In 2013, New York City announced its first ever master plan for Van Cortlandt Park. Included in this comprehensive strategic plan was the daylighting of the long-buried Tibbetts Brook, an improvement for pedestrian circulation, and the management of natural and historic resources. The same year, a $2.3 million plan was in place to widen and pave the Putnam Trail, which runs through Van Cortlandt Park on the former Putnam Railroad line that connected to Westchester.
The rail portions north of New York City have already been redeveloped as the North and South County Trailway, and city officials thought of the project as a logical extension. Of prime importance was to make the trail accessible to both cyclists and handicapped. But controversy ensued that has delayed the project, with the members of Save the Putnam Trail putting forth an environmental and ecological argument, fearing a loss of wetlands and biodiversity. They also cite the unnecessary use of asphalt in the plans, advocating for a different type of surface. As a reader from Washington D.C. tells us, “A similar trail north of DC was former railroad spur. It’s paved with crushed gravel and can accommodate nearly everything,” suggesting that there are alternatives that can be both handicapped accessible and more environmentally responsible.
Untapped Cities writer Christopher Inoa recently interviewed some of the stakeholders involved in the debate, including Christina Taylor, Director of the Friends of Van Cortlandt Park; Karen Argenti, Bronx Council for Environmental Equity; Rich Conroy of Bike New York; and Rodolfo Diaz, a life-long paraplegic at Bronx Independent Living Services.
One scene in the video shows thirteen stone pillars you can see along the trail – used as testing stone for the building material at Grand Central Terminal. One of the options tested, Indiana limestone, was found to most durable and the easiest to transport.
[Correction: An earlier version of this video stated that environmentalists would compromise if the trail was covered in wood chips instead of pavement. According to a member of the environmentalist group, the use of wood chips for the Putnam Trail was never mentioned.”]