His Dream Deferred

East Harlem man dares to build greenway. DOT commish dares to cork it.

The answer from the new boss is the same as from the old boss: no. Sadik-Khan declined an interview on the subject, leaving her staff to talk about the influence of the "bridge guys" on the commissioner's thinking. Apparently, they're tough to convince when it comes to providing for alternative transportation—especially, the staff says, for bikes. That goes double for bikes in a construction zone.

DOT staffer Molly Gordy said how sorry the commissioner was. Gordy forwarded a letter from Hardesty & Hanover, dated March 28, 2007, in which the engineering firm spent three and a quarter pages explaining to the DOT why the community's latest request for an interim bike path just couldn't work: heavy equipment, double shifts on Sundays, parking for contractors, and so on. "Even a modest reduction in the width of the staging area would cause a dramatic reduction in the useable space in the staging area," wrote engineer Charles J. Gozdziewski.

Interviewed on July 17, Gordy said Con Ed would start operations on the site in a few days, followed in August by the DOT. The letter she provided mentions a five-year period of construction, raising the possibility of public access by 2012. That might lessen the blow for East Harlem—except that people there have waited five years already for any sign of meaningful work on the other side of the fence.

Thomas Lunke, a state planner who has worked on the park project since 1999, says the lack of potential for upscale development near Toussaint's greenway may be the greatest impediment to its completion. Harlem River Park Walk wouldn't serve people coming to buy sparkling new condos, but rather a bunch of poor and aging people who already live there. "I don't know whether that's a priority for this administration or any administration," Lunke says.

But it's a priority for Toussaint, and it should be a priority for anyone who cares about a greenway around Manhattan. Except for the detour around the United Nations and the DOT staging area, this East Side route is nearly complete. Directly south of the big salt pile, a handful of homeless people sleep in the sand under tarps anchored to a cement wall. A few yards south of them, the older greenway starts up, with grass, trees, and fishermen. It's so close, this southward link to the rest of Manhattan, and so completely out of reach.

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