Thursday morning, City officials and residents gathered to celebrate the completion of the North Avenue corridor streetscape project.

This unprecedented multi-year effort achieved a dramatic positive transformation in North Avenue’s appearance, while also improving traffic flow wherever practically possible. Physical enhancements include new sidewalks, pavers, trash receptacles, street lamps, and ADA-compliant ramps — not to mention 118 new trees. The last phase, which just wrapped up, features a landscaped pedestrian plaza at North Avenue and the Boulevard, forming an attractive gateway to the Rochelle Park Historic District. You can review additional details in the project description and history here.

I am happy to report that this significant investment in our local infrastructure was achieved at no expense to local taxpayers. Instead, the project was funded primarily by federal grants, some secured by Congresswoman Nita Lowey and others received through annual Community Development Block Grant allocations. Additional funding came from the County, Iona College, and utility company reimbursements for the burial of overhead utility wires.

The importance of North Avenue is obvious. Thousands of residents travel on the corridor daily or live in neighborhoods that surround it. North Avenue’s condition shapes perceptions of the city as a whole and can play an important role, for good or for bad, in the vitality of our local economy. The completion of this project is, therefore, a big step forward for our community.

Nonetheless, North Avenue still has a long way to go. Enhancement of public infrastructure is just one piece of the puzzle. Private investment in storefronts and structures is the essential next step. With this in mind, the City recently approved new zoning aimed at promoting economic activity. We’ll have to watch closely to see if these new standards are sufficient to accomplish the goal.

I close (a little self-indulgently) on a brief personal note. The very first item I placed on the Council’s agenda as a newly-elected representative in 1996 was North Avenue. At the time, the condition of the corridor was horrible — broken sidewalks, no greenery, traffic bottlenecks everywhere, faded billboards looming over the road. From that initial conversation came the conceptual plan that shaped the parameters of the streetscape project and — eventually — the decision to prioritize North Avenue and seek grants for its enhancement. Even though, as noted above, we have much more work to do, I feel a sense of satisfaction in reaching this milestone.

When student groups visit City Hall, I am sometimes asked what qualities one needs to succeed in government, and I always give the same answer: patience and persistence. North Avenue is pretty good evidence for that opinion. We need to apply the same level of determination and the same forward-looking view to the many other critical planning challenges and opportunities confronting New Rochelle.