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Solar-Powered Streetscape Could Spruce Up Columbus Avenue

By Emily Frost | June 22, 2012 8:16am
The Columbus Avenue BID is designing a streetscape to cover part of the avenue that's considered an eyesore.
The Columbus Avenue BID is designing a streetscape to cover part of the avenue that's considered an eyesore.
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Columbus Avenue BID

UPPER WEST SIDE — An unsightly fence on Columbus Avenue between West 76th and West 77th streets is on track to be replaced by a row of trees, solar panels and rainwater-purifying channels.

The Columbus Avenue Business Improvement District, after years of "saving our nickles,” has come up with a plan with the Department of Transportation, to create a streetscape that will feature up to five new trees, five new metal benches, expanded tree beds and plantings and possibly a free bike station.

But what the BID hopes will really draw people to the spot are the innovative and environmentally friendly features. Solar panels will be inset in the surrounding sidewalk and gather energy during the day and illuminate the path at night. 

The street redesign will also include a bioswale: a sloped drain filled with vegetation that naturally treats excess water from storms or other runoff. The bioswale is built to trap pollution so that the water flowing into the aquifer is cleaner, organizers said.

The BID wanted to create a pleasing spot to cover up what BID president Barbara Adler characterized as “the ugliest thing on Columbus Avenue,” but it also wanted to create a learning space, given the proximity to the Natural History Museum and the prevalence of young families in the area. 

“We felt it would be a great educational tool,” she said. “This area will be seen by a lot of people. Hopefully, people will stop and take a look.” 

Adler said the plan began as a more modest idea to place artwork along the fence, with metal trees climbing upwards. But then, the BID reconsidered, thinking, “Why not just have real trees?” recalled Adler. 

Community Board 7 will evaluate the plan at its July transportation meeting and the DOT is reviewing it with the Landmark Preservation Commission on Friday. The BID hopes work can begin this fall. Adler wouldn’t assign a dollar figure to the project. 

If all goes well with the streetscape, Adler said the BID has even bigger plans. If a grant from Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal comes through, the BID will propose adding the same inset solar lights up and down the entirety of Columbus Avenue.