Once upon a time, Manhattan’s Park Avenue was a splendid promenade so named because it was an actual park—what we would now call a “linear park”—down the middle of a wide boulevard. It was a reasonably pleasant place to walk. Not so for the current Park Avenue, which was widened to accommodate more and faster cars, turning the median into little more than a decoration to an otherwise horrid road.
The good news is the city finally has plans to restore 11 blocks of Park Avenue north of Grand Central to a semblance of its former glory, Bloomberg reports, expanding the median from a useless 20 feet to a potentially-rejuvenating 48 feet. That redesigned street could include bike paths, walking paths, and generally more space for things other than cars or pretty things for people in cars to look at as they drive by.
The bad news is many if not most of the people currently living and working in New York will not be around to enjoy it once it’s done. It will take 20 years to redesign these 11 blocks, according to the city’s Department of Transportation. Yes, you read that right. The project to redesign 11 blocks of a Manhattan street will not be completed until 2042.
Although the timeline was first reported by Bloomberg, a reliable news outlet, I felt the need to confirm it with the city’s Department of Transportation, which is overseeing the project, and the office of the local councilmember Keith Powers. Surely, I thought, there must be some mistake.
But there is no mistake, according to both DOT and Kaye Dyja, Powers’s spokesperson. As Dyja explained, “The reason the construction is going to take a long time is because they’re improving the underground railroads leading to Grand Central, as well as redoing the ‘train sheds.’ This entails that they’re digging up the ground, so the construction will have to take place in stages which will end up taking many years to complete.”
The project Dyja is referring to is a massive $2 billion renovation of the Metro North infrastructure underneath Park Avenue from Grand Central to 57th Street. Park Avenue is a bridge over those tracks, and like many of the U.S.’s bridges, this one is falling apart, too. The project will involve ripping up sidewalks and the median of Park Avenue a couple blocks at a time, going section by section, down the stretch of Park Avenue. It is expected to cause more or less permanent disruption to the Midtown East area, to varying degrees, over the next two decades.
So it makes some sense Park Avenue won’t become pleasant for two more decades. After all, it would be silly to execute an elaborate renovation just to tear it up. Nevertheless, the timeline feels in keeping with New York City infrastructure projects which drag on for years if not decades with little to no sense of urgency. It’s hard to get too excited about these types of projects when they occur on time scales long enough to actively wonder if you will be alive to see them finished.