By now you've heard the tragic headlines. A middle-aged woman accidentally drove her van off the side of the Bronx River Parkway yesterday, killing herself and everyone aboard - her parents, her sister, her daughter and two nieces. You may have also read statements by Robert Sinclair, president of the Automobile Club of New York, that the Parkway "lacks modern transportation engineering features" because it was conceived in 1907 and opened in 1925 as "the first limited access multilane highway in the U.S." He went on to complain about the guardrail: "It is very strange that there is a curb there," Sinclair said. "You don't put curbs on high-speed roadways because they can serve as launching pads, which appears to be what happened here. A big Honda Pilot flew over a 4-foot guardrail." The Wall Street Journal found that the State's "Five Percent Report" on the most dangerous roads claimed that the "section needs a 'deceleration lane' and other measures to improve the East 177th Street exit."
The fact that Sinclair finds it "very strange that there is a curb there" gives you a clue that he's talking out his ass, and that's probably where he found the "facts" that he solemnly delivered to the Associated Press. In contrast, Steve Anderson knows his shit, and on his site nycroads.com you can read that the entire Parkway south of the Sprain Brook Parkway was built between 1950 and 1952. While the section between Bronxville and Valhalla may well have "narrow lanes, steep hills, tight turns," the southern part has six lanes and is relatively straight and flat.
Being somewhat familiar with New York City's parkways, I saw that "curb" on Bing Maps and knew exactly what it was: a divider protecting a long-closed side path. In the early 1950s, Bob Moses was still building sidewalks and side paths along his parkways. It's very similar to the one on the Goethals Bridge, even though that was built much earlier under the Port Authority.
If you're wondering why anyone would walk on a narrow sidewalk separated from six lanes of speeding car traffic by a two-foot-high strip of concrete, you're not alone. That's why it was closed, and it probably wasn't very popular when it was open, even though it's the straightest route to get from Bronx Park to Soundview.
Sinclair doesn't think it's strange that the driver, Maria Gonzalez, was doing 68 in a 50mph zone. Neither does NYPD spokesman Paul Browne. The AP says, "Gonzalez was driving well above the posted 50 mph limit, but speeding is common at that point and she may have been simply keeping up with traffic, said New York Police Department spokesman Paul Browne."
Of course, that's the problem. Gonzalez probably wasn't doing anything particularly unusual or reckless - beyond driving in the first place. If speeding is common, it's because the road design encourages it. It's a six-lane limited-access highway, but it has a 50mph speed limit, probably because it has no shoulders. But the drivers see six lanes, so they go fast.
So what do we do when the road gives drivers visual cues to go faster than it's really safe to go? Sinclair and the State DOT - and Borough President Ruben Diaz Junior - have only one answer: spend more money. Spend $232 million dollars to replace the bridge (as a link provided by the Journal News shows), raise the curbs, add shoulders and even a "FULLY ADA COMPLIANT SHARED-USE PATH." But for the section of the Parkway north of Bronxville, even Steve Anderson, who is usually not shy about spending other people's money on roads, actually recommends that the number of lanes be reduced to discourage speeding.
That's what we should do south of Bronxville too. This section of the road is redundant with the Thruway/Major Deegan and the Hutchinson River Parkway, and it doesn't even carry trucks. It does not need to be six lanes wide. If we believe Governor Cuomo that the State needs to rein in spending, we should definitely not waste money replacing and widening this bridge. But we do not have to compromise on safety. We can convert the outer lanes of this road to shoulders. This will add protection and reduce speeding, preventing at least some future deaths.
It might even make the road safe and pleasant enough that we could reopen the pedestrian and cyclist infrastructure and restore a needed link in the Bronx's non-motorized transportation network. We can also open the Parkway to buses, at least south of Pelham Parkway, to give people another alternative to driving.