OPINION: City Must Fix a Dangerous Gap in the Bronx River Greenway
Funds and plans exist to fix a block-long stretch of road between Starlight and West Farms Rapids parks — but the DOT hasn't moved for a decade. What gives?
The spike in cycling due to the coronavirus pandemic has thrown into sharp relief the major gaps in the city’s 1,300-mile bike-lane network, especially in the Bronx — where six cyclists have been killed so far this year and there has been a surge in cycling injuries.
Groups such as the Bronx River Alliance and Transportation Alternatives have fought for years to build out bike infrastructure in the borough, but cyclists and pedestrians still must brave dangerous intersections in far too many places, potentially risking their lives.
The city Department of Transportation understands the dangers, but has relied on NYPD traffic enforcement to keep cyclists safe. It hasn’t worked. The city DOT must build out the bike network — especially protected lanes — in order to bridge the gaps that imperil the lives of too many cyclists.
One dangerous gap is the so-called East Tremont Link in the West Farms and Van Nest neighborhoods that is between two important new parks along the Bronx River: Starlight Park (along Sheridan Boulevard from East 172nd to East 177th streets) and West Farms Rapids Park (from East Tremont Avenue to East 180th Street parallel to Devoe Avenue and Boston Road). Both parks have multi-use trails that putatively make them a part of 25-mile Bronx River Greenway that stretches from Soundview Park in the South Bronx to the Kensico Dam in Westchester (10 miles of which are in the Bronx). Several parts of the trail have opened recently or are nearing completion.
The East Tremont link is the frightening, block-long gap from the northern entrance of Starlight Park at East 177th Street and East Tremont Avenue to southern entrance of West Farms Rapids Park on East Tremont Avenue between Devoe Avenue and Boston Road. To make the crossing, riders must confront an entrance to an MTA bus depot, an on/off ramp to Sheridan Boulevard and the Cross Bronx Expressway, and multiple lanes of street traffic. Sadly, the intersection has seen many crashes: more than 200 in the last five years, resulting in scores of injuries. It’s simply dangerous for walkers and bikers.
The state Department of Transportation recognized the danger when it designed the master plan of Starlight Park more than a decade ago, and came up with a plan to redesign the intersection using the state-owned, fenced-off green-space adjacent to it and the Bronx River, and creating signaled crossings at East 177th Street and across East Tremont Ave. The NYSDOT handed the project — and funds to fix it — to the city DOT in 2008 because of the emphasis on local streets and the need to coordinate among city agencies to replace the water main under East Tremont Avenue.
Since 2008, however, there has been no movement.
The city DOT must restart the project and incorporate nearby parks and the Bronx River Greenway into a plan to facilitate safe passage for cyclists and pedestrians in the area — so that riders can enjoy a seamless, protected ride from Bruckner Boulevard, through Concrete Plant Park, along the new Sheridan Boulevard, into Starlight Park up to East 177th Street. Bronx Community Board 6 has been in favor of fixing the gap for years but, sadly, it continues to be delayed — part of the pattern of the Bronx being neglected when it comes to building out safe pedestrian and bicyclist infrastructure.
The project must be a priority, and its progress needs to be transparent. The city DOT must provide clear updates to the community, commit to a reasonable completion timeline, and take steps to ensure timely progress. Moreover, we cannot wait for this multi-year project to be completed to provide safety to this dangerous intersection. The city DOT must put in temporary interventions, such as striping, more signals, and jersey barriers to provide a clear and safe path for cyclists and pedestrians to bridge the divide between Starlight Park and West Farms Rapids Park.
Our new normal under coronavirus adds to the urgency. We’re seeing even more people using alternative mobility modes — especially bikes — to protect themselves from infection. Having access to safe and clearly defined bike and pedestrian infrastructure will become even more essential. The city DOT can play a major role in helping Bronxites and other New Yorkers by expediting measures to facilitate safer and more convenient ways to get around.
Twahira Khan (@twahirak) is a co-chair of the Bronx River Alliance Greenway Team. Richard Gans is a long-time member of the Bronx River Alliance Greenway Team. John Sanchez is the district manager of Bronx Community Board 6. For information about the alliance, go to bronxriver.org.