A Bronx Blast From the Past: Car-Free Grand Concourse Gets CB 4 Support

It’s been an on-again, off-again tradition for at least two decades: Turning the center lanes of the Grand Concourse into a car-free space for stress-free walking, biking and exercise. With an overwhelming vote of support from Community Board 4 earlier this week, it seems this tradition is poised for a return this summer.

In the early 1990s, then-Borough President Fernando Ferrer supported car-free Sundays on the Grand Concourse, giving Bronxites a chance to enjoy three-and-a-half miles of the borough’s main boulevard. The program, which started in July and August, was extended through November due to its popularity, but the Giuliani administration stopped the program in 1996. A limited version was brought back by Adolfo Carrión, Ferrer’s successor, in 2006, and was documented in this Streetfilm before again fading out a couple years later.

Now, the program is set for a return — if only for a few blocks and a few hours. On Tuesday, Bronx Community Board 4 lent its support with a 27-1 vote in favor of a proposal led by Transportation Alternatives, the Bronx Museum of Art, and a host of local health, cultural, neighborhood and business partners.

The groups are applying to DOT’s Weekend Walks program to open the center lanes of the Grand Concourse between 165th and 167th Streets to walking, biking and public events on three consecutive Sundays in August. Last year, there were three Weekend Walks events in the Bronx, but none on the Grand Concourse.

The event, called “Boogie on the Boulevard,” is scheduled for August 3, 10 and 17 — the same days that Summer Streets, the city’s marquee open streets event, has traditionally been held in Manhattan. “It’s definitely playing on an extension of Summer Streets, coming up to serve folks in the Bronx,” TA field organizing manager Jill Guidera said. “People from the Bronx go down to Park Avenue to enjoy their city in that way, and they were wondering where theirs was.”

While Summer Streets is a massive event featuring corporate sponsorships and thousands of people, the Grand Concourse organizers are planning something that better fits with the surrounding neighborhood, with an emphasis on arts, culture, and health.

“The museum is on the Grand Concourse, and it became a natural fit for us to become involved,” said Hatuey Ramos-Fermín, curator of education programs for the Bronx Museum of Art. “We’re not just a building with artworks on the wall. We see ourselves as a community-based organization.”

Last September, "Boogie on the Boulevard" organizers participated in Park(ing) Day to build momentum for their event. Photo: Transportation Alternatives
Last September, “Boogie on the Boulevard” organizers participated in Park(ing) Day to build momentum for their event. Photo: Transportation Alternatives

Organizers are planning to feature live music, interactive art, health screenings, and fitness classes from TA, the Bronx Museum and other partners including Bronx Health Reach, the Bronx District Public Health Office and Montefiore Hospital. Last September, organizers started off with a small installation on Park(ing) Day, converting two car parking spaces into a green (if temporary) space to build momentum for Boogie on the Boulevard.

In addition to cultural and health institutions, there are 13 small businesses along this section of the Grand Concourse, Guidera said, and they have all signed a letter of support [PDF]. Some store owners have already planned to set up tables outside during the event. A petition in support of Boogie on the Boulevard has gathered more than 1,400 signatures, most of which were collected by volunteers on the Grand Concourse and at events throughout the Bronx.

The community board was very receptive to the plan at Tuesday’s meeting. “There was nothing controversial and nothing negative in having that portion of the Grand Concourse closed,” said district manager José Rodriguez.

Guidera said some members of the community board were interested in extending the event’s hours and boundaries, from 161st Street to Moshulu Parkway all summer long. She hopes this enthusiasm could set the stage for bigger things to come, but is focused on getting this year’s event off the ground. “We’re going to see four blocks reallocated,” she said, “which is really great.”

There are still more approvals to get before the event becomes a reality: The group is beginning to work with the police precinct before sending its request to DOT, which will make the final decision as part of its Weekend Walks application process.