New York Restoration Project. A free shuttle bus will make a loop between the Hub and the Randall's Island Connector in Port Morris.
New York Restoration Project. A free shuttle bus will make a loop between the Hub and the Randall's Island Connector in Port Morris.
New York Restoration Project. A free shuttle bus will make a loop between the Hub and the Randall’s Island Connector in Port Morris.

Buses will run hourly on weekends

Rosa Vanutrecht, 54, sits outside Patterson Houses on Third Avenue chitchatting with her neighbors as she watches her two young grandchildren chasing each other in the small courtyard.

She prefers that they play close to her where she can keep a watchful eye on them instead of going to the nearby parks which she says are not in good shape and where violence breaks out every now and then.

“When you sit here, you see stuff, you hear people fighting. So I keep me and my grandkids out of there,” said Vanutrecht, who has lived in Patterson Houses for the past 13 years.

Every now and then, she takes the children on an hour-long trip to her mother’s neighborhood all the way to Red Hook, Brooklyn to play in the parks. “There aren’t enough parks and facilities here for kids. There’s one up on 143rd and one a block away, but they’re not so good,” she said.

However, this summer, Vanutrecht will have another option. Nonprofits New York Restoration Project (NYRP) and Healthfirst have teamed up to provide Mott Haven residents safe and free access to the recently opened Randall’s Island Connector.

From mid-May, residents can board a free shuttle bus from Third Avenue and take a 20-minute ride to the connector in Port Morris. From there, they can walk over the Bronx Kill to Randall’s Island Park, the largest and closest green space available to them. Patterson Houses will be one of the stops on the bus’s route.

The bus will be wheelchair accessible and will run on the weekends between 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. on an hourly loop. It will stop at major housing projects, including Patterson Houses, Millbrook Houses and Mitchel Houses to pick up residents and drop them off at the connector.

“Many people really don’t know about the connector or how to get there safely,” said Casey Peterson, special projects manager at NYRP. “The goal is that more people will learn about it and visit the island and be more active.”

Healthfirst, a nonprofit insurance provider, is funding the project, while NYRP is contracting the bus company and doing community outreach.

William McCann, a spokesperson for the company, said in an email that Healthfirst has over 30,000 members in Mott Haven and Port Morris, and the project would contribute to the company’s goals of improving the health outcomes of its members.

The bus is a part of the larger Haven Project, a multifaceted open space program that NYRP announced last year. It includes making the waterfront more accessible and establishing a park on the Port Morris waterfront.

According to Deborah Marton, the organization’s executive director, during the community outreach for the Haven Project, many residents asked for help in figuring out a way to get to the connector.

“Historically, there had been no reason to go south from Mott Haven or Port Morris because there was no access to the island or to the waterfront,” she said. “Once the connector was open, people wanted to make use of the island’s resources and were interested in finding out the best way to get there.”

Marton said capital projects like the waterfront park she envisions take years to complete so they looked for short-term alternatives. “We recognized that if you’re elderly or you have young children or live far away from Randall’s Island, perhaps a shuttle bus would be a useful thing,” she said.

According to a report published by non-profit New Yorkers for Parks in 2014, the South Bronx did not meet 11 out of 15 open space index criteria, including the total acres of open space available to every 1,000 residents. One of the criteria is that 100 percent of a neighborhood’s population should reside within a five-minute walk to the closest small park; only 68 percent of Mott Haven’s population meets it.

In this case, the only option for residents is to take long trips either up to larger recreational spaces in the north Bronx or to Manhattan or Brooklyn.

Similarly, health statistics for the neighborhood have remained poor with higher asthma, obesity and diabetes rates than the rest of the city. Green space activists say having access to Randall’s Island would go a long way in improving those rates.

According to Tupper Thomas, executive director of New Yorkers for Parks, the open space index report showed that there wasn’t enough open space available, Access to Randall’s Island, where residents can exercise in cleaner air, will help. “By having a bus picking you up and taking you right to that wonderful new connector, it’s going to make a huge difference,” she said.

Luis Rioz, 60, visited Randall’s Island in the ‘80s. He said he has seen on TV that it has changed a lot and was looking forward to biking there.

Vanutrecht, who plans to visit the island with her grandchildren said, “All we do in the summer is sit here and listen to music. It’s time for a change for us to start going out there and explore whatever is out there.”

“I wish it were here right now so I could leave right away,” she said laughing.

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