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Why is State DOT Prioritizing Parking For Cops Over Park Access for Bronxites?

10:34 AM EDT on March 19, 2021

The Depot Place bridge in the Bronx, which needs a people-friendly makeover. Photo: Michael Kaess

Bronx residents are demanding that the state Department of Transportation change its plans for a highway reconstruction project that will create room for drivers and parked police cars at the expense of better access to the in-progress Bronx River Greenway.

As part of the reconstruction of the Major Deegan Expressway, the state DOT plans to reconstruct a bridge on Depot Place in Highbridge in the west Bronx that leads to an entrance onto the highway. Part of the goal of  the bridge reconstruction was to add safer pedestrian and cyclist access to the waterfront and getting police cars off the existing sidewalk on the bridge, where the NYPD is currently gobbling up the space by parking on it.

But the plan puts more emphasis on providing police parking than it does room for people. Right now, half the width of Depot Place will be used for 16 parking spots for police vehicles. Across the street, the state DOT's plan adds a shared bike and pedestrian path that's just five feet wide, a ludicrously small amount of space to provide for the neighborhood's only access to the burgeoning Bronx greenway.

The proposal shows a lack of imagination and also has the potential to lock people out of the Harlem River waterfront, according to Assembly Member Latoya Joyner, who represents the area.

"I'm just trying to ask, can we come up with creative ways where we can all have the have access to the shared space in a way that can get people more active in the community and get accessibility to the waterfront and to the Bridge Park?" Joyner said about her ask to the state. "That's a great bike path that is barely used, because one people don't know about it."

Joyner said that while she was glad to see an effort to make highway access less chaotic, the current plan tilts too heavily to automotive interests.

"I'm a driver, too, and it's a nightmare to get on to the Deegan. But to take away the sidewalk space and prioritize turning trucks and police parking that's taking up a lot of space rather than the people that actually live there is very problematic," she said.

The bridge on Depot Place is the only waterfront entrance in the surrounding west Bronx area, and serves as an access point to Roberto Clemente State Park and Bridge Park along the Harlem River. It's also right next to a bike lane coming down Sedgwick Avenue, and if turned into something more than a parking lot, could become a gateway for a more complete Bronx piece of a Harlem River greenway, which Joyner said she wants to work on and which green space advocates are also pushing for.

"The Bronx River Alliance Greenway Team believes access to parks and open spaces should always be a priority, especially here in the Bronx where air pollution and poor air quality are long standing issues," said Greenway Team Co-chairs Twahira Khan and Ed Mund. "Our communities deserve increased green infrastructure; just as important, they should be able to access these resources easily and safely. The Greenway Team supports efforts to improve street conditions at Depot Place to make it safer for all users, especially pedestrians and cyclists."

The good news is that after Joyner and open space activists cried foul with the Federal Highway Administration, the FHWA's interest has the state taking a new look at the project. In a March 8 letter, the state DOT told the feds that the agency is going to take a new look at the project.

"As a result of the concerns of the Assembly Member and the community groups, NYSDOT is exploring an option that would allow for a 12-foot wide, two-direction bikeway protected by [a] concrete barrier on the south side of the bridge and the proposed 5 foot wide sidewalk on the north side of the bridge," New York State DOT Regional Director Craig Ruyle, the point man for the agency's New York City issues wrote.

Still, Joyner and activists are keeping up the pressure (including a group bike ride to explore the area this Saturday) to make sure that the Bronx gets what it is owed.

"The mayor talks about a tale of two cities, but sometimes it's like we're living a tale of different boroughs, and the Bronx always seems to get less than what it's deserved. So that's why I'm really committed to this, because I get frustrated. Why do I have to travel to other boroughs in order to have access to a safe place either to walk or bike?" said Joyner.

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