Residents debate Randall’s Island access

The city plans to finish building the Randall’s Island Connector next year; meanwhile, local residents and planners want to ensure the South Bronx gets easy access to the island’s recreational opportunities.

The Randall's Island Connector will run under the 132nd St. Amtrak trestle.
The Randall’s Island Connector will run under the 132nd St. Amtrak trestle.

Trucks may hinder bikers and pedestrians, planners say

In recent years South Bronx residents have opposed developments they fear will harm the environment, like FreshDirect’s proposed move to Port Morris.

But lately, even some pro-environment projects have led to spirited debate.

The non-profit New York Restoration Project hosted a public meeting at the Montessori Charter School on Willis Ave. on Oct. 15 to discuss ways to provide residents with easier access to the Randall’s Island Connector that’s slated to open in the summer of 2015. 

Mott Haven residents can see the 480-acre island in the East River from 132nd street. Yet, it takes them approximately 30 minutes to cover the quarter-mile distance via the Triborough Bridge or the pedestrian walkway at 103rd street in Manhattan, the only access points.

A lingering question is how local residents will get access to a bridge designed to serve them. Mark Johnson, president of Civitas, the design firm in charge of building the connector, admitted he doesn’t quite know the answer.

“It will be very difficult to walk or bike to it because there’s so many traffic obstacles,” Johnson said. “The [Major] Deegan and the Bruckner Expressways … are obstacles because you go under them. But then, because trucks are trying to get to every single interchange on and off them, the trucks are a huge problem — especially if you’re on a bike.”

Residents exchange ideas for gaining easier access to Randall's Island.
Residents exchange ideas for gaining easier access to Randall’s Island.

A diverse crowd of local residents and city officials gathered around to scrutinize maps of the site and discussed alternative access routes. Suggested routes were marked with green. Dangerous routes – like the Bruckner Expressway- were crossed off in bold red.

Julio Pabon, 62, who has lived in the South Bronx most of his life, said that although lack of access to green space remains a roiling issue, he remains cautiously optimistic about the project. But, he added, it needs to be done right.

“I’d like to see more bike lanes put up — bike lanes that are safe,” said Pabon, who ran for City Council in 2013. “In Manhattan, they actually move the sidewalks and traffic so [bikers] can have it. Over here, they just put a line. After a couple of years, those lines are erased.”

The connector runs under the existing Amtrak trestle but obtaining the rights to develop it has pitted officials against developers like Harlem River Yards Ventures, which leases the land to the New York Post, Waste Management, Fed Ex and FreshDirect. An agreement was reached in May 2012, six years after plans were initially announced.

Residents are hopeful that an area afflicted with high asthma and air pollution will have a shorter, less roundabout trip to the greener fields of Randall’s Island.

“As long as there’s action, I’m all for it,” said Mychal Johnson, founding member of citizens coalition South Bronx Unite. “Of course, I know you have to figure how to do things before you make them happen, but I think we should be able to come up with some really good ideas.”

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