Parkways and Conservation: The Legacy of Riverdalians in preserving both sides of the Hudson is an account of how George C. Perkins and William E. Dodge inspired the creation of the Henry Hudson Parkway to protect scenic views and open space and of the unwavering commitment of the Friends of the Greenbelt, later reorganized as the Riverdale Nature Preservancy, to preserving the Henry Hudson Parkway as the linear park and scenic drive it was meant to be.
Why focus on preserving the Parkway?
Preserving a Parkway in New York City has proven to be a tremendous challenge. The Henry Hudson Parkway was conceived by Riverdalians George C. Perkins and William E. Dodge as a way to conserve the landscape, protect views, and create parks in Riverdale. It was modeled after the successful preservation of the Palisades across the Hudson by the Palisades Interstate Park Commission.
When the Henry Hudson Bridge and Parkway opened in the late 1930s, the Parkway was hailed as a stunning achievement of engineering and beauty—one of the finest examples of the American Parkway Movement.
Time and changing visions have taken a toll on the Parkway’s design. Since 1977 Riverdalians, first as Friends of the Greenbelt and later as the Riverdale Nature Preservancy, have sought to mitigate the impacts on the Parkway from a variety of modernizations. Wider lanes, entrance ramps, huge signs that mar the stone bridges and loom from overhead stanchions even on local service roads, incremental disappearance of the parkland buffer due to paving or erosion, loss of the landscaped median to miles of Jersey barriers; each small change dismantles a bit more of the parkway’s purpose. Each small change alters the parkway to more expressway-like standards.
Now the City is reconsidering its ban on commercial traffic, which would increase noise and air pollution for all Riverdalians, and the State is set to roll out new, even larger signage.
An overall approach is needed
Years of experience have shown the danger of responding to projects piecemeal and at the eleventh hour. “Mitigation” is not the same as good planning. Individual design conflicts, which result in long delays that waste time and money, don’t need to be a constant occurrence. For these reasons the Preservancy designated a Henry Hudson Parkway task force whose charge was to enlist the State’s support for designating the parkway as a NYS Scenic Byway. Scenic Byway status would give the Parkway a corridor management plan and access to special funds to carry it out. That effort was unfortunately sidelined by the City, while it considers “re-purposing” parkways like the Henry Hudson. Undeterred by this setback, the Preservancy turned to a more powerful tool—listing in the National Register of Historic Places.
2001 – Preservancy Task Force is formed; public outreach begins
The Preservancy’s Henry Hudson Parkway Scenic Byway Task Force is formed.
The task force begins dozens of meetings, large and small, with civic groups, community boards, agency representatives, and other interested parties along the Parkway corridor.
2003 – public meetings in Riverside Park, Washington Heights, and Riverdale; symposium
The task force holds public meetings to begin to define important features of the Parkway corridor. The task force also holds a one-day symposium for design and parkway professionals.
2004 – NYMTC agrees to sponsor corridor management plan; four planning studies are funded through grants
New York Metropolitan Transportation Council (NYMTC) agrees to fund and oversee the development of a comprehensive corridor management plan–the crux of the application to the state for byway designation.
The task force obtains a number of grants for scenic byway studies: the potential for stormwater capture, jurisdictional issues, and two complimentary studies of the potential for a greenway along the byway corridor. The reports can be viewed below, and is the centerpiece of the documentation for the National Register nomination. It includes a contextual history, inventory and maps of the Parkway's engineering and historic features. This work was funded by NYMTC (New York Metropolitan Transportation Council).
2005 – NYMTC funds HAER study and begins process of hiring a planning consultant to develop corridor management plan
NYMTC provides funding for the Historic American Engineering Record (HAER), a division of the National Park Service, to inventory and document the full length of the parkway. The project includes three phases:
Summer 2005: HAER historians will compile an inventory of resources related to the parkway. The inventory will describe the location and condition of bridges, ramps, interchanges, viewsheds, lighting, medians, billboards and all the other components that together make up the parkway. This three-month project will be completed by the end of September.
Winter 2005 – 2006: The team will assemble a history of how the parkway was built and its relationship to the landscape and city. A team will also use a geographic information system to map the resources.
Summer 2006: HAER architects will create measured drawings of select parkway features.
NYMTC also begins the process of hiring a planning consultant to develop the corridor management plan.
December 2005 – NYMTC indefinitely postpones all activities
NYMTC informs the Task Force, Community Boards and other affected parties that the Corridor Management Plan is indefinitely postponed while the City DOT completes a safety report on the Parkway. Funding for the HAER project is also halted; phase 3 remains unfunded.
March 12, 2007 – In a letter dated December 27, 2006, the Bronx Borough Commissioner of the NYC Department of Transportation (DOT) informed the Preservancy that the DOT’s study of city-owned retaining walls is expected to be complete in April 2007. The Commissioner said that the DOT will inform the Preservancy of its findings and recommendations at that time.
The New York Metropolitan Transportation Commission (NYMTC) has stated that it will consider moving forward with the scenic byway nomination process once the DOT study is complete.
June 2011 – At this time, the scenic byway project remains dormant.
December 2011 – During 2011, the Preservancy developed an application package for the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) and the National Park Service to list the Henry Hudson Parkway from West 129th street to the City line in the National Register of Historic Places. The section to the south is already listed.
The application will include an updated history and inventory of significant features. Additional photographs and updated maps will also be required. The photographs are being taken during fall 2011 and winter 2012 by professionals with the National Park Service’s Historic American Engineering Record (HAER). The maps will be professionally produced in early 2012. The application is expected to be submitted to SHPO and the National Park Service by mid-2012.
While funding for much of the work was in place in early 2011, additional funds were needed, and a special fundraising appeal was made to the Preservancy membership in June 2011. Preservancy members responded enthusiastically to the appeal, demonstrating the community’s unwavering commitment to preserving the Henry Hudson Parkway as the linear park and scenic drive it was meant to be.