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UPDATED: Is the Park Avenue Median Getting a Revamp?

10:17 AM EDT on September 9, 2020

Two views of Park Avenue looking north from 50th Street: A vintage one (left) shows the original park at the center, while a recent one (right) shows the sad rump the median has become after being pared back for cars. Photo (right): Adam Light

The Department of Transportation is quietly exploring the widening of the Park Avenue median.

But don't expect the effort to come about anytime soon.

According to Jon Orcutt, the communications director of Bike New York and a former DOT official, the DOT is indeed looking to revamp the Park Avenue median — in the long term. But first, Metro North, whose commuter trains run under the avenue into Grand Central Terminal, needs to rebuild the train yard under the avenue. "The street is the yard's roof and will basically be torn off and rebuilt," Orcutt explained in a tweet.

Interest in widening the median is heavy. The DOT recently posted online as part of its “Reimagining Park Avenue” initiative a questionnaire asked respondents to indicate a preference for one of four potential median designs: one for a reconstruction of what’s there (benches and art); another that expands the median but doesn’t change its uses; another that expands it in order to install a promenade with concessions and event spaces; and yet another that expands it still further to include those things — plus a bike lane.

The questionnaire so intrigued safe-streets activists that they started tweeting about the questionnaire over last weekend. Then, mysteriously, the department’s online presentation of the project disappeared.  The remnants of the presentation posted in the tweets (see one, below) shows a schematic drawing of the "conceptual geometry" for the reconstruction and a page of the questionnaire, with renderings of the several proposed treatments for the median. 

If the city decides to expand the median in order to encompass a promenade and bike lane, it would constitute the most consequential revision of the avenue since the Jazz Age. Such a reconstruction would be a boon not only for pedestrians and cyclists, it also could help resuscitate some of the avenue’s former glory. 

As Streetsblog noted last month, Park Avenue in the late 19th and early 20th centuries used to center on a lovely park that drew pedestrians and promenaders from all over the city, if not the world; memorialized in countless sepia postcards, it was considered a prime New York attraction and drew comparisons to the grandest boulevards of Paris. Sadly, in 1927, it lost much of that space to a road widening for growing car traffic — and since has degenerated into a polluted car sewer that is enervating for residents and businesses and dangerous for pedestrians. 

"There's a relatively wide swath of Manhattan that lacks north-south protected bike lanes between 2nd Avenue and Broadway, so the addition of safe, dedicated cycling infrastructure along the Park Avenue median would go a long way toward filling in that gap," said Transportation Alternatives spokesman Joe Cutrufo. "And it would be a symbolic achievement too. Park Avenue is home to some of the most egregious nibbling away of public space in the whole city."

Streetsblog reached out to the DOT on Tuesday morning to ask about the status of "Reimagining Park Avenue," its budget, the questionnaire, and the disappearance of the online presentation. The press shop promised a response but hasn't gotten us one yet. When it does, we will update this post.

New Yorkers seem positively disposed to the idea of a bike lane in the median: A tweet soliciting opinions on the proposal gained scores of retweets in a matter of a few hours.

This post has been updated to include the comments of Jon Orcutt and Joe Cutrufo.

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