By Valerie Vande Panne
Pelham Parkway activists are simmering up in the Bronx. The Department of Transportation wants to cut down 80 of the 1,219 mature trees that cradle the Parkway to install guardrails that would ostensibly protect the trees from drivers crashing into them — assuming they were still there, of course. Regis Philbin has made a public plea to save the trees, as has former Parks Commissioner Henry Stern. And yet, no one seems to know who exactly is responsible for the trees.
Numerous calls and e-mails over the course of the last week to DOT revealed the confusion. Scott Gastel, DOT press secretary, wrote in an e-mail to the Voice, “DDC is clearly the appropriate agency to discuss this.” DDC (Department of Design and Construction) directed us to the Department of Parks and Recreation. “This is a daisy chain of city agencies avoiding responsibility,” Stern told us.
So, what’s actually going on? The DDC acknowledged that the $36 million plan to re-do Pelham Parkway is, in fact, coming out of DOT’s budget. Craig Chin, DDC spokesman, told us that the plan is to update sewer and water lines near the Parkway, repave a slip lane, and install a guardrail, which requires 24 inches of space behind it in order to function properly. Hence, the tree removal.
“Speeding is a problem on Pelham parkway,” explained Chin. “The purpose of the guard rail is to protect the drivers from the trees. In order to install a guard rail, 43 trees will need to be removed.”
An additional seven trees are on the slip lane that is to be repaved, and another 30 trees were identified by the Parks Department as needing to be removed due to decline. Chin says that there will be “an arborist on-site for the duration of the project,” slated to begin August 16th, and that the trees will be removed in the spring of 2012.
Meanwhile, Monty Dean, spokesperson from the DOT, told us that there were 481 crashes on Pelham Parkway last year, including 121 injuries, and that “the guard rail will make the roadways safer.” Dean didn’t know how many of these accidents involved the trees, or whether other assessments had been done to bring down the crash rate and further protect motorists.
Joseph A. Menta, Jr., co-founder of Pelham Parkway Preservation Alliance, argues, “These are 100-year-old trees. Not one has ever fallen. They are hardy, sturdy trees.” The removal of these trees, he says, will induce “irreparable damage. If this was Central Park, this wouldn’t be an issue. It’s not ‘trees or safety.’ We are for trees and safety.”
Stressing that DDC is managing the entire contract, Liam Kavanagh, First Deputy Commissioner of Department of Parks and Recreation, said, “In order to minimize the potential for serious injury, we must prevent cars from hitting trees. They were planted closer [to the road] than we would probably do today. If you leave the roadway, you hit the tree, and it will cause substantial damage and or injury.”
As for what will be done with the removed trees, “technically, you can transplant large trees,” said Kavanagh, “but it’s enormously expensive, and places a burden on the ones doing the transplanting.” Instead, the trees are turned into wood chips and given to community groups.
George Zulch, also of the Pelham Parkway Preservation Alliance, says that most of the crashes happen at the intersections, and don’t involve the trees. “If this job were being done on Fifth Avenue, they’d have workers protecting those trees,” he says. “They give a special beauty to the road.”
246 sapling trees will be planted in 2011 — in other areas of the parkway.
The Pelham Parkway Preservation Alliance is holding a rally for the trees this Saturday at 2 p.m. at Peace Memorial Plaza-Pelham Parkway North and Williamsbridge Road.