LONGWOOD — Until recently, a serene stroll or bike ride through two flourishing parks along the lower Bronx River came to a screeching halt at each park’s edge, where rushing cars and treacherous intersections awaited.
This month, the city Department of Transportation started to install long-sought bike lanes, curb extensions and crosswalks around the entrances of Starlight and Concrete Plant parks to make access to each easier and safer.
While advocates see the fixes as short-term improvements until a real connection is built between the parks, users are already welcoming the changes.
“For the first time ever, this morning I rode through Concrete Plant Park and exited on the Westchester Avenue side, not only feeling safe, but like an honored guest as the cars parted and the walk sign beckoned me to cross,” Bronx cyclist Damian Griffin wrote on Facebook on Saturday. “Thanks City DOT!!”
The improvements along Westchester Avenue — at the north entrance of Concrete Plant and south of Starlight — are slated for completion this month, while fixes on Bruckner Boulevard — at the south entrance of Concrete Plant — will wrap up this fall.
Concrete Plant Park opened in 2009 and Starlight Park reopened after an $18 million overhaul earlier this year. Both parks form links in the Bronx River Greenway, a planned waterfront route of parks and paths from Westchester County through The Bronx.
For several years, advocates such as the Bronx River Alliance and Transportation Alternatives pointed out to the city how perilous a short trip on the streets between the two parks or from the surrounding neighborhoods to the parks could be.
As recently as last week, a cyclist riding west on Westchester Avenue past the park was struck by a turning car and had to be taken away in an ambulance, according to Chris Semergieff, an artist who was working in the area and witnessed the crash.
The fixes for that area include shared bike lanes along a portion of Westchester Avenue, a new crosswalk and traffic lights at the entrance to Concrete Plant Park and curb extensions to shorten the crossings at the intersections of Westchester and Whitlock avenues and Westchester and Bronx River avenues.
Along Edgewater Road, the roughly quarter-mile road between the two parks that leads onto the Sheridan Expressway, striping has been added to divide the two car lanes, and shared bike lane symbols will soon be painted.
South of Concrete Plant Park, the improvements include a new two-lane protected bike path along a block of Bruckner Boulevard and signs to help bikers and pedestrians share a sidewalk connecting the park and a nearby footbridge.
Though the fixes should make it easier to traverse the streets between the parks, advocates ultimately want the greenway to extend seamlessly from one riverfront park to the next.
Plans had been in place to build three bridges (along with 11 additional acres of parkland) to link Starlight and Concrete Plant parks, but they stalled because the state DOT and Amtrak could not reach an agreement that would allow one of the bridges to cross a train track.
Joe Linton, greenway director for the Bronx River Alliance, said all the parties are continuing to push for those missing links, but that the street improvements will help in the meantime.
“It’s not perfect,” he said. “But I think it will be really useful and make things safer.”