The air was heavy last week at The Riverdale Y, not from the 250 or so warm bodies that packed in to hear Community Board 8’s traffic and transportation committee, but from a sense of some great discontent bubbling under the surface, just waiting to boil over.
Residents from complexes like Riverdale Gardens, Riverdale Park, Netherland Gardens and Skyview-on-the-Hudson gathered for what CB8 is calling “public access” to Netherland Avenue connecting West 256th and West 254th streets — an idea to create a walkway where there’s currently a wall made of cinder blocks and dumpsters.
“It’s a very dangerous proposal,” said Barbara Connolly, president of the Riverdale Gardens tenants association. “If you put a hole in the wall, even if you don’t come through where the trash is, you walk right into the traffic turning down 255th Street to Riverdale Avenue. If you’re walking the other way from Riverdale Gardens to Riverdale Park, you’re walking into traffic. Either way, you’re walking into traffic.”
Even worse, Connolly added, it’s going to allow strangers to traverse through the area. “It’s not just the people that we know.”
The idea to connect the two streets was included in the North Riverdale Merchant and Business Association’s 2017 streetscape report. That was inspired by the city transportation department’s Vision Zero program, designed to reduce fatalities on public streets.
When the traffic and transportation committee discussed the streetscape report last November, the members heard some of the first pushback about the sidewalk from some Riverdale Gardens residents.
The merchants association didn’t push for discussion of the sidewalk, despite how the topic was originally worded on the committee’s agenda, creating some confusion on who exactly wants to build this walkway.
“There are several issues, not the least of which is what the merchants association has to do with this,” said James Jaffess, a lifelong Riverdale resident, who added he’s worried about the lack of police presence in that area already.
“The 50th Precinct barely covers Riverdale Park,” he said. “The only time we see cops down there is when they get lost. If that’s opened up, and there’s more traffic coming through, we have a real security issue.”
Also at stake is something very close to the heart of Deborah Schiavo, who grew up in Riverdale Park in the 1940s — community.
“It’s always been like a little village,” she said. “We also have our own little playground, and we know who we are. The Riverdale I grew up in looks nothing like it does now. So these are the little vestiges that are left. What’s the sense of ruining that because some people don’t want to walk down to Riverdale Avenue and come up 254th?”
But traffic and transportation committee member Daniella Fuchs said residents needn’t be concerned of noise and disruption.
“We’re not adding car traffic but simply opening the street to neighborhood folks who would use it as they would any other neighborhood street to walk through,” Fuchs said in a written statement. “Neither do I believe this path will attract others from outside the immediate neighborhood, as it is not obvious or convenient to get to from along Riverdale Avenue.”
But committee chair Dan Padernacht heard enough, offering a motion that would oppose a sidewalk connection. Only David Gellman voted against it, not offering an explanation why.
Steven Chait, president of the Skyview Owners Corp., representing residents at Skyview-on-the-Hudson, wasn’t happy with the vote.
“Nobody’s trying to invade your space,” he said. “Nobody’s trying to litter or dog-poop all over your grass. However, there is a cinder block wall that is on Netherland Avenue that is a public avenue, and it would be an easier means of access to 254th Street, to SAR, to any of these streets.”
The resolution opposing the walkway heads to the full CB8 in March, where it could accept or reject it. Any final decisions, however, lie with the city’s transportation department, which so far has announced no plans for such a project.