The city is doing too little, too slowly to make the Grand Concourse a street that works for walking, biking, and transit, local residents said at a rally last night. While DOT and the Department of Design and Construction roll out piecemeal safety improvements at a snail’s pace, people who use the Concourse every day put up with speeding traffic, stressful pedestrian crossings, unreliable bus service, and unprotected bike lanes frequently blocked by parked cars. They want the city to think bigger and act faster.
“The way they have everything set up, the people who drive don’t pay attention to people who walk,” said Royal Eason of Friendly Baptist Church. “If you’re walking, you have to be pretty fast when it comes to going across the street because a lot of these people don’t respect people who walk.”
Last night, Eason and other supporters of Transportation Alternatives’ “Complete the Concourse” campaign gathered at Lou Gehrig Plaza at 161st Street to call for shorter pedestrian crossings, protected bike lanes, and dedicated bus lanes along the entire Concourse.
“The Grand Concourse is one of the most important streets in the Bronx and it should be safe for the people who need to use it,” said Felix Rojas of the Holy Spirit Church in Morris Heights. Rojas said most of his church’s members don’t own cars and rely on subways, buses, and sidewalks along the Grand Concourse to get around. “We are demanding a complete street on the Grand Concourse with better crosswalks, more time to cross the street, physically protected bike lanes, and exclusive bus lanes,” he said.
The “Complete the Concourse” campaign has earned the support of five of the six City Council members whose districts include the Concourse, as well as from Bronx Community Board 4. In additional to Friendly Baptist and Holy Spirit, 150 churches and community organizations have endorsed the campaign.
Over the summer, DOT realigned the bike lanes between 166th Street and 171st Street to the left side of the Grand Concourse service roads and painted them green. It’s an improvement but still leaves riders unprotected, with significant points of conflict where car traffic transitions between the central roadway and the service lanes.
“They have green paint, but there’s no protection,” said Nelson Beltran. “You have rumble strips for the bike lanes and only shark teeth for the drivers. They’re not going to stop for that.”
The points where the bike lane switches from the right side of the street to the left also pose problems. “The new bike lanes that we have in place, we need [them] extended,” said TransAlt Bronx co-chair Amril Hamer. “Once you have to transition [at 166th Street or 171st Street], it becomes a hazard.”
Despite the large coalition asking for bolder changes to prioritize walking, biking, and transit, the city’s process for redesigning the Grand Concourse is proceeding in slow, piecemeal fashion. A full street rebuild by the Department of Design and Construction between 161st Street and Fordham Road is unfolding over many years. The first phase, between 161st and 166th streets, wrapped up in 2008, before protected bike lanes were standard parts of DOT’s street design toolkit.
The DOT changes between 166th and 171st streets this summer were a low-cost, preliminary version of phase two. The third phase, up to 175th Street, is ready for implementation, and DOT is expected to release a design for the fourth phase, up to Fordham, in the next few months.
While the DDC capital projects will raise the bike lanes to sidewalk grade, Bronxites will likely have to wait several years for those upgrades unless the agency accelerates its typically sluggish project delivery. And there are no plans from the city for bus lanes on the Concourse, or bike lanes below 161st Street.
The people who walk, bike, and ride transit on the Grand Concourse expect more from their city.