Get The Facts
Funding was for improvements only, not for asphalt paving.
Updated November 2015
The City got a $500,000 Federal Earmark secured in 2005 by Congressman Eliot Engel and a $950,000 Federal Earmark secured by Congressman Anthony Weiner “to improve” the Putnam
Mayor Bloomberg committed $960,000 of city funds “to improve” the trail.
The total cost of this project will be at least $2,410,000.
None of this funding required the use of asphalt pavement to “improve the trail.” Federal highway funding does not mandate asphalt to be eligible for the funding. See Shared Use Paths at this FHWA site.
Original federal funding (SAFETEA) discourages using funding in a way that harms natural areas. The Putnam Trail runs through Forever Wild Preserves and state-protected wetlands.
Transportation funds are used to upgrade trails in NYS and NYC and don’t require asphalt.
Congressman Eliot Engel’s office in 2012 said funding was for improvements: “Congressman Eliot Engel got $500,000 to rebuild the Putnam Trail and make it even more available for the people of the City.”
This website does a “redo” of the Putnam Trail design: http://www.waterblogged.org/putnam-trail-re-do/.
DEC files obtained through FOIL request show that from 2009, DPR did not come up with a stormwater treatment plan or a design that accounted for Forever Wild Preserves and Wetland. In a DPR memo (9/10) they told DEC: “The intent of making a greater regional connection to the Westchester greenway system and to future greenway plans along the Harlem River would be completely compromised if we did not pave the entire trail.”
DEC described the wetland along the trail in 1987 as having a biodiversity seldom seen in the Bronx.
BCEQ, an environmental organization, passed a resolution in Sept. 2014, asking the city to do a 4-f environmental review and stormwater prevention plan. Local electeds sent a letter in agreement.
DEC’s mission statement: “To conserve, improve and protect New York’s natural resources and environment and to prevent, abate and control water, land and air pollution, in order to enhance the health, safety and welfare of the people of the state and their overall economic and social well-being.”
DEC protects wetlands that run alongside the trail in the park. There are also federal protections.
A long-awaited wetlands report dated November 2015 shows areas impacted by rehabilitation of the trail. It does not show full wetland delineation, the interconnections, or seasonal fluctuations. It shows that the trail crosses 11 wetland sites (9 different types) encompassing more than 22 acres for 2 miles. The entire wetland has been described as 56 acres in size. The report calls for an assessment to determine how tree clearing would affect endangered bats.
To improve lake water and wetland health, a closed-circuit can be created by closing off golf course and other drainage systems that pollute lake/pond water.
The city in Local Law 31 says that wetlands take precedence over other land uses.
The state’s Freshwater Wetlands Act: http://www.dec.ny.gov/docs/wildlife_pdf/wetart24a.pdf
The city is 72% asphalt, a major cause of heat-dome effect, climate change, and pollution through water runoff and heat. The wetlands next to the Putnam Trail are YO-1 classed wetlands — the highest classification.
Asphalt next to wetlands would increase erosion and CSO’s (combined sewer overflows) into the Harlem River due to the presence of a combined sewer outlet at the lake. Asphalt adds heat in an environmentally sensitive area which can affect wetlands, wildlife, and contribute to air pollution.
Bronx CB8 rejected DPR’s original paving plan in May 2013, but on February 9, 2016, it ignored its 2014 resolution to keep “trails flexible, permeable, nontoxic, and suitable for wetlands,” and gave conditional approval to DPR’s plan. Four conditions were attached. Despite a good-sized turnout opposed to the plan at CB7, that community board approved.
Asphalt allows 100% storm water runoff to enter the Brook and Lake near the Trail. Stone-dust has a 30% runoff rate; compacted earth 10%; permeable asphalt 50%. Some of the “absorbed water” with permeable pavement seeps back during evaporation bringing toxins to the surface. Permeable asphalt gets clogged with debris losing permeability. It’s the most expensive surface to maintain. Rubber is the primary ingredient, from recycled tires or virgin material, both of which are toxic.
Changes to the trail are supposed to maximally preserve the environment according to local, state and federal law. Replacement is supposed to be a “replacement in kind” according to DEC requirements. And Local Law No. 31, 2009, pg. 58 says preserving freshwater wetlands is given higher priority when given competing land uses.
NYC Audubon’s draft letter in June 2013 says the Putnam Trail provides a unique way for residents to connect with nature. They said they would prefer the trail be left alone. They point out safeguards that must be implemented if paved.
Removing the equivalent of 400 trees and countless plants does not lessen air and water pollution, or maintain biodiversity. Statistics show 1 out of 5 new plantings survive and that in terms of biodiversity, half of the world’s wildlife has disappeared in the last 40 years due to habitat loss.
Paving invites ATVs, minibikes, trucks, cruisers.
Salt/sand cannot clear snow because the trail runs alongside wetlands. Westchester County does not clear its side of the trail.
Asphalt is neither “all-weather” nor “universal.” Cycling is unavailable in poor weather and paving is not universal because it discourages some user groups from using the trail.
In December 2010, the parks dept. told the City Planning Commission that the creosote ties were too old to leach toxins into the environment. City Planning endorsed the Public Design Commission’s recommendation to preserve the railroad ties, not done in the current design. CPC memorandum dated Jan. 5, 2011, pg. 5.
In the same CPC memorandum, they say the trail in the park just needs to be improved. BP Reuben Diaz said in his letter to the CPC that the trail inside the park and the trail south of the park, were distinctly different in character.
The original rail track was 10-feet wide. Remaining ties were for a maintenance bay located midway up the Trail. The rail line was single track.
Compacted earth and stone-dust trails are ADA-compliant. Federal funding for trail improvements require changes be friendly to the elderly, low-income and minority residents. DEC Permits require the same.
DEC permits require “replacement in kind.”
A stone-dust trail does not have to be as wide as DPR’s 15 ft design which requires drainage side paths. NYSDOT’s minimum width is 8 ft.
DPR and DEP say there’s a bluebelt/daylighting plan to take Tibbetts Brook out of a combined sewer. Asphalt next to the brook/pond/lake is not a Best Management Practice (BMP) because it will increase CSOs.
There are millions of dollars in federal funding available for bioremediation projects appropriate for the Putnam Trail.
Asphalt to maintain could cost as much as $20,000 for 1.5 miles per year. If there is money to maintain asphalt, there should be for natural paths.
Federal money doesn’t expire.
Limestone stone-dust trails are ADA-compliant, and built throughout the state and country. Limestone aggregate rock is nonreactive with other materials and does not form clogs.
Freshwater wetlands are shrinking in the city, yet serve a vital function, filtering out pollutants from air and water sources, preserving biodiversity, and providing educational opportunities for children and adults.
An Environmental Impact Assessment was never obtained. A categorical exclusion allowed for rail-trails was used despite the fact the Putnam Trail runs through Forever Wild preserves and state-protected wetlands. Categorical Exclusions have environmental and other limitations.
This article shows how heat can harm turtle populations in the VCP wildlife preserve. Asphalt means more heat. Click here.
This engineer’s website (click here) analyzes 3 potential ADA-compliant designs for the Putnam Trail.
“This project is not a new trail being constructed for a specific use. It is a re-designing of an existing path through the portion of the park which is part of a state-protected nature preserve. Therefore the number one priority is to be environmentally sustainable. Accommodating park users should go hand in hand with sustainability, not at the cost of it.”
— Margarita Eremeyev
Maintenance of asphalt trails costs $6500 to $9000 per mile per year, according to the Rail to Trails Conservancy, the same or more as natural trails.
The park has been deemed an IBA (Important Bird Area) by the Audubon Society.
Paving does not mean year-round ADA-compliance – there’s sleet, ice, and snow, wet leaves.
“This trail is an abandoned rail trail but hardly abandoned! The local community is walking it, jogging it, birding it. Families, school classes, photographers, nature lovers, senior citizens, fishermen all use it.”
– Catherine O’Brien Young
Stone-dust trails are fully 100% ADA-compliant and are installed throughout the country. They are considered “easy” to maintain. Click here
Open space is not supposed to be designed for 5% of users, especially when alternatives don’t exclude that 5% of users.
Approval from PDC (Public Design Commission) expired June 6, 2013.
The Public Design Commission rejected the design initially, until incorrectly told that asphalt was federally mandated.
Wholesale removal of shrubs/grasses/weeds results in loss of wildlife habitat and ability to soak up excess water at the time of storms.
Bioremediation and remineralization remove toxins, including herbicides, from an area.
“Once you lose a natural area, you never get it back.”
– John Liu, mayoral forum
There are 30 known artifacts and a switching tower from the trail’s railroad past. One local historian described them as a portal through history. The park has a tradition of preserving its history. There is no known plan to preserve these elements.
Parks filled out a Short Environmental Assessment Form in July 2012 claiming there were no environmental impacts or controversy. The petition against widening/paving began seven months earlier, before the form was filled out.
NYC Parks since 2009 has told community groups that “asphalt was federally mandated.” Parks officials appeared in many community board meetings saying this: 1) Community Board 7 – Parks Committee Minutes 6/10/2009; 2) Community Board 8 – Parks Committee Minutes 5/26/2010; 3) Community Board 8 – Parks Committee Minutes 2/23/2011; 4) Community Board 8 – Parks Committee Minutes 2/22/2012.
400-plus trees will be chopped down to make way for 1.5 miles of asphalt.
The trail is already used by bikes, and those wanting to go at a slower pace who share harmoniously.
The parks department’s own poll for Van Cortlandt Park shows 54% of people enjoy nature trails above other activities listed.
Click here for that poll. Scroll to bottom.
Examples of ADA-compliant stone-dust trails built using federal transportation dollars: 1) Seneca Falls, NY ; 2) Canal region, NY ; 3) Massachusetts ; 4) Lake Placid, NY 5) the cross country trail in VCP.
The average lifespan of an asphalt trail before it needs to be repaved is 17 years and it needs resealing every 8 or so years. Despite hilly terrain prone to erosion, the cross country trail has lasted 16 years.
“The fight to defend the Putnam Trail is a fight for the right of working people to the most basic social necessity — access to nature.”
– Rita Freed
The original SAFETEA funding from 2005 incorporates Section 4(f) of the Dept. of Transportation Act (DOT Act) of 1966, that protects natural resources and historical sites in public parks. Section 4(f) says that FHWA and DOT cannot approve the use of land from publicly owned parks, recreational areas, wildlife and waterfowl refuges, or public and private historical sites unless the following conditions apply:
- There is no feasible and prudent alternative to the use of land.
- The action includes all possible planning to minimize harm to the property resulting from use.
This NYCParks letter was received 9/15/2011:
Claims from the Parks Department:
1. NYC Parks says, “Van Cortlandt Park already contains three miles of historic cross country trail accessible year-round for runners and joggers of varying skills and ages, but only .5 miles of multi-user greenway…This was a significant factor in the decision to provide a running/jogging path alongside an ADA accessible paved path.”
Why this is wrong. There’s at least 6 miles of multi-use greenway, not half a mile. There’s a paved path east of the Deegan that spans the entire north-south length of the park; a 1-mile segment of the much-heralded 5,000-mile East Coast Greenway; the 1.5-mile Putnam Trail; and the 1.5 miles flats. There are many paved paths throughout the park.
NYC PARKS Dept. says that cyclists are not allowed on the 1.3 mile Old Croton Aqueduct in VC Park. Westchester County allows cyclists on its 26 mile portion of the Old Croton Aqueduct. This being said, there is the potential to have an additional 2.8 miles of multi-use trails in VC Park for a total of more than 9 miles without spending more money or paving more trails. NYC Parks and cycling advocates should focus on integration and inclusion of these already existing trails.
NYC Parks Dept. statement indicates that one of the reasons for paving the Putnam Trail is to make it ADA accessible and therefore more open to the community. Compacted earth trails and stone dust trails meet ADA standards. The main factors in meeting standards is stable and firm and steepness of the trail (trails must have less than a 5% grade). Because the Putnam Trail is flat, as well as stable and firm, stone dust or compacted soil complies with ADA guidelines.
These trails are also easily maintained throughout the state and country.
In subsequent letters, Parks says that asphalt is necessary “to create a unified biking system in the region.” Again the Putnam Trail is already bike greenway and compact earth, stone-dust accomplishes this goal of creating a “unified biking system.”
Original federal funding (SAFETEA) discourages using funds to make improvements that harm a city’s “inventory of natural resources” and historical/cultural legacies when other transportation assets (that move people through a region) already exist.
The standard for improvements is “satisfactory” movement of people.
The funding requires community input, presumably based on accurate information being given to them.
2. NYC Parks says, “With the task of accommodating all users comes the obligation to design for safety and comfort. In this case, the result is a 3’ wide earthen path alongside a paved path, varying in width from 8’ to 10’.”
Parks is being very vague here. They do not mention that the 3ft wide earthen path will have a pitch to it and will not be perfectly flat. In reality this 3ft will not provide enough adequate space for people on foot and will deteriorate over time due to weather and lack of maintenance.
3. NYC Parks says, “The new 16ft wide trail will not require the destruction of ‘many’ trees. There are currently seven mature trees marked for removal as part of the trail’s development.”
This statement may be greatly distorted by examining NYC Parks definition of a “mature” tree. Those who have been on the Putnam Trail realize that this statement is greatly exaggerated. We encourage you to visit the Putnam trail so you can understand the amount of land needed to expand the trail from 8 ft to 15 ft, which amounts to 63,360sq ft or 1.5 acres, in order for Parks 15-foot path to be completed. We strongly feel that will involve destroying far more than 7 mature trees. Parks claims it will “replant” many “new” trees. We have heard the same arguments from timber companies when they attempt to clear cut national forests.
4. “The mandate for the funding requires [asphalt] paving and determines the width of the paving.”
The funding requires the Putnam Trail be improved; it does not specify the need for asphalt pavement. The Erie Canal Trail utilized the same funding and improved many of their trails with stone dust. The cross-country trail was improved using transportation funds as well. Trails with 8ft width have been built in NYC with the same funding. Click here.
Update May 2012
a. FOIL requests were sent to NYS DOT on 3/26 asking for documentation that NYS DOT mandated or required NYC Parks to use asphalt. On 4/3 and 4/11, NYS DOT responded there was no such document on file
b. We asked Rep. Eliot Engel in April 2012 if original funding mandated paving. His office responded (our bolding), “Congressman Eliot Engel got $500,000 to rebuild the Putnam Trail and make it even more available for the people of the City. The money was allocated from the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act. The renovation is funded by $1.45 million in federal transportation funds (including money from then Congressman Weiner) and $969,000 allocated by Mayor Bloomberg.”
5. “Maintenance costs for a stone dust trail are higher than for asphalt paved trail.”
Studies show that maintenance costs of stone dust trails and asphalt are the same. Also, by reducing the width of the trail from 15ft to 8ft future maintenance costs will be DRASTICALLY reduced and relieve the NYC taxpayer from the burden of endless excessive maintenance costs.
Discussion about stone-dust trails is here, provided by a firm that constructs them.
The NYS Canal System says this about asphalt vs. stone-dust trails:
“In addition (stone-dust) is somewhat resistant to rutting, erosion, weed growth and puddling. On other sections of the Canalway Trail, stone dust has also proven to be more resistant to tree root damage than an asphalt surface.” (pg 27, Canal Masterplan)
Graffiti can appear. The Grand Central Stones, the OCA Trail weir building, and patches of the Westchester trail are examples.
6. “Road bikes cannot use stone dust trails.”
All bikes, cyclists, runners, walkers, etc can use stone dust trails. This has been proved by many successful stone dust and dirt trails across the country. We’ve posted a video of our riding road bikes over a stone dust surface moving at 15mph (parks speed limit). See the video in the Testimonials tab.
The NYS Canal system says this about their 10ft wide stone-dust paths:
“(The stone dust pathway) will be designed for a wide range of users including walkers, hikers, joggers, bikers, and parents pushing strollers, persons in wheelchairs, and other mobility-impaired users.”
The link to their masterplan is here: http://www.waterloony.com/pdfs/CanalMasterPlan.PDF
7. “This is an anti-cycling campaign and your group doesn’t want to see any cyclists on the Putnam Trail.”
Our group includes many cyclists. We WANT cyclists to use the Putnam Trail as they do now. Our position is that Parks has not presented evidence that 15ft of trail is necessary to accommodate cyclists, walkers runners and other users. An 8ft trail is adequate to accommodate all these users. Heavily traveled bridges like the GW Bridge don’t provide 16ft of width for bicycles and pedestrians. We wish to see cyclists allowed to use the Old Croton Aqueduct and the Parade Grounds in VC Park.
8. “No additional runoff is expected because of the asphalt paving.”
Asphalt, when compared to stone dust, retains less water, which is harmful to the environment. Flooding is less significant with stone dust because some runoff during a storm is absorbed into the ground.
The NYC Public Design Commission recommended a STONE DUST surface for the Putnam Trail in May 2010. The Van Cortlandt Park Administrator Margot Perron said that, “strong support for the paved (asphalt) surface by community bike riders was sufficient in judgment of DPR” to overturn the qualified recommendation of the NYC Public Design Commission. Is this really how decisions are made now? Who are these “community bike riders” who make the decisions for everyone else regarding how $2.41 million in taxpayers funds are spent?
Please contact the NYC Public Design Commission and let them know you want a natural solution not more hard infrastructure in a wooded area. firstname.lastname@example.org
Parks is not telling the truth:
In an email to the New York City Design Commission asking why they didn’t pursue their recommended ‘rock dust’ after one person (Margot Perron) recommended against it.
Phase I of the construction of the Putnam Rail Trail received preliminary and final approval from the Design Commission on June 6, 2011. Consequently, the project will not be reviewed again by the Commission unless the Department of Parks & Recreation makes changes to the approved design, in which case it would submit those changes for review. With regard to using a permeable surface for the bikeway, the Department of Parks & Recreation clarified that the New York State Department of Transportation, which is administering the Federal Highway Administration grant that is largely funding the project, required the use of asphalt.
We replied again to clarify and ask for further response:
We are writing to you about your response to people who wrote to you asking for a review of the Putnam Trail Design. There is incorrect and misleading information in your response which we feel should be followed up with by the Mayor to rectify.
In your response you write, “administering the Federal Highway Administration grant that is largely funding the project.”
There are $0 of any FHA grants funding the Putnam Trail Project. 1,450,000 is coming from Federal Earmarks. the other 960,000 is coming from Mayor Bloomberg via the NYC budget.
We also request to see proof of the correspondence where NYS DOT said specifically that the Putnam Trail HAD to be paved. We seriously doubt that NYS DOT said this to the Parks Dept. and they definitely wouldn’t have put it into writing. NYS DOT has funded many stone dust trails and they do not require asphalt pavement.
Please provide us with the correspondence from NYS DOT where they state that the Putnam Trail must be paved with asphalt.
Thanks for working to clarify the points above and hope to hear back from you soon.
Reply from NYC Parks:
Subject: RE: City of New York – Correspondence #1-1-720093681 Message to Agency Head, ART – Other
As we have noted in previous correspondence on this subject, one of the greatest challenges for developing any park facility is satisfying the different needs and desires of the community. After a vigorous vetting progress, we have incorporated feedback based on community concerns.
Additionally, as noted in the below email chain, the Federal Highway Administration grant, administered by the New York State Department of Transportation, recommends the use of asphalt. In order to address the needs of the community, the Putnam trail will feature an earthen lane adjacent to the asphalt path.
Please rest assured that this project has gone through proper due diligence. We greatly value your suggestions regarding the Putnam Trail, however since we have addressed your questions in previous letters, this will be our last correspondence on the issue.
Thank you again for your advocacy and continued interest in Van Cortlandt Park’s Putnam Trail.
James M. Mituzas, RLA
NYS DOT NEVER said asphalt was required which is what Parks is claiming in correspondence.
the Federal Highway Administration grant, administered by the New York State Department of Transportation, recommends the use of asphalt
This is a slight change in language after months of using “required” and “mandated” in correspondence. Still it is inaccurate. There is no FHA grant and agencies never require one type of surface over another.
Federal Transportation Funds are used to make Stone Dust, Rock Dust transportation paths:
The funding on the NY trail below is almost identical to our proposal for the Putnam Trail:
Erie Canal Trail-many of the stone dust portions of this trail were funded by Federal Transportation Funds:http://www.canals.ny.gov/exvac/trail/index.html
Take a look at page 5: http://www.waterloony.com/pdfs/CanalMasterPlan.PDF
It outlines a 10ft wide limestone dust trail using Federal Funds which is exactly what we are asking for for the Putnam Trail.
The document has other good facts and figures too.
The D & R Canal Trail in New Jersey is a 35 mile long dirt surfaced trail and it has gotten millions of dollars in Federal Funds over the years.
Stone Dust is ADA Compliant
Article from Massachusetts: http://www.masscentralrailtrail.org/aboutthemcrtcoalition/faqs.html
In the mid 1990s, MassHighway indicated that all bikeway projects receiving state or federal funds had to be paved to meet Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) standards for access. That directive has been relaxed and communities can now choose their surface. This is not ‘inventing the wheel’. Virtually all other states also have deemed that well-built soft surface trails are suitable and ADA-compliant for wheel chair access. In all likelihood, depending on community preferences, the Mass Central corridor will be a mix of gravel, compacted stone-dust and possibly even some porous pavement sections. Click here to go to MassHighway’s chapter about trail development and you’ll see that stone-dust is an allowed surface material. [caution this is a 3 meg file.]
Asphalt paving turns into a non-usable pathway when neglected.
The examples of asphalt pathways in and around Van Cortlandt Park show that NYC Parks should be putting funding into maintaining existing asphalt before they do more paving.
Parks leaves themselves vulnerable to legal issues by not maintaining these walkways. When asphalt is neglected it becomes a hazard for all users and expensive to repair and maintain.
Note that in the steps that connect the Old Croton Aqueduct to the Major Deegan Expressway are in dire need of repair. Funding should go to these important needs before paving a beautiful nature trail.
Paving the Putnam Trail may result in graffiti. The Grand Central Weathering Stones and areas of the South County Trail are examples.