Politics puts brakes on long-delayed Yonkers bike path

A proposal to connect a bike path off

A proposal to connect a bike path off the Bronx Parkway in Yonkers to a 3,000-mile trail spanning the East Coast is mired in partisan politics on the City Council with Democrats and Republicans wrangling over the trail's funding. (Nov. 27, 2012) (Credit: Faye Murman)

A proposal to connect a bike path off the Bronx Parkway in Yonkers to a 3,000-mile trail spanning the East Coast is mired in partisan politics, with Democrats and Republicans on the City Council wrangling over funding for the project.

In 2002, the city and Westchester County secured a $1 million federal grant to expand a bike path along the Bronx River from Palmer Road in Yonkers to the Bronx border. The grant requires the city to cover $150,000 of the cost, but the funds have been tied up for years amid bickering between Democrats and Republicans, two of whose districts encompass the pathway.

Council President Chuck Lesnick blames the board's Republicans for holding up the project.

"They just don't want to move it forward," the Democrat said. "We've been trying to get this project going for years."

The city's portion of funding for the bike path project was earmarked in next year's capital improvement plan, Lesnick said, but GOP City Council members blocked the funding from moving forward in 2013 during a recent committee meeting.

Not so, said Councilman John Larkin, the board's Republican minority leader. Instead, he accused the council president of overreaching his authority by unilaterally pushing the proposal.

He said the proposed bike path crosses through the City Council districts of Republicans Mike Breen and Dennis Shepard and added that Lesnick has pushed the proposal without input from either councilmen or neighborhood residents.

"This has everything to do with respect," Larkin told Newsday. "They need to reach out to the people who live in those districts and find out what concerns they have. This money was simply put into the ... budget without any dialogue."

Larkin said the project is based on a decade-old study and said there are major concerns about taking away parking spaces in neighborhoods where spots are at a premium. "There's a lot of issues that need to be worked out," he said.

PUTTING YONKERS ON THE (BIKE PATH) MAP

The 3 miles designated for bikers in Yonkers would link existing New York City paths with the East Coast Greenway, a hodgepodge of trails that would stretch from Maine to Georgia. In New York, the East Coast Greenway spans about 40 miles to the Connecticut border, but gaps like the one in Yonkers have complicated the long-term project.

Lesnick said the connector path would be built over public rights-of-way -- county parkland on the Bronx River Reservation and Yonkers streets -- and would include upgrades such as more parking, landscaping and guardrails along the parkway.

Yonkers Mayor Mike Spano, a Democrat who took office in 2012, supports the bike path project.

"Obviously, there are details to be worked out such as where the path will go, but generally the mayor is supportive of the concept," said Jason Baker, Spano's spokesman.

BIKE PATHS CONTINUE TO EXPAND IN WESTCHESTER

Bill Dennison, a spokesman for the Yonkers Bike Club, said there is a demand for more bike paths in southern Westchester, particularly among young families who live in Yonkers and professionals who commute to New York City on bikes.

"People are hungry for areas where they can go out with their kids on a bike or just take a walk," he said.

Already, Westchester County has more than 150 miles of bike trails along old rail corridors, parkway rights-of-way, waterfronts and highways.

Neighborhood opposition to bike paths is common, but the concerns are often unfounded, Dennison said.

"When they where building the first bike trail in Yonkers, people were complaining that criminals from the Bronx would use the trail to come into Westchester and break into houses and rob people," Dennison said. "But that didn't happen."

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