Welcome to the Putnam Trail!

February 2020

An innovative sustainable green multi-user path in a forested ecosystem is here

A chart using AASHTO standards shows the distance it takes for a bike to stop at different speeds — important when dealing with a nature area. here

A paper submitted to the Public Design Commission in 2016 supporting a bike trail and our response.

Save the Putnam Trail’s responses to NYSDEC’s 1/23/18 responses to public comments after they approved a permit.  here

Paving contradicts the Public Trust Doctrine . That doctrine says city parkland cannot be dedicated for non-park use. Creating a regional bike trail with a “continuous surface” or the Empire State Trail as some have stated is dedicating the trail for activities that take place primarily outside of the park.  here

Below is the official sign posted at the Stables showing the Parks Department considered the Putnam Trail a nature trail. It was removed in 2018.  (photo: MTurov.)


A rationale for paving was that “a continuous surface” was needed to link the South County Trail to 225th street, apparently no matter how it might affect the park’s ecology or the city’s flooding problems. The video below shows that the trail south of the park will become increasingly flooded in coming years.

This Powerpoint explains the above video.

Speed sign in Van Cortlandt Park.

Speed sign in VCP

DOT specs say that paving the trail with asphalt allows for speeds of 20 mph.  The trail inside the park runs through a rare ecosystem.  Animals that breed in the area or visit include rabbits, chipmunks, species of turtles, butterflies, insects, birds, ducks, muskrat, skunk, raccoon, wild turkey, bullfrogs, salamanders.

turtle on trail-8-3-2017-b-c

Turtle crossing the Putnam Trail recently.

The graphic below is a comparison of maintenance costs, pg. 28, Maintenance Practices and Costs of Rail Trails, June 2015. Maintenance is not more costly for non-asphalt surfaces than for asphalt surfaces. This data is consistent with data provided by trail orgs and engineers. asphalt v stone-dustBelow are gravel trails around the Mall in Washington, DC, part of an extensive wetland at one time in the city’s history.

Pathway around Washington Memorial - WashDC - 4-29-17

There are some whose vision of the park is being able to bike everywhere, but Central Park, another flagship park, restricts bikes to the Drives, forbidding them on park paths.  Central Park has perimeter drives and Van Cortlandt Park has major greenways. There’s a recently-built protected bike lane along its western edge of the park from Yonkers to the 242nd St subway.

Click here for 16 Myths about the Putnam Trail

Click here for a PDF on how to fix the current trail

Letter from Sen. Jeff Klein and Assemblyman Jeff Dinowitz asking the Parks Department for a 4(f) environmental review (which ultimately never occurred.)

A paved surface allows for bike speeds of 20 mph, according to DOT specs.  The trail runs through a rare wildlife nature area. The speeding is a critical public safety issue – see Olenick vs. NYC, a lawsuit about bike trail designs. No public safety study as far as we can tell was done for this design.

In fact, a CB8 committee chair said in Sept 2018 that they’ll manage conflicts between users after it’s built, This was echoed by Councilman Andrew Cohen at a December 2018 Townhall.  The Olenick vs NYC case says multi-user conflicts should be considered during the design phase, not later.

In August and September 2014, (click on link) almost a year following the 2013 NYSDEC public hearing at Lehman College, the parks department in a letter said they were redesigning the trail to a permeable surface in response to public comments made at a public hearing and to DEC’s suggestions. Despite this, in 2016 the parks department reintroduced the paving plan, after being told that they would receive “political cover” (we’re guessing Council member Andrew Cohen based on public statements).

Apparently, public hearings can be overturned: 1) The rejection of pavement by a CB8 committee in 2013, 2) the NYSDEC request for a change to permeable following a public hearing in the fall of 2013, 3) a vote by the full CB8 board in March-May 2014 when they approved the VCP Masterplan and added the caution that trails be kept “permeable, nontoxic, and suitable for wetlands.”

The Parks Department posted a version of the Masterplan in June-July 2014 that was not the version voted on by CB8.  The March Masterplan (click on blue link) did not say the Putnam Trail would be paved (pg 30).  Two months later, the Master Plan posted online did say that.

In January 2016 when the new paving plan was presented to the P&R Committee in a public hearing, a CB8 member pointed out the codicil approved 2 years before, that said all trails should remain permeable, nontoxic, and suitable for wetlands.  However, the Committee Chair said that he personally did not mean to include the Putnam Trail. Others claimed later that the Putnam Trail was “grandfathered out” of the 2014 codicil voted on by the full board, possibly a reference to the 197a plan adopted in 2003. 2003 was many years before public hearings occurred or any environmental assessment made.

Paving violates Clean Air and Water Acts because it increases sedimentation and turbidity of the Brook and Lake, and paving increases CSOs released into the river during storms.

Paving is not required by federal funding.  The same federal funding finances unpaved trails throughout the state of New York.  And it’s ironic to suggest that requirements for CMAQ air quality funding are satisfied by cutting down hundreds of trees, removing thousands of plants, and widening a trail with asphalt to create a bike commuter lane with no real east-west access points.


Millions of gallons of Tibbetts Brook water flow into the lake each day.  When it storms, the brook and stormwater combine to form CSO’s (combined sewer overflows) which results in sewage being discharged into the Harlem River.

The area around the trail inside the park meets New York State’s definition of environmentally-sensitive areas by offering aquifer recharge, open space, unique character, wetlands and wildlife habitat. (NYS Environmental Quality Bond Act of 1986)

Nearly 3,000 people have signed a petition against the plan and dozens have shown up for public hearings.

The Trail runs through one of the last remaining freshwater wetlands in the city.  NYSDEC said it has a biodiversity seldom seen in the Bronx.  The city has said that preserving wetlands are prioritized above other land uses.

Original federal funding mentions nothing about paved regional greenways with continuous surfaces or state greenways.

There is no bird-watching and nature-viewing on the South County Trail.

A Parks Department document written in 2013 ironically states things we’ve observed, and that is that construction projects inside the park have harmed it. Their recommendation:  agencies should get together to remove asphalt in the park.  Some quotes from that study:

The abundance of impermeable surfaces in urban environments prevents rainfall from percolating into the soil, resulting in large volumes of stormwater that erode soil, decrease water quality in aquatic habitats, and burden sewer systems.   Natural areas have the capacity to detain and store stormwater. Regional, interagency collaboration could help reduce runoff by minimizing impermeable surfaces and increasing the acreage of absorptive green spaces.”  pp 52-55

Scientific data shows that half the world’s wildlife has disappeared in the last 40 years, largely due to loss of wildlife habitat and to development. Changes cause cumulatively harmful impacts.  (click here for National Geographic article)


No hydrology study or EIS was ever done.   Instead there has been short-circuiting of requirements to create a “uniformly-paved” regional greenway.

The wetlands mapping that NYC Parks commissioned left out vernal pools, resulting in a faulty map on which the new design is based.

Vernal pools form every spring within 30 ft of the Putnam Trail, regardless of ruts or superficial trail grading.  They contain various invertebrates and are a living seasonal connection between the different segments of the wetland protected by both state and federal law.


Click here for Save the Putnam Trail’s 3/1/18 Response to NYSDEC’s 1/23/18 explanation after issuing a permit to NYCParks for paving the trail.

Click here for a paved bikeway that runs parallel to the PT from north to south.

2017 Public Safety Letter to CB8 and Commissioner Mitchell Silver about bike speeds:  (Click for letter)

Diagrams of the vernal pools next to the Putnam Trail click here

Statement about why a full SWPPP is necessary click here

Open Letter signed by 8 organizations against the current design  click here

Do natural trails “wash away?”  click here

mini-Bioblitz 2015!  Spreadsheet data on biodiversity around Putnam Trail  click here

An example of a successful natural trail:  click here

Click for SPT’s position paper on the trail

Sustainable Green Infrastructure Comparisons:  click here

Making the current trail ADA-compliant as one alternative:  click here

Sierra Club NYC blogpost:  click here

Save the Putnam Trail’s Facebook page:  click here

Click here for a spreadsheet on species/flower bloom times in the park.

The Putnam Trail runs through state-protected wetlands and city-designated Forever Wild Preserves and Here (which is a map included in the VCP Masterplan) Van Cortlandt Park’s wetlands are YO-1 classed wetlands — the highest classification. NYSDEC described this area in 1987:  “This wetland has a diversity of wetland communities seldom equaled in Bronx County and contains habitat types found nowhere else in the Bronx.” The wetlands are protected by the state and federal government. At one time there were 224,000 acres of freshwater wetlands in the city which is down to 2,000 acres today. The area meets New York State’s definition of environmentally-sensitive area by offering aquifer recharge, open space, unique character, wetlands and wildlife habitat. (NYS Environmental Quality Bond Act of 1986)

The trail being improved is an opportunity to improve the health of wetlands, lake, and river, and ultimately the health of every New Yorker.


A local engineer analyzes different options for improving the Trail (click the image to enlarge or to download):Comparisons

Watch an episode on the Putnam Trail, on BronxTalk with Gary Axelbank.  Click here to watch online

And VIP supporters  …

“The Putnam Trail is one of the open space glories of the New York Metropolitan region. We have spent many wonderful hours walking it in Manhattan, the Bronx, and Westchester. To deface and desecrate it with concrete would be an environmental disaster. The more natural a trail the better.”

Cy A. Adler, President, Shorewalkers Inc., www.shorewalkers.org

“I have been to Van Cortlandt Park as a runner and spectator over many years and feel strongly that the Putnam Trail should not be paved over. It will not benefit the users of the Park and this money can be used in countless meaningful ways.”

George Hirsch, Chairman of the Board, New York Road Runners, www.nyrr.org

 “The Putnam Trail is a jewel. It’s a mindless, destructive and wasteful act to pave the Putnam Trail. To spend hundreds of thousands of dollars or more to pave over this treasured parkland seems to be the antithesis of what a Parks Dept. should be doing.”

Eric Seiff, Chairman of the Board, Friends of Van Cortlandt Park, www.vancortlandt.org

 “As a cyclist, I originally thought it would be a good idea to pave the trail and have gravel on the sides of the pavement for the runners, so all could have an equal share; however, with the understanding that trees would be cut down [widening of the trail], that goes against my values as an environmentalist and a former teacher of environmental science. I am all for in favor for leaving it is as it is now in the wild. I don’t want to cut down any trees at all if it’s avoidable.”

Denis Burns, Secretary of the USI Cycling Club; Past President and current Board member of Friends of Van Cortlandt Park

“Paving the trail greatly increases injuries–runners, walkers, and even dogs all thrive when they exercise on natural dirt surfaces. In any case, we desperately need to preserve our natural surroundings in an over-populated world.”

Kathrine Switzer, notable author, television commentator, marathon runner; first woman to run the Boston Marathon with a number, leading to women being able to run in officially-sanctioned marathons across the world

“The race walkers of the Greater New York strongly oppose any paving of the Putnam Trail and would like to see funds go towards more free programs in the park, therefore helping to improve the quality of life in the Bronx.”

Lon Wilson, President, New York Walkers Club/ Parks Greeter, www.nywalkersclub.org

“Having run for over 55 years and run around the world I realized that only those communities that set aside trail space will have a lasting legacy for future generations. A community with trails is a richer community in health, fitness, beauty of nature and direct connection to our ancient roots.”

Jeff Galloway, U.S. Olympian, www.RunInjuryFree.com


What we “share” is biodiversity; we share bird life, shy woodland creatures, one of the last remaining wetlands in the Bronx and New York City; we share clean water and air, and the irreplaceable experience of deep serenity that only nature can provide. We share rabbits, frogs, turtles, chipmunks, muskrat, and nesting birds to young and old, and future generations. We share what is not compatible with a widened, asphalt-paved “greenway.” Van Cortlandt Park is not Riverside Park or Central Park. It possesses the wide array of recreational amenities, but also ecosystems that are available to all. Good stewardship supports non-fragmentation and non-erosion, and context-sensitive changes.



Site Photo by Catherine O’Brien