Wednesday, August 27, 2008

A meeting you shouldn't miss, if you love Fort Washington Park

On Tuesday, September 2nd, at 7:30pm, there will be a meeting of the Community Board 12 Committee for Parks & Cultural Affairs. The meeting will be held at cb12 headquarters, 711 West 168th Street--the entrance is on Haven Avenue. Here's a map.

It's always possible they could change the location at the last moment, but I'll update the blog if I hear about that happening. They would post signs outside cb12 headquarters to let people know, and the alternate site wouldn't be very far away. I think we'll end up crammed into the same tiny room we had last time. At least it's not a hard room to pack.

In the course of this meeting, representatives from the Parks Department will unveil the specific changes they intend to make to parklands stretching alongside the Hudson River, from the upper part of Riverside Park, through Fort Washington Park, all the way up to Inwood Park. As I've previously noted in this article, and also this one, they have some money earmarked for improving these parks, and they fully intend to spend it before the next mayor takes office in 2010.

I've recently spoken to Peter Mahony, who works for Stantec, a consultant firm hired by the Parks Department as part of the improvements process--he clarified some previously murky points for me. He told me they hope to break ground fairly early in 2009, and that they will only be proceeding with Phase I improvements--some of which could be positive, some much less so, but all of which, we should understand, will necessitate temporarily shutting off good-sized areas of Fort Washington Park to the general public. One thing we'll have to try and find out next Tuesday is how much of the park will be closed to us, and for how long.

Other items of concern--as I've mentioned previously, they want to put in a separate path for bicycles in certain areas--in theory, this would serve to cut down on conflicts between bicyclists and pedestrians, but in practice, it could mean giving one path entirely over to bicycles, with no practical means of keeping bike riders off the pedestrian path. We'll have to ask about that.

Happily, Mr. Mahony told me that they have no intention of building a separate path in the narrower areas of Fort Washington Park--not by the dog beach, for example. Two paths for the entire run of the park would effectively destroy most of the green space we have there. But apparently that's not what they're doing--there will continue to be one multi-use path where there isn't enough land for two. Fair enough, but what this means is that the path will fork where there is sufficient room, then reunite where there isn't, bringing walkers and riders back together again--is it just me, or is that not really solving anything?

In particular, the path would fork at the playing field, and pedestrians would go along the river, while bikes would be on the east side--the path would then reunite some hundreds of feet further on, past the north end of the field, making this a very brief parting of the ways indeed. Okay, many people will like the idea of at least having some stretches of pathway where they don't have to keep an eye out for Lance Armstrong wannabes, but we already have that in this particular spot--the delightfully overgrown unpaved path on the west side of the field effectively deters all but the most clueless bike-riders, who took the wrong fork and decided to keep going. But if they take the wrong fork and there's a paved ten foot wide ADA accessible path, they aren't going to turn around and come back, are they?

The Fort Washington Park softball field they intend to remake entirely, moving it several feet to the east to make room for the paved pedestrian path, resurfacing it (a natural surface, last I heard), and replacing the central softball/baseball diamond with a formal soccer field, as opposed to the current situation, where soccer players use garbage receptacles as goals. I've been told the lovely mature trees surrounding the field won't be cut down, and Mr. Mahony doesn't think the field will be shut off to the general public when sanctioned games are not in progress, as sometimes happens with certain fields on city parkland. But that's something we need to ask the Parks people about--that field is the only genuinely spacious grassy area in the whole park. People playing baseball, softball and soccer should all have a nice facility to use, but with so little space available, it's also important to people just walking through.

Just south of the playing field they plan to build a children's playground, in the fenced-off space that is currently a maintenance storage area. Nothing to get upset about, but dog walkers should be aware that there are going to be a lot more children around at certain times of the day.

Some of the changes could be very positive--access to the park should be much improved, there could be a new bathroom (that probably wouldn't be open any more reliably than the current bathroom), and maybe they'd fix up all those broken water fountains.

One thing that could be an improvement for dog owners is the proposed Rustic Path, a woodchipped trail running north of the George Washington Bridge, through parkland that is now basically inaccessible. But that's not a scheduled Phase I improvement at the present time--Mr. Mahony sounded a bit wistful about that, because face it--the Phase I projects are probably the only ones that will be implemented in the forseeable future, given the city's budget crunch. He said if enough people asked for it, maybe they'd make it a Phase I project. And I thought to myself "Maybe they'd have to get rid of some Phase I projects we don't like so much." It's a long shot, but we could bring it up.

Can we change any of this by showing up at this meeting? In large enough numbers, I think we could get their attention, yes. They want this project to go forward, and most of what they plan doesn't negatively impact us. This is the critical point for this project, and they can't afford any delays, or they'll quite probably lose the money altogether. We probably can't get them to drop everything we don't like, but we could definitely affect the final shape of the improvements. If we show up.

We all know that what Fort Washington Park needs is regular maintenance, more of a crackdown on litterers, better enforcement of speed limits for bicycles, and bathrooms that open before 10am on a Saturday morning. Not one penny of the parks improvement money will be spent on that. That's just not how it works.

We have a great park, with or without these changes. But changes there will be, and if we don't show up to make our opinions known, we will have no business complaining about them once they do happen. I hope to see you there.

1 comment:

Caroline said...

Thanks for the info, Chris.

I'll be there, of course!!!