When the Manhattanville campus’s first building opens in 2016, the road and subway viaducts surrounding the site will light up with the campus as part the NYC Economic Development Corporation’s $14.5 million streetscape enhancement project.
Lights will be installed underneath the 12th Avenue and the 1 train viaducts, and a motion sensor will cause lights to fan across the arches when trains approach the 125th Street station. The project also includes expanded sidewalks, pedestrian seating, improved streetlights, and trees along 125th Street between Old Broadway and the Hudson River.
The project is part of the second stage of EDC’s West Harlem Master Plan. The first stage was the Harlem Piers Park, completed in 2009, while stage three encompassed Columbia’s Manhattanville campus as under “economic and institutional development.”
Responses to the project from local residents interviewed Thursday were largely positive.
“This is a wonderful project that will make our streets much more inviting, safer, and provide more open spaces for people,” District 7 City Council member Mark Levine said.
“I’m very excited about the changes,” West Harlem resident Linara Johnson said. “I want 125th Street to be a place where people in the community can gather together.”
Ramon Diaz, owner of Floridita, a Cuban restaurant located underneath the viaduct on 125th Street, said the project is a wonderful idea.
“The viaduct is a unique structure,” Diaz said. “The lighting will certainly improve the area aesthetically, and I think it will help business as well.”
Some locals said that the money could be used more effectively elsewhere.
“I’m sure it’ll look nice and all, but they could definitely do something more productive with that money,” Chris Jackson, another local resident, said. “There is an epidemic of car theft on Riverside Drive above the viaduct. What we need is better lights on Riverside, not in the viaduct’s arches.”
West Harlem resident Jamal Williams said that the project may have been partially influenced by Columbia’s Manhattanville campus, since both will open in 2016.
“I definitely support the changes, but it’s not surprising that the timeline of this project coincides with Columbia’s campus expansion,” Williams said. “It seems like they’re trying to spruce up the area so they won’t scare off all the Ivy Leaguers.”
Williams also said that the plans only extend to Old Broadway and not further into West Harlem, meaning that the majority of the improvements will take place on the portion of 125th Street that borders the site of the Manhattanville campus.
Council member Levine also said that he hoped the scope of the project could have been expanded.
“I only wish that the project were to be extended further east so that the residents of the Grant Houses could also enjoy these benefits,” Levine said.
Still, Johnson said that in the end, the improvements will make the area much more appealing for residents and visitors.
“I want West Harlem to be a place that people come to visit,” Johnson said. “With all these improvements to the streetscape and waterfront, we’re well on our way.”