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Yonkers, NY: Street Festival to Gather Public Input on Brownfields Redevelopment

In the 1940s, Southwest Yonkers had a train called the Putnam Line, which traveled between Van Cortland Park and Getty Square. However, after World War II, the line was abandoned by New York Central in 1944 after a series of legal challenges by the city (Source: WCBJ). Though the rail tracks were pulled up, the right of way still remains for the long-abandoned three-mile branch line. We are now looking at different options for this corridor and how improvements can benefit the neighborhood.

Groundwork Hudson Valley was awarded a grant from the US Environmental Protection Agency as part of EPA’s Brownfields Redevelopment Program to clean up and reuse former industrial sites. Groundwork has formed a steering committee in Yonkers made up of local non-profits, churches, the Municipal Housing Authority,  governmental agencies, and other project stakeholders to gather public input and identify ways in which a multi-use trail and improvements to adjacent streets could better serve the needs of the community. The path will provide a direct link to the subway and access to jobs in New York City, helping revitalize the community.

Through our grant with HUD-EPA Sustainable Communities Initiative, we were able to provide support for Groundwork Hudson Valley and the team to organize a public neighborhood Street Festival this summer on Lawrence Street, a major corridor in Yonkers, NY. The Street Festival served to demonstrate the potential of the neighborhood and to solicit public input to identify wants and needs of the community.

Along with Alta Planning + Design, we were able to demonstrate some great complete streets features in the neighborhood with street calming elements. We taped down a pop-up designated bike lane with parallel parking between the bike lane and the street, serving as a barrier to protect cyclists from car traffic. This allowed kids to ride down the street without fear of being too close to moving cars. Once we began taping down the bike lane and crosswalks, traffic on the street instantly slowed. It was great to see how quick and easy traffic calming elements really made a difference for Lawrence Street; it completely changed the street experience in less than an hour–from cars whizzing down the hill, to kids and families playing in the street. The team also recruited several local businesses and stakeholders to come “open shop” and help residents imagine new businesses and a more active streetscape with food trucks, activities for kids, music, and seating areas.

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We also collected public input from the neighborhood during the street festival. We invited participants to give feedback through:

  1. An 11-question multiple-choice/open-ended paper survey, which asked participants about their vision, barriers, and transportation mode in the Lawrence Area Neighborhood; and
  2. A visual preference survey dot exercise, that asked participants to rate 4 examples in each of the following seven category of Retail, Mixed-Use, Single-Family Residential, Multi-Family Residential, Parks & Public Spaces, Sidewalks & Trails, and Youth Activities.

We also made a version of the survey available online and through an SMS-based (mobile text messaging) survey platform called Textizen, to give residents several ways to give us feedback. With translation assistance from Groundwork’s youth team, we were also able to provide a Spanish-translated survey (approximately 11% of the surveys were administered in Spanish).

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After the July 31st charrette, PlaceMatters prepared a full report on findings for the team, which is available here. Some key findings included the identification of a priority vision to be “Cleaner” and “More Active,” and that crime and safety is a major barrier for the community. Additionally, there is a want for more cycling, bus, and Metro-North (train) access in the community, and a large majority of respondents indicated that they would use a multi-use trail. Residents are excited about improvements to their community, and seemed to be very supportive of any type of development that was an improvement to existing conditions, rather than being picky about specific styles. There was a high priority for public space improvements, including activities for families and youth, trails, and parks.

PlaceMatters is still providing minimal assistance as Groundwork Hudson Valley moves forward in the process of creating a multi-use trail. To learn more, visit the project website here. If you or someone you know lives in the area and would like to get more involved in the public process, please contact Curt at Groundwork Hudson Valley. Check out below for even more pictures!
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