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Underfunded Parks Dept. Should Offload Greenway Maintenance to DOT, Advocates Say

As the city begins to grow its greenway system, advocates are pushing City Hall to get the right agencies in charge of the right aspects of the current and future network.

A bump in the Ocean Parkway bike path near Avenue X. Photo: Kevin Duggan

They don't want fixing the cracks to fall through the cracks.

New York City's greenways are falling apart thanks to an ineffective patchwork of responsible agencies that only Mayor Adams and City Hall can fix, advocates charged.

From Ocean Parkway in Brooklyn to Pelham Parkway in the Bronx, the city's greenways suffer from a lack of basic maintenance that often renders them nearly unusable without major reconstruction work, the Brooklyn Greenway Initiative said in a March 14 letter to Deputy Mayor Meera Joshi recently obtained by Streetsblog.

The city's underfunded Parks Department doesn't have the resources to do regularly resurfacing — often relying on City Council discretionary money to fund repairs — and should probably hand the job over to the Department of Transportation, the letter said.

"We understand that major reconstruction work can entail specific contracts and procurement, but the Parks Department also appears to lack basic in-house or a ... contract to do basic patching or resurfacing of hard surfaces to keep routine maintenance needs from turning into major reconstruction needs in the first place," said the letter from BGI and other livable streets groups including Bike New York, Open Plans, Transportation Alternatives, and Streetspac.

Ocean Parkway is of course the poster child for the dysfunction that grips greenway maintenance, as multiple sections of the first bike path in city history look like as if they have not been repaved since the nation's oldest bikeway opened in 1894. BGI also identified other areas lacking smooth paths around the city, including putative greenway on the southern piece of Flatbush Avenue south of Avenue V and the Boogie Down's Pelham Parkway.

And with more greenways in the city's future thanks to federal money to pay for the planning of the system expansion, the maintenance needs for the system expected to grow thanks to recent legislation that created a citywide "greenway master plan," the advocates said.

"With the City Council greenway master plan legislation, the city's acquisition of new greenway planning and construction money and the new East River esplanade, we'll have a big new greenway network coming up," said Bike New York Director of Advocacy Jon Orcutt. "But we don't take good care of the greenways we have and that needs to change."

DOT, unlike Parks, has the equipment, budget and regular timetable for resurfacing and can do it all in-house and without contractors, the letter said.

In addition to the issue of asphalt upkeep, the letter notes that DOT has trouble doing upkeep of the grassy park areas of the greenways it builds on its own, while the Department of Sanitation plays no role in keeping paths clear of trash.

The solution is to put the right agencies in charge of the right jobs, according to the letter.

"We are essentially suggesting assignment of agency roles to greenways on less of a territorial basis and more according to function," the advocates wrote:

  • DOT would handle asphalt and concrete surfaces
  • Parks would manage greenery/plant stewardship
  • Sanitation would remove snow, ice and, and trash

While the greenway master plan law will gather together multiple agencies under one plan to expand the greenway network, that's the extent of the law's requirements, which task the agencies with developing "a citywide greenway plan that details the development of greenways throughout the city, with the goal of achieving a comprehensive citywide network of greenways."

That requirement, advocates point out, means the law doesn't get under the hood to find the best way to manage the growing network — something only the mayor can do as the boss of all three agencies.

"The law doesn't address basic maintenance, or the multi-headed bureaucracy that's led to broken conditions in the first place," said Brooklyn Greenway Initiative Advocacy and Greenway Projects Coordinator Brian Hedden.

"Each agency has complementary skills and resources, but instead of using them together across the whole greenway network, they're asked to do everything themselves in their own silos, and it isn't working. The longer this goes on, the more little operational problems will keep turning into big capital problems. The bill doesn't fix that, it needs to be an initiative of City Hall."

Stretches of the Pelham Parkway greenway have seen better days. Photo: Jon Orcutt

The letter does suggest that if the city wants to keep greenway upkeep in its various silos, City Hall could move money around among agencies so that, for example, Parks has its own resurfacing budget and doesn't have to rely on the goodness of City Council members and their discretionary funds.

Ultimately, if specific agencies have the right tools, they might as well be told to to use them, Orcutt told Streetsblog.

"Parks was the broke stepchild of this year's budget again. Do you need Parks to buy steamrollers? We have an agency that does that [in DOT], so let's use the right tools for the right job," he said.

City Hall did not respond to BGI's March letter, Hedden said. A spokesperson for Mayor Adams did not respond to a request for comment.

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