history of the grand boulevard and concourse

[History of the Grand Boulevard and Concourse]

The historic Grand Boulevard and Concourse (now simply called the Grand Concourse) was first conceived in 1870 by a civil engineer named Louis Aloys Risse. In one of his essays, chronicled in the book Intersections: The Grand Concourse at 100, he said:

Nature has provided a Grand Boulevard and Concourse for the North Side and the City of New York such as no other city in the world possesses. Northward from the Cedar Parks, west of the Harlem Railroad and between Jerome and Webster Avenues stretches a magnificent ridge extending all the way to Mosholu Parkway near Van Cortland [sic] Park, a distance of four and one quarter miles. Its varied topography, charming views, natural condition, and peculiar adaptability for a Grand Boulevard and its location, geographically considered, is in the centre of the upper half of New York City, where means of access for the entire Metropolis can be furnished.

Indeed.

Risse envisioned a beautiful thoroughfare – flanked by single-family homes – that offered priceless views of the surrounding cityscape, opportunities for recreation, and direct access to Manhattan and several Bronx parks. Original plans for the Concourse called for multiple lanes separated by beautifully planted malls – a scheme resembling that of the Avenue des Champs-Élysées in France (which, coincidentally, was also called the Grand Cours). There was a pedestrian promenade and separate lanes for horse-drawn carriages and bicycles. The Grand Boulevard was initially designed with 23 underpasses, which would promote a smooth flow of traffic on both the Concourse and the streets crossing under it.

Construction of the Concourse began in 1894 and ended on November 25, 1909 – a span of fifteen years. During this time, the project underwent some engineering changes; one of the most notable was a decrease in the number of underpasses from 23 to 9 as a cost-saving measure. The Concourse, one of the widest thoroughfares in NYC at 182 feet, originally stretched four miles from 161st Street to Mosholu Parkway; this changed in 1927 when the Concourse “absorbed” Mott Avenue from 161st Street to 138th Street, forming the current 5.1 mile artery of the West Bronx. The rise of the automobile also changed the nature of the Concourse; the main roads, originally meant for high-speed horse-drawn carriages, were now dedicated to motor vehicles.

When the Grand Boulevard and Concourse opened, it quickly gained a reputation as “the Park Avenue of The Bronx” and attracted real estate development; this boom saw many more residential buildings constructed along the Concourse than Risse envisioned. Development intensified once the IRT Jerome Avenue El (today’s 4 line in The Bronx) opened in 1917; the trend continued when the IND Concourse Line (today’s D line in The Bronx) opened in 1933. Shortly after the Concourse Line opened, developers built many of the historic art deco and art moderne apartment buildings that line the Concourse today.

The Concourse survived many challenges, including construction delays, a proposed conversion to an expressway in 1941, the Cross Bronx Expressway’s construction, White flight, and neglect. A New York Times article dated May 9, 2006, which chronicles the Concourse’s resurgence, spoke of its decay from the 1960s to the 1980s:

During one of the Grand Concourse’s low points, in the 1960’s, the city’s Parks Department decided not to replant grass in the boulevard’s median. Instead, it poured cement and painted it green. It was an indignity for a street that had once been the Bronx’s most prestigious address — a Park Avenue at middle-class prices.

***

…The Concourse was not immune once the Bronx began its economic slide in the 1960’s. Urban-renewal projects forced many poor black and Puerto Rican New Yorkers from their neighborhoods to the South Bronx. The ethnic shift led to fear among the Concourse’s longtime residents, an angst that some said was whipped up by politicians and real estate speculators. Within a few years, many of those residents moved away, drawn to Riverdale and to the vast new Co-op City.

***

Like most of the South Bronx, the Grand Concourse — particularly the section south of Fordham Road — was threatened by arson, crime and neglect throughout the 1980’s.

(Emphasis mine.)

Despite that long period of decline, the Concourse is booming once again. The Grand Boulevard is finally getting the treatment it deserves; the stretch from 153rd Street to 167th Street (known as the Grand Concourse Historic District) received a full-scale rehabilitation ahead of its landmark designation in 2011, and the stretch from 171st Street to 175th Street – budgeted for improvement last year – is undergoing renovation.

Click here for the landmark designation report of the Concourse Historic District. I also recommend Forgotten NY’s excellent commentary (two links there) – and photos – of various sites along the Concourse.

[The IND Concourse Line]

The Independent Subway System (IND) opened to the public on September 10, 1932 and initially provided service between Inwood – 207th Street and Hudson Terminal in Lower Manhattan via 8th Avenue. The Concourse Line, which branched off the 8th Avenue line at 145th Street, opened nearly a year later on July 1, 1933. Initially planned as a four-track line like the other IND trunk lines, financial crises catalyzed by the Great Depression resulted in the line being built as a three-track line.

Even while under construction, the Concourse Line wasn’t intended to end at the Norwood – 205th Street station; the 1929 IND Second System plan included an eastward expansion of the line via Burke Avenue and Boston Road to Baychester Avenue. In light of this, the tracks continue past Norwood and end near Webster Avenue. (This provision may prove useful should funding – and political will – materialize for an extension to Co-op City, a very busy mixed residential/commercial area that’s underserved by transit.)

The B and D trains serve the Concourse Line; the former provides rush-hour local service to Bedford Park and the latter provides 24/7 service to Norwood with rush-hour peak-directional express service.

Click here for the latest B train schedule; click here for the latest D train schedule.

Click here for an excellent account of IND history, including the Concourse Line extension plans that never materialized.

For an overview of the Concourse Line stations, click any of the links below:

[Grand Concourse Surface Transit]

Three bus lines – one local (Bx2), one limited-stop (Bx1), and one express (BxM4) – serve the Grand Concourse; historically, buses have served the Grand Concourse since the 1920s.

Click here for a brief history of Concourse local bus service.

Express bus service began in 1953; Liberty Lines Express (part of Liberty Lines Transit) operated the service. Initially, there were two branches of the Concourse express service – one to Bedford Park near Lehman College (BxM4A) and one to Woodlawn (BxM4B). The MTA Bus Company took over the routes in 2005; then, in 2010, the Bus Company eliminated the BxM4A due to low ridership – the route was the least-utilized express bus route in the city. The BxM4B became the BxM4 and is now the sole express bus route linking the Grand Concourse to Midtown Manhattan.

Click here for the latest Bx1 and Bx2 bus schedules; click here for the latest BxM4 bus schedule.

[Grand Concourse Bus Ridership, as of 2015]
Bx1/Bx2*:

  • Annual ridership: 11,828,465 (change from 2014: -3.8%; rank: 6/182)
  • Avg. weekday: 38,411 (change from 2014: -2.9%; rank: 5/182)
  • Avg. weekend (Sat+Sun): 40,919 (change from 2013: +1.6%; rank: 9/171)
    • N.B.: 2014 weekend ridership shown; 2015 data unavailable.

*Figures represent combined limited and local ridership; the weekend rank differs from the others because some local/limited buses don’t run on weekends.

BxM4**:

  • Annual ridership: 99,254 (change from 2014: -4.5%; rank: 26/35)
  • Avg. weekday: 344 (change from 2014: -3.4%; rank: 29/35)
  • Avg. weekend (Sat+Sun): 219 (change from 2014: -12.4%; rank: 13/20)

**The weekend rank differs from the others because some express buses don’t run on weekends.

3 thoughts on “history of the grand boulevard and concourse

  1. The eastward extension of the Concourse Line was never intended to capture any part of what is now the IRT Dyre Av Line since at the time the iND was built, the NYW&B was a functioning commuter railroad. Any extension of the line would have been entirely new construction and actually intended to join with Bronx extensions of the 2 Av Subway when and if built.

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