The hullabaloo over Brooklyn bike lanes at Prospect Park subsided continues as strong as ever, but a new bike controversy has been brewing up in the Bronx over the past few months. The drama centers on Parks Department plans to pave over Van Cortlandt Park‘s Putnam Trail, a path that was originally cleared for a rail line more than a century ago. The new plan was spurred by the “Rails to Trails” movement. The path, much beloved by the runners, has spurred some mudslinging by the pro-dirt contingent against “an elite, mostly out-of-borough handful,” as trail lover Michael Burke put it in an Op-ed piece for The Riverdale Press back in December.
The runners have been fighting back by gathering over a thousand letters and nearly 600 signatures through their Save the Putnam Trail Facebook page. The group argues that a stone dust surface would be far more eco-friendly than the proposed asphalt and would cut the projected $2.4 million budget for the project in half. The group says its not anti-bike, just anti-asphalt and a stone dust path would suit wheels just fine. For their part, Parks said that the their plan would open the trail to all users by providing a dirt path for runners, creating a lane for bikers and making the path ADA accessible. The new trail would be a contiguous path connecting to a paved path in Westchester County and the citywide greenways. Van Cortlandt park administrator Margot Perron said in a statement that stone dust is much more difficult for wheelchairs, strollers and bicycles to navigate than a hard surface and requires much more maintenance.
UPDATE 2/15: On the Save the Putnam Trail site yesterday, Meg Riordan reports that she spotted machinery preparing the trail for the paving. “From an ecological view, I am also confounded as to ‘how’ adding more impervious surfaces – to replace dirt – benefits the natural wooded habitat,” she writes. A spokesperson from Parks pointed out that new drainage will carry runoff. Also, four hundred saplings and 42 young trees will be added and invasive species will be cleared away. The project will last one year.