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Residents Missed Deadline to Sue Over 'Sidewalk to Nowhere,' City Says

By Patrick Wall | January 15, 2013 8:56am

BRONX SUPREME COURT — A lawsuit that claims a new sidewalk must be removed because it dangerously narrows part of Pelham Parkway South should be dismissed because residents missed the deadline to file it, city lawyers argued Monday in Bronx Supreme Court.

But the residents’ attorney denied they overshot a four-month statute of limitations and insisted that the city has disregarded locals’ concerns that the sidewalk does not benefit pedestrians and slows emergency vehicles.

“The sidewalk goes nowhere, it makes no sense, it’s unsafe,” William Madonna, the lawyer representing 16 plaintiffs who live near the road, said at the hearing. “What my clients have heard from the city is that they could care less.”

In January 2012, workers began laying the sidewalk, which extends roughly 5 feet from a traffic median into a service road that runs parallel to the busy thoroughfare near Jacobi Medical Center.

Residents and local officials soon went into an uproar, claiming the city had not notified them of its plans for the path during public meetings before construction, which finished in April.

In September, plaintiffs sued to have the sidewalk torn out.

At Monday’s hearing, attended by more than a dozen sidewalk opponents who arrived on a charter bus, arguments centered on whether the plaintiffs missed the filing deadline.

The city claimed the window to file ended at the latest in July, four months after residents wrote the city a letter opposing the sidewalk.

But the plaintiffs’ lawyer countered that the deadline actually fell in October, four months after a city commissioner wrote a letter to a councilman informing him the sidewalk would not be removed.

The sidewalk’s critics, which include a state senator and the local community board, say the new median side path was unnecessary since one on the opposite side of the street already offered a wheelchair-accessible route.

They add that by jutting into the road, the sidewalk makes backing out of street-facing driveways difficult.

“This really is an assault on the public using public dollars,” said Dr. David Stevens, one of the plaintiffs who runs an orthodontist practice on Pelham Parkway South and Narragansett Avenue.

But residents’ biggest complaint — one that garnered nearly 800 petition signatures last fall and brought out protestors carrying mock coffins — is that the thinner roadway makes it harder for ambulances to rush to Jacobi or fire trucks to pass through or park.

The road’s reduced width will “greatly affect response time to any emergency in this area,” Edward Brown, a firefighter and the Bronx trustee of the Uniformed Firefighters Association, wrote in an affidavit to the court. As a result, “citizens’ lives will be in jeopardy as well as the lives of the emergency personnel attempting to help those in need.”

In April, during a test run, firefighters were unable to turn a ladder truck from Yates Avenue onto the narrower service road, according to a letter from state Sen. Jeffrey Klein to the city’s Department of Design and Construction.

“This resulted in the worst fears of those who petitioned your office and whom I strongly supported, being realized,” Klein wrote.

Since then, the city removed some parking spaces along the road, which angered residents, but enabled firefighters to make the turns.

“We found that we could access the streets as needed with parking regulations installed by the Department of Transportation,” said FDNY spokesman Frank Dwyer, who added the department “does not believe this construction caused any impact on response times.”

The new sidewalk, which stretches between Williamsbridge Road and Wilson Avenue, was part of a larger $36 million reconstruction of Pelham Parkway that also included sewer fixes and the installation of crosswalks, curbs, streetlights and fire hydrants.

The service-road sidewalk allows drivers to head safely from their parked cars to crosswalks without jaywalking, according to a joint statement by the DOT and Department of Design and Construction.

The narrower road, the agencies added, is the same width as “literally thousands” of other city streets.

“This project represents a substantial investment in the community and has yielded a safe, functional and attractive streetscape that will benefit the neighborhood for years to come,” the statement said.

Justice Howard Sherman, the Bronx Supreme Court judge presiding over the case, said he would issue a written decision on the city’s motion to dismiss the suit “relatively soon.”