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Archive: Henry Hudson Parkway Scenic Byway Efforts (2013)

A comprehensive plan for the parkway – The Scenic Byway effort

The Scenic Byway initiative was spearheaded by the Riverdale Nature Preservancy as offering a means to halt the degradation of the parkway and restore its original vision. That effort was unfortunately sidelined by the City, while it considers “re-purposing” parkways like the Henry Hudson.

What is a Scenic Byway?

A scenic byway is a road, but not just a road. It’s a road with a story to tell.

A scenic byway might offer magnificent views or fascinating historical sites or amazing wildlife. It might offer access to an exhilarating array of outdoor activities or reveal captivating cultures, spellbinding art or spectacular structures…

Whether a scenic byway offers one or many of these things, it always offers a great experience. A scenic byway is a “win/win” arrangement for the travelers who use it and the communities that adjoin it. Travelers are treated to an uncommonly exiting, educational or entertaining trek. Communities profit by an organized management plan that protects and enhances the byway corridor while encouraging increased tourism. (from the NY State Scenic Byways homepage)


January 31, 2006

By Hilary Kitasei

Chair, Henry Hudson Parkway Scenic Byway Task Force

Transportation money is about to rain down on the Henry Hudson Parkway. Millions of dollars in earmarks for the parkway were tucked into the State Transportation Bond Act and the Federal Transportation Bill. But where will it go? Descriptions in appropriation bills and budgets are vague. There is no plan for how this parkway should look or function. And the plan to make a plan is quashed. Our regional planning organization, the New York Metropolitan Transportation Council (NYMTC), informed the community boards and other stakeholders that the Corridor Management Plan has been put on hold.

When we began the effort to designate the Henry Hudson Parkway a scenic byway five years ago, we had hoped to have a Corridor Management Plan in place by now. The New York State Scenic Byways Advisory Board gave its preliminary approval two years ago. NYMTC, whose members include the city and state departments of transportation, approved funding for the plan and agreed to cooperate in its development. The Historic American Engineering Record of the National Park Service was commissioned to document and map the parkway’s historic and cultural resources and their current condition, including an inventory of billboards. Their report is to be left half-finished.

When NYMTC approved the corridor management plan, it took over the public outreach function for the Scenic Byway initiative. With the plan now tabled, there is now no forum for pursuing a coherent vision for the corridor. There is no way of stimulating creative ideas to integrate this highway with the parks and neighborhoods it bisects. We will have projects – some good, some bad, most banal, but all of them piecemeal.

Most projects will be presented to a community board for its advisory opinion. They will also be presented to the NYC Arts Commission, whose approval is required. Like the community board, members of the Art Commission are volunteers. They do not have the expertise to challenge assertions by transportation engineers and they are reluctant to send a design back to the drawing board. So they suggest ways to mitigate the aesthetic injury.

Other developments will happen with no review. Maintenance of the landscape and infrastructure falls under “replacement in kind,” even when it is not. Billboards are permitted.

In the last five years, the corridor has benefited from major investments by the city and the state to clean up the Hudson River, extend the Greenway, revitalize the waterfront, refurbish parks and protect landmarks. Communities have invested years to produce plans that balance environmental, economic development, recreational, and other goals. All of these investments, public and private, have been planned under, over, and around the highway. But the consequence of leaving the highway to the mercy of ad hoc, project-driven design, is clear. Changes in the highway sabotaged improvements in its surroundings. Concrete jersey barriers now cover miles of stone walls. Billboards are larger, louder, and spreading throughout the corridor. Eroded and paved-over landscape has exacerbated flooding, which further degrades the landscape and pollutes the river. A major piece of infrastructure, the great stone wall, remains a pile of rubble, with its owner and the city at a stalemate over its restoration.

“Every scenic byway tells a story.” Every scenic byway also has a story. They are inevitably about building trust among the communities who share a corridor, and the city and state agencies who share jurisdiction. They are about building creative partnerships with private property owners.

The Arroyo Seco Parkway is an 8.2-mile highway connecting Los Angeles and Pasadena that was built shortly after the Henry Hudson Parkway. When residents proposed it as a National Scenic Byway several years ago, the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) was an enthusiastic partner in developing the required Corridor Management Plan. The designation brought $1 billion in federal money to restore its historic landscape and bridges. Like many scenic byways, the plan focused on protecting the resource that underlies the landscape – the watershed.

When we started this effort, people said it couldn’t be done in New York City. The vested interests are too great. But aren’t the interests of New Yorkers far greater? If Los Angeles could do it, why can’t New York?

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