Cooperators debate Delancey Street bridge redesign concepts

Cooperators came out in force last night to examine models of redesign options for the Delancey Street pedestrian bridge and offer their opinions to project planners about the proposal’s potential impact.

Some of those opinions were offered dispassionately, and some with a little more gusto. Project planners did a very good job listening to all sides and providing constructive responses to all kinds of objections.

Planners gave an overview of the entire East Side Coastal Resiliency Project — a series of berms, floodwalls, and deployable barriers designed to protect the lower east side from another Sandy-sized storm surge. Wherever possible, berms would be landscaped to create a more beautiful East River Park. And the entrances to the park — pedestrian bridges at 10th Street, 6th Street, Houston, Delancey, and Corlears Hook, as well as street-level access at Montgomery — would be redesigned for safety and to integrate the new park plans into the neighborhood, inviting people to take advantage of the recreational space and waterfront at their doorsteps.

Once again, three concepts were presented for the Delancey crossing:

The first, low-impact, concept would keep the existing ramp on Delancey and the span across the FDR, but do away with the switchback on the park-side ramp, extending that ramp into one long stretch heading south. A short staircase would remain on the park side aiming north.

The Goldilocks version for Delancey, narrower but still reaching toward Grand Street.
The Goldilocks version for Delancey, narrower but still reaching toward Grand Street.
In the second, more expansive, concept, the span across the FDR would move slightly south (away from the Williamsburg Bridge) and would widen to more easily accommodate both pedestrians and bikers. On the park side, two graceful ramps would descend through landscaping, one to the north and one to the south. And on our side of the FDR, the bridge would also bifurcate, with a combined ramp & stairs pointing toward Grand Street and letting pedestrians off just where building 4’s grounds begin. The existing ramp on Delancey would remain for bikers and wheelchairs.

The high-impact concept of a new Delancey Street  crossing.
The high-impact concept of a new Delancey Street crossing.
The final grand concept model showed an even wider span across the FDR with landscaping to blend into the park, more elaborate ramps on the park side, and a long ramp on our side stretching almost all the way to the corner of Grand Street.

It’s that final design element — the long ramp to Grand Street — that really got people talking. Some cooperators, including East River board president Gary Altman, who expressed his opinion in an essay last week, see that ramp as a double-edged death trap, endangering seniors by putting bicyclists directly in their path and blocking emergency vehicle access to building 4. But even cooperators with a more level-headed point of view recognized that there is little room for such a long ramp where a narrow sidewalk abuts the access road clogged with traffic. Given the space constraints, a full ramp to Grand seems impractical.

The real argument was about whether there should be any approach toward Grand Street at all, as the second option proposed. Board member Ellen Gentilviso argued that since a shorter ramp with stairs would not be wheelchair accessible there was no reason to build it, and advocated for making the Delancey Street ramp wider so that pedestrians and bikers could more safely coexist. Others thought even a short approach would be an affront to the coop.

But they were outnumbered by cooperators who pointed out that stairs near building 4’s parking lot would allow a much shorter path to the park for cooperators and argued that such an addition would not detract at all from our property or our safety.

The design process will continue with more public hearings, a formal design proposal by the end of the year, followed by an environmental impact review that will have several more opportunities for residents to add input. Nevertheless, the project schedule is relatively compressed, with federal funds contingent on construction beginning in 2017.

The real decisions are likely to be made based on finances and politics. Presenters said explicitly that they don’t have enough money to rebuild all the FDR crossings extensively. They want to invest in the access points where their efforts will make the most impact, and where their efforts will be most welcome. Even a vocal minority — especially one as well-connected politically as members of our board — would probably encourage project planners to spend their $335 million elsewhere. Without an effort made by cooperators to lobby for a creative solution, we’ll likely look with envy at the park entrances to our north and wonder why none of that federal money made its way to Grand Street.