Vol. 15, No. 16      August 15 - 28, 2002


Officials Pressed on Oval Park Safety and Maintenance


Norwood residents got a chance to question their elected officials on everything regarding Williamsbridge Oval Park last Thursday. Parks, police, and transportation officials were present as were Congressman Eliot Engel, Councilman Oliver Koppell, and Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz.

The session held in the Park House and sponsored by the Mosholu Woodlawn South Community Coalition's (MWSCC) Parks Committee pressed the officials on progress concerning safety and maintenance issues at the park. A "scoreboard of progress" flip chart kept track of "yes" and "no" answers to the group's demands.

Safety inside and outside the park was among the biggest concerns expressed by an audience of about 50. While pleased that the Department of Transportation has erected new stop signs on streets leading into the Oval, a heated discussion ensued over the lack of traffic calming devices around the park - a long-time but unfulfilled community request

"The Oval is the only city park that doesn't have a sidewalk around it," said resident Juliana Oyola. "Children can't be seen when they come running out of the park."

But Bronx DOT commissioner Connie Moran said that few options are suitable for Reservoir Oval, the street that surrounds the park. Speed bumps are not technically feasible to install on a curved roadway, she said. Reducing bordering parking slots that obstruct vision near the entrances is possible, but Moran predicted that residents would protest. Finally, she said, signs such as "Slow - Children Crossing" are not effective.

Moran was obviously frustrated over the continuing community pressure on the issue. "I need data [about the danger]. It's just not there," she said, adding that she personally had clocked traffic around the Oval finding it to consistently fall below the speed limit.

But residents refused to let the issue pass, demanding the installation of bollard posts and the painting of crosswalks at park entranceways. On the latter, Moran acquiesced, promising that "crosswalks will be painted within six to eight weeks."

A host of security concerns within the park - such as unlicensed vendors selling alcohol, young people fighting and hurling rocks, and dim lighting - was raised with Lieutenant Kevin Moroney of the 52nd Precinct. Residents complained about the lack of police presence in the park to address these problems.

"I bring my two children to the park every day, and I never see police," said one resident.

"We're strapped in with our manpower," Moroney said. He cited a mass exodus of cops to other departments - "75 people in the last five years, and four to five just last week." But some 80 percent of his bike patrolmen are concentrated in the Mosholu Parkway area, mostly focusing on a rash of burglaries.

Moroney did agree to send a vendor patrol to inspect cart licenses and a youth liaison to outreach to young people.

Cleanliness and beautification issues made up the bulk of the issues presented to Bronx Parks Commissioner Dorothy Lewandowski. While litter removal was deemed adequate, residents said many areas of the park could use a good scrubbing - particularly the urine-soaked tunnel entrance of the park. Lewandowski said she will explore using a recently purchased power washer to solve this problem.

Another concern of local park patrons is the poor condition of the athletic field. Parks activist Sirio Guerino called it at "dustbowl of "Grapes of Wrath" proportions."

Parks is experimenting with different kinds of Astroturf, according to Lewandowski, a controversial remedy that local residents have been discussing in recent months.

General park maintenance and beautification issues, from crushed greenery to infrequent waterings, were also discussed. Lewandowski unveiled a new citywide parks program to train employees in horticultural skills, a development the audience appreciated.

Asked by members of Sistas and Brothas United, a local grassroots youth group, if he had followed up on an earlier promise to secure funding for more lighting on Mosholu Parkway, Dinowitz proudly said that he had. It could take up to two years, however, until the vintage-style lampposts are installed.

Councilman Koppell, who had sought city funding for rehabilitating a section of the park, had less to offer because of a six percent budget cut to parks citywide. "It's not a good year for the city," Koppell said. But he said that preserving green space is still "high on my [list of] priorities."

Organizers and officials alike expressed their satisfaction with the meeting. Engel expressed his appreciation for what grassroots activism can accomplish.

"We were really pleased by the specific nature of most of the responses we got," said Margaret Groarke, president of MWSCC. (Disclosure: Groarke is married to Norwood News editor Jordan Moss.) "We will write a letter to each elected official and agency recapping what they promised to do, and meet with them to make sure," she added.

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