BRONX — The Department of City Planning would like to see waterfront development come to the areas around some Metro-North stations as part of a plan to foster economic growth and accommodate a booming population in the borough, according to a new report.
In the study, which focused on improving underused areas around the stations as well as better integrating them into the community, the department advocated redeveloping the waterfront by the University Heights and Morris Heights stations to help people more easily reach the Harlem River.
Many of the Metro-North stations in the Bronx have underutilized areas around them or are next to recreational areas that are cut off from the rest of the community by highways and other obstructions. They also are underutilized despite being in densely populated areas, compared to the subway, the report said.
Improved waterfront access has been a major issue for Bronxites over the years.
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Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. has called for the creation of a new district along the Harlem River between 138th and 149th streets that would be comparable to Brooklyn Bridge Park, and work is underway on a bike and pedestrian pathway that would connect the South Bronx to Randall's Island.
The pathway is part of the South Bronx Greenway, a project meant to help connect the Hunts Point peninsula and the waterfront.
Allowing better access to the river could open up more opportunities for businesses and recreation by the waterfront, according to city planning Bronx Borough Director Carol Samol.
"How do we help the very dense neighborhood of Morris Heights get to the waterfront?" she asked. "In University Heights, it's the same issue, but it's kind of even more a step removed."
Access to the Harlem River waterfront by University Heights is currently only available through a "circuitous ramp" on the north side of the University Heights Bridge that is "clearly designed" for trucks, according to the report.
It is inaccessible to pedestrians, and there is only a narrow stretch of clean, quiet and open space for people to enjoy, the report found.
DCP Deputy Bronx Borough Director Ryan Singer agreed that the river by University Heights was particularly underdeveloped.
"There’s no reason to go down to that waterfront for a community member," he said.
Pedestrians can get to the Morris Heights waterfront using bridges by West Tremont and Sedgwick avenues, but the access is not very good because it is a steep walk to get to the bridges, and neither is very visible, according to DCP spokesman Peter Schottenfels.
"You wouldn’t know to go there unless you know what you're looking for," he said.
The report also contains recommendations for improvements at the Melrose, Tremont, Williams Bridge and Fordham Metro-North stations.
These include providing more opportunities for retail and housing by Melrose and improving access to local stores and employment centers by Tremont.
It also advocates completing pedestrian connections from the station to stores and recreational amenities on Gun Hill Road and Webster Avenue at Williams Bridge.
As for the proposed Parkchester/Van Nest and Morris Park Metro-North stations, which include allowing for wider sidewalks along East Tremont Avenue at Parkchester and developing partnerships between institutions at Morris Park to help "brand" the neighborhood.
"What are the really small things that need to come in to bring these communities together and really help that area become an asset, a better-used asset?" asked Samol. "Those are the small touches we were really looking at."