DOT gave us more than we asked for, or needed


(re: “Neighbors unite for a street fight,” Nov. 14)

Since this past fall, I have been part of a coalition “to save the neighborhood,” a fight over DOT’s massive street construction in my Riverdale community.

Now this may not seem like much of a big deal outside of our streets, but I would urge all Riverdalians to think again. A recent Community Board 8 meeting makes it clear that the city’s transportation department may be coming to your neighborhood soon — and it is a visit you have every reason to be seriously concerned about.

For some history, back in April, the city department received a call from a single resident in the area. The request: Could a crosswalk be repainted on the road that intersected Palisade Avenue with Kappock Street? Certainly a reasonable request, but one that quickly led the DOT to charge into the neighborhood armed with its own plan, one that was far from reasonable.

Eventually, this bucolic area — home to several high-rise apartment co-ops — would be turned into what one resident called “a concrete jungle.” Seemingly overnight, the intersection was covered with two huge 35-foot slabs of concrete more appropriate for basketball courts than normal sidewalk extensions.

DOT claimed that this construction was necessary to make the Palisade-Kappock intersection safer for cars and pedestrians — and this is where the story starts to turn Orwellian. Masking the construction in bureaucratic verbiage did not hide the fact that this project was uncontrolled. Requests from Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz and CB8 to scale back the construction were disregarded.

Even before this construction was completed, I joined with other neighborhood residents outraged by this project. The DOT had made virtually no real effort to share information about the project or enlist community support. We held two rallies on these concrete masses, drawing dozens of other residents.

Nivardo Lopez, the Bronx DOT commissioner, showed up at our second rally, responding to our flood of emails. We were angry, and told the commissioner (a scene captured on a recent Riverdale Press front page). The construction was grossly overbuilt and crudely out of sync with the green streets that lined our buildings. No person among us — most of us living for decades here — could recall a single pedestrian or car accident at this intersection, the one fault line that Mr. Lopez continually referred to.

But, as we learned, the DOT had not bothered to gather police traffic records for this site, nor had it conducted any environmental impact assessment to this green area. A single “pedestrian survey” had been conducted one afternoon over the span of three hours. The result, a handful of pedestrians actually crossed Kappock Street at this juncture.

In short, the massive DOT construction had been imposed on one of the safest streets in the entire city.

And this is where this story gets worse. The aftershocks of the new construction became evident at two CB8 meetings. A video presentation showed flooding on Palisade Avenue with waters bypassing the original sewers. Water flow also could flood underground electrical utilities at 2727 Palisade Ave., creating other serious hazards.

Winter snowstorms would inevitably further narrow the intersection, creating a more dangerous bottleneck. Our group already had witnessed auto jam-ups at this Palisade-Kappock intersection. We could only speculate aloud the possible dangers with food and postal delivery trucks, fire engines and ambulances navigating these severe turns in the intersecting roadways.

These very warnings had been listed in DOT’s own handbook, and ignored during construction.

And there was more. As I was stunned to discover, my building at 750 Kappock St., would now be legally responsible for maintaining the south platform during snowstorms and other water-related conditions (Schervier was charged with the north platform).

It was not hard to imagine facing a pedestrian slip-and-fall accident on this platform that, in fact, was now prone to winter black ice. Adding insult, my building management and board had never been notified of the construction, much less the legal liability packed into this project.

At a later community board meeting, I took no solace in seeing the bewildered faces of board members when these matters came to their attention. They, too, were left out of the final DOT plan. Their original recommendation to DOT had called for modest sidewalk extensions, emphasizing that the project should include a green street plan.

Residents here, as elsewhere in Riverdale, cherish our green environment, and clearly would have welcomed a project that might have integrated some sidewalk improvement with additional green space.

No one could have anticipated this colossal assault on our neighborhood ecosystem. Passing the area, onlookers could see a lone tree standing, stranded inside a slab of concrete. A tree that was once rooted into a grassland.

So outrageous was this DOT intrusion, CB8 chair Rosemary Ginty angrily criticized DOT for disregarding the board’s initial recommendations. The DOT, Ginty charged, had arbitrarily turned the board’s report into this bloated construction.

Mr. Lopez, who attended the second board meeting, mostly sat in silence against Ms. Ginty’s criticism. Our coalition’s request to have DOT scale back these slabs also were matter-of-factly turned down by Mr. Lopez.

And this is where the rest of our Riverdale community should take notice. At this same board meeting, a resident of Hudson Manor Terrace gave an authoritative presentation, replete with a slide show, about DOT’s intrusion into her streets. Two enhanced crosswalks, 30 feet wide, had knocked out 15 parking spots from her neighborhood already facing severe parking restrictions.

Another arbitrary action creating additional hardships for area residents that included this young mother. Another DOT plan that bypassed its original agreement with the community board. Instead, more parking woes and increased traffic congestion that pushed more cars onto the streets in search of a spot.

When asked, Mr. Lopez said this potential traffic issue was not the concern of DOT.

The city’s arrogance for our neighborhood is, to say the least, alarming. It affects our quality of life and, in the end, makes our streets less safe, not more.

I have no doubt that we can expect more of the same coming our way. The question is, do we have the resolve to do anything about these actions now?

Advocates for street safety should be joining our protests. Either that, or likely face DOT trucks coming into their neighborhoods, ready to turn streets into cement, at the same time making war against their green environs and disrupting their Riverdale lives.

It is time to push back and stand together.

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Paul Thaler,