BRONX RIVER — One green patch at a time, the southern portion of the Bronx River has undergone an eye-catching makeover in recent years, from an industrial no-man’s land to an increasingly people-friendly waterfront.
In 2007, a desolate dead-end street blossomed into Hunts Point Riverside Park. In 2009, an out-of-service mixing plant sprang back to life as Concrete Plant Park. And later this year, a site where coal was once processed into cooking gas is expected to reopen as the new Starlight Park, a seven-acre oasis of athletic fields, play areas and floating docks.
The waterfront parks fall along the ever-expanding Bronx River Greenway, a planned 23-mile riverside path from Westchester County through The Bronx that has been many years and millions of dollars in the making.
But to the dismay of many cyclists and pedestrians, the green transformations have mostly stopped at the edges of these new parks, forcing visitors to navigate crumbling sidewalks and busy roads on their way in and out.
“It’s pretty dangerous,” said Elizabeth Hamby, a Bronx artist and cyclist who with other advocates has pressed the city to improve access to the new parks. “What’s the point of having a park if nobody can use it?”
A team of cycling advocates from the Transportation Alternatives Bronx Committee recently took an excursion around the parks, which are wedged between the Bronx River on the east and an Amtrak line and the Sheridan Expressway on the west.
The group documented the surrounding sidewalks and roads, which they say are unsafe and intimidating for non-motorists.
The southern entrance to Starlight Park, for instance, faces a traffic circle where cars zoom from Edgewater Road onto the Sheridan Expressway.
Drivers along Edgewater “get into their highway mode of thinking,” said Richard Gans, a member of the bike advocacy group. “They think they can basically accelerate up onto the Expressway.”
Edgewater Road connects Starlight with Concrete Plant Park about one-third mile to the south.
The cyclists point out many safety hazards along Edgewater — no striping divides its two lanes, large metal plates cover holes in the pavement and the auto repair shops lining the road double-park cars on the street and sidewalk.
“Multiple factors make it undesirable even as a temporary greenway connection,” said Gans. “It’s not the kind of thing you’d feel comfortable taking your kids on.”
That road leads to a three-way intersection with Westchester and Whitlock avenues just beyond the entrance to Concrete Plant Park. Crossing the wide intersection on foot or bike can be dangerous, the group said.
The committee has compiled a list of recommendations to make travel to the parks safer. These include adjusting the stoplights at that intersection, adding a bike lane along Edgewater and installing traffic-calming measures at various spots.
Meanwhile, the Bronx River Alliance, the nonprofit that has guided much of the greenway construction, has been meeting with the city’s Transportation and Parks departments since 2009 to develop a plan to improve access to the new parks.
The Department of Transportation is currently reviewing such a plan and could present it as soon as next month to the two local community boards, 2 and 9, which oversee the neighborhoods surrounding the new parks, according to the Alliance.
The plan includes “bike and pedestrian infrastructure enhancements at several key locations along the Bronx River Greenway,” including at the Westchester-Whitlock-Edgewater intersection and the Bruckner Boulevard-Longfellow Avenue intersection, said Nicholas Mosquera, a DOT spokesman.
The projects “will provide improved access to Starlight Park and Concrete Plant Park, among other destinations,” Mosquera added.
Devona Sharpe, greenway coordinator for the Bronx River Alliance, declined to give specifics about the planned “enhancements,” but she said her group and the city agencies have made significant progress over the past year.
“It’s very hopeful,” she said. “If the community boards support what the DOT is proposing, it is very likely we’ll get some great improvements.”