee, in response to one of his questions at last night’s meeting, that the city wouldn’t install a bike-share station in the park. (Yes, this is the caliber of thought that goes into community board votes.)

The Putnam Line carried passengers until the 1950s and last saw freight trains in the 1980s. Currently, it is a north-south dirt path through Van Cortlandt Park that connects with the South County Trailway, a paved rail-trail in Westchester County.

The paving proposal, envisioned in the city’s 1993 greenway master plan and funded by city money and an earmark from the 2005 federal transportation bill, has long been a subject of debate. Its design — a 10-foot wide paved asphalt path, with a three-foot wide soft surface jogging path on the side — has been finalized, but a group opposed to the project wants the city to scuttle its asphalt plan in favor of a stone dust path that would slow cyclists.

Park users who support paving the rail-trail say that it would close a longstanding link in the regional trail system while serving all types of walkers, runners, and cyclists. “It’s not money to create a nature trail. It’s money to create a transportation trail,” Bronx community development leader Dart Westphal told Streetsblog. “It’s a choice between doing it or not doing it.”

Council Member G. Oliver Koppell supports the paving plan, but the candidates running to succeed him this fall are far from unanimous on the issue. Clifford Stanton told Streetsblog that he supports paving the trail in a way that minimizes harm to adjacent trees and plant life, and Andrew Cohen said that although he prefers construction of a stone dust path, he is not opposed to the Parks Department’s plan. “I’d rather see it paved than left in the condition it’s in,” he told Streetsblog.

Candidate Cheryl Keeling said she is inclined to oppose paving, while Ari Hoffnung took the strongest stance against the proposal. “We need to do everything possible to prevent the City from moving forward with its ill-conceived plan of paving over the trail,” he told Streetsblog via e-mail.

The paving project would remove seven live trees, five of which are invasive species, according to the Parks Department, and would also plant more than 400 new trees and saplings. But Will Sanchez, an organizer with anti-paving group Save the Putnam Trail, doesn’t believe those numbers. “They’re not cutting down seven mature trees; they’re cutting down hundreds of trees,” he said.

Parks Department representatives said at last night’s meeting that the bicycle and pedestrian project does not require an environmental review, although Sanchez says it was “morally wrong” not to perform one. “We’re going to have to take legal action,” he told Streetsblog.

The Parks Department has also applied to DEC for a freshwater wetlands permit. Receiving the permit would remove the final barrier before the project can begin construction. Public comment on the permit application closed last Friday, and Sanchez is hopeful that DEC will reject the permit application. “We anticipate they will have a public hearing on it,” he said. The issue will also be on the agenda at the next full board meeting of CB 8, scheduled for June 11, where Sanchez predicts a “no” vote.

Sanchez alleged that those who support a paved trail are engaged in a conspiracy with the government. “We should be following the money,” he said, adding that proponents of paving the trail might be receiving a quid-pro-quo from the city in exchange for their support. “We’re going to make sure that that becomes a political issue.”

“We’re never going to be open to paving,” Sanchez said. “This is far from over.”

  • Bobberooni

    It does have access points on foot, but not bike.

    I think people describe it as bucolic because: (a) it is, and (b) most of them wander around on foot and rarely make it to the northern end.5

  • Bobberooni

    Talking about bike share in Van Cortland Park is ridiculous. I’m sure the DOT refused to make a guarantee about it because the topic is so ridiculous it was not worth addressing.

    Let’s see….

    1. The closest existing CitiBike station to Van Cortland Park is at 82nd St and Riverside Drive, 10 MILES AWAY from the southern end of the park. The entire diameter of the existing CItiBike network is only 12 miles. In some alternate universe where CitiBike gets to Van Cortland Park, the ENTIRE CITY would be blanketed with CitiBike stations. I doubt that bike share will EVER be viable in this part of the Bronx. Remember… bike share relies on SHORT trips to NEARBY attractions. Kingsbridge is more of a commuter zone, with people going to the subway and back. Anyone wanting to bike from Kingsbridge to Manhattan will need their own bike because the trip doesn’t fit well within CitiBike’s 45 minute limit.

    2. CitiBike is already on the Upper East and West Sides, adjacent to Central Park. And there are ZERO CitiBike stations in Central Park. So even in the fantasy world where a CitiBike reaches Kingsbridge, CitiBike is unlikely to put stations IN the park, at least not beyond the golf course parking lot.

    3. Practical considerations require that CitiBike stations be accessible to automobiles for servicing and rebalancing. That’s one good reason why they will likely NEVER be placed in inaccessible locations deep in the woods on a bike path.

  • Bobberooni

    The proposal has a separate unpaved running path next to the paved trail.

  • I agree with you. I wasn’t talking about this, though. This doesn’t address the issue that this shouldn’t have come up as a reason NOT to do something else that would greatly benefit a far larger segment of the public than general bicyclists (never mind just the bike share users)

  • Alexander Vucelic

    i ride that path and Believe it Could be useful simply by adding pea gravel or cinders.

    You do realize If it gets paved – If will be a permanent Fred traffic jam ?

  • Bobberooni

    I’m a bike commuter from Westchester County, and I ride my (highly illegal, hazard to the world) electric bike on the Putnam Trail every day. When I first started doing so this summer, my attitude was “of course, pave the trail.” In the meantime, as I ride the trail every day, I’ve come to understand arguments from the other side as well. I think the issue has become over-politicized, like a local version of Keystone XL.

    The anti-paving crowd is right, the park REALLY IS bucolic. I love and value my commute through this park — both the trail itself, and the few seconds spent around the headhouse for the golf course.

    Yes, the Putnam Trail is on a narrow strip of land. Yes, it’s a former rail bed and in deplorable condition. No, it’s not a wilderness. Yes, I want a better bike trail, we need progress badly. No, a couple of trees removed here or there will make little difference (and is needed in the “narrows” section).

    But the current trail is wonderful and peaceful and relaxing. The South
    County Trailway is a better bike road and better for getting me the many miles I need to get home. But it’s somehow not as beautiful or peaceful — boring, in fact. At the end of the day, I love this part of my commute, and I’d hate to see the “magic” lost in the name of progress. My hope is we can stop arguing every little point like it’s the end of the world, and instead work together to improve this park for everyone. I for one, would be delighted with a crushed stone path.

    See here for more details and observations…

    1. When I first started riding the trail, I perceived it as nearly impassible, an obstacle to reaching Kingsbridge. Since then, as I’ve learned every nook and pothole of the trail, it’s turned out to not slow me down much; I now find myself cruising at close to top speed, most of the time. Occasional bikers WILL be slowed down, but not regular commuters. For that reason, I perceive paving the trail as less of a priority than I used to.

    2. The current condition of the trail is deplorable. There are a series of mud-filled potholes and washouts, making the trail nearly impassable in the rain. One washout is 20 ft long, and the only past is straight through. This is New York City, and yet I have to endure 1.5 miles of Third World conditions to get to work: dust in the summer, mud in the Spring/Fall. I get to work with my bike, fenders and pannier bags all covered in… MUD! I don’t care whether it’s crushed stone or asphalt, either would be better than the current situation. Shouldn’t we know we can get through reliably in… the RAIN?

    3. The potholes seem to be caused by motor vehicles that use the path to provide maintenance to the park, and to fix the Mosholu overpass. When a car tire gets in a mudhole and starts to slip, the wheel spins… which digs the hole deeper. The parks dept recently “fixed” the most egregious of mud-out conditions in the Southern End of the park by dumping gravel on it. Not fun to ride on, but at least passable. I’ve considered going there with a shovel to fix some of the other mud holes.

    4. I take the Putnam Trail in the rain ANYWAY because it’s such a huge win for time and bike safety. My alternative is Jerome Ave, and then Kimball Ave through Yonkers. I avoid many miles of dealing with cars by taking the Putnam, and will continue to do so in any marginally passable condition.

    5. Since Westchester County does not clear snow from the South County
    Trail, it doesn’t really matter whether NYC makes the Putnam Trail
    passable in the snow.

    6. There is a safety benefit to having more people on the ENTIRE length of the Putnam Trail at more times. Currently, the north end is rather sparse because the dirth path discourages bikes, and peds don’t usually walk that far. Improved biking conditions will bring more bikes, which will increase safety.

    7. Parts of the trail (just north of the Mosholu underpass) are so narrow, a bike and ped can barely squeeze past each other; I call this “The Narrows.” I don’t think it’s passable at all in a pickup truck. In the summer, the trail is full of poison ivy. I do my best to be patient about passing, and not scare peds, and discourage them from stepping in the poison ivy. But it happens all the time, and I don’t want to see people going home with a rash just because they tried to enjoy the park. Not to mention, what would happen if someone suffers a medical emergency, how will emergency personnel get there? The trail really does need to be wider, for everyone’s benefit.

    8. Near the southern end, the parks dept has spray-painted orange on every rock sticking up in the trail. Not sure what that’s about… There are also places where you have to bike over railroad ties, tree roots, etc.

  • Bobberooni

    Uhh…. when I think if “all the way upstate,” I think of Albany, Syracuse, Rochester, Buffalo….

  • Bobberooni

    Most Bronx residents don’t venture further than 1/2 mile from the southern end of the trail — because they’re on foot.

  • Bobberooni

    I thought Stephen Miller had left StreetsBlog, so what’s the story with this story?

  • Joe R.

    Look at the date-May 23, 2013. This story is getting new posts because the Putnam Trail came up in today’s headlines.

  • qrt145

    It was published in 2013.

  • ron6788

    Glad to hear it. I haven’t been to VC park in some time, ever since the comissioner broke up our running events.

  • ahwr

    It was hard to justify the Putnam Line 100 years ago

    Really? I had thought the line made sense and did good business until the west shore hudson line was upgraded to carry wider and taller freight loads ~1960. Couldn’t run them then and can’t run them now on MNR hudson or harlem with the overpasses, third rail, and full length high level platforms.


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