Friday, June 6, 2008

Laying the Little Red Lighthouse Dog Run to rest (somebody play taps)

(click to enlarge)

As matters turned out, I was the only dog person attending the Community Board 9 Parks & Recreation committee meeting on Wednesday--which is just as well in some respects, because they moved it at the last possible moment--to 583 Riverside Drive, location of Broadway Housing Communities' Dorothy Day Apartments, and the Rio II Gallery. Much fancier digs than the cb12 meeting--we were on the 7th floor, in what I assume was part of the aforementioned art gallery, in a well-lit room with a large terrace, overlooking Riverside Park and the Hudson. Turnout was moderate compared to the previous night--nothing was being voted on, and there weren't 19 dog owners there to defend their offleash hours like a meaty bone. There were some very passionate well-informed local residents, advocating for the removal of a salt pile, and against the construction of an artificial turf soccer field. It was a more comfortable meeting, but a less interesting one, from our POV.

So I had a chance to see the whole Master Plan Powerpoint Presentation all over again. And to hear them bring up the dog run in Fort Washington Park all over again. Rising from the dead like a George Romero zombie. One of the parks people there was sitting next to me and noting my pained expression, whispered hurriedly that the dog run was definitely out of the plan, and it was only being mentioned again because it was part of the pre-arranged presentation spiel. Phew. I talked to several of the presenters after the meeting, and they all said the dog run was no longer being considered at all, due to lack of support from local dog owners (due to strong grassroots opposition from local dog owners would be more like it).

If you click on the photo at the top of this article, you can see that even in the plan they were proposing, the location of the dog run is quite different from what was originally discussed. It's not by The Little Red Lighthouse, nor is it down by the river at all. It's located in an area just north of the George Washington Bridge, east of the train tracks, and very slightly west of the Henry Hudson Parkway. Here's a photo of the area they had in mind.

Yep, sure is a jim-dandy spot for a dog run, isn't it?

It's unclear whether a dog run located between the train tracks and the parkway would have impacted offleash hours down by the river. The Parks Department has been extremely inconsistent in how it implements its "You can have a dog run or offleash hours but not both" policy.

I know from my May 18th phone conversation with Jennifer Hoppa that they were definitely considering a run by the river at first--if not next to the lighthouse, then just north of the nearby tennis courts. I mentioned a few of the numerous objections to both sites to her (I'd need an entire article just to list them), and she seemed to think they weren't altogether insuperable. She did mention that they might focus on a site further away from the river, that might not involve the loss of Offleash Hours (at least not for the whole park) and that is apparently just what they did, as the phone calls and emails kept pouring in. It would have been a matter of seconds to alter the location of the run on a Powerpoint slide.

And Ms. Hoppa has gone to great pains to explain they weren't building any dog run unless a 'community-based stewardship group' of dog owners stepped forward to claim responsibility for it. Okay--so why propose a dog run if no such group had emerged?

Best as anyone can tell, a local dog owner had suggested a run by the lighthouse, last fall, at a public meeting where they had asked for suggestions as to how to improve the park--same meeting I mentioned in the first article on this subject. They were simply responding to her suggestion by including a dog run in the Master Plan--not fully realizing what the reaction from most local dog owners would be. Then, as the reaction turned out to be heavily negative, and other complications inherent to the lighthouse location became evident, they trotted out a new location.

But the new location didn't make any more sense than the one they originally looked at. The Rocky Run is located adjacent to the Henry Hudson Parkway, sure--but not nearly that close to it, and it's well above the highway, separated from it by a thick belt of mature trees. Even so, there's always the worry of a dog jumping the fence, running down to the highway, and getting hit by a speeding car--we're lucky that only happened once, before the present fence was installed (that's a story for another day).

A dog run located right on the edge of the parkway was a disaster waiting to happen. The noise, the fumes, the heavy bicycle traffic, the need to cross a narrow footbridge to get there--not to mention the fact that you can walk from that location to the Rocky Run in about 15 minutes, making the whole enterprise redundant. And most dog owners wouldn't have wanted to use that run after dark, which would have made it useless for much of the year to anybody who wanted to bring his or her dog there after work--which would have been true of the lighthouse location as well. No matter where exactly you put it, a dog run in an isolated area on the west side of the Henry Hudson Parkway made no sense. Good riddance to a ghastly godawful idea.

If only that had been the only one.

Let's be clear on this: many of the projects outlined in the Master Plan we saw presented at the community board meetings will never happen; some will never even be seriously considered--they were showing us every possible option, and some were far less possible than others. The "Canopy Treetop Pedestrian Walkway", for example. This would be an elevated pedestrian bridge, giving park visitors an access point at 165th St., that would proceed over the highway and northwards through the treetops, and ultimately terminate at the already existing pedestrian bridge over the train tracks that takes you to the parks building with the bathrooms, at the south end of the tennis courts.

I like this idea. Just as a birdwatcher alone. Potentially great vantage point for nature observation, particularly during spring and fall. And I could walk Max from the dog beach right up to the dog run, without having to cross a bunch of highway ramps. Okay, it would be tough to keep bikers from using it, there are security issues, but it's a lovely little dream, that was propounded in direct response to feedback from the public.

There's just one little problem. They don't have the money. It would cost at least 40 million dollars. That's probably a lowball estimate. They only have 40 million in seed money for the whole parks improvement scheme. Barring a pretty major citywide economic revival, The Canopy Treetop Pedestrian Walkway remains a lovely dream.

But some of the more likely projects are potential nightmares for anyone who loves Fort Washington Park as something more than a collection of sporting facilities, and a short stretch of the Manhattan Riverfront Greenway. I'll get to those in the next update.

But for now, let us wave a none-too-affectionate goodbye to The Little Red Lighthouse Dog Run. Don't let the door hit ya where the dogs shoulda bit ya.

No comments: