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.”