Million Trees NYC paid a visit to Cherry Street last week and planted ten new trees right alongside our property. Thanks to Michael Marino of Friends of Corlears Hook Park, who has been doing an amazing job bringing new life to the park and the surrounding area.
Project planners behind the East River Coastal Resiliency Project held another community forum this week to discuss the upcoming redesign of East River Park for storm surge protection and the possible upgrade of pedestrian crossings at 10th, 6th, Houston, and Delancey Streets.
The presentation was more extensive than given previously, and new details emerged about those bridge designs. You can view the entire presentation below.
Of course the part of this we all care about is the pedestrian bridge at Delancey Street. You can see in these drawings the three options presented at earlier meetings:
And then here you can see the designers’ current thinking based on feedback from previous workshops:
You can see the progression from strict flood protection, to park enhancement, to neighborhood enhancement reflected in these drawings. Project planners want to connect our neighborhood to the park in a meaningful, interactive way, and pushing pedestrians only up Delancey Street does not meet their overall goals. That’s why they are still pushing for an option that creates easier access to and from Grand Street, where three city bus lines terminate.
They are also working within several constraints that are not easily shown on these drawings. First is that the park area directly under the Williamsburg Bridge is a Homeland Security zone that cannot be interfered with. A flood wall will be built under the bridge, but the berm needs to rise a certain distance from the concrete wall that’s recently been erected.
The second, more imposing obstacle is that the East River board is unwilling to move the entrance to our parking lot on Delancey Street, so any ramp from the pedestrian bridge needs to end right before that driveway, exactly where it does now. The current ramp, however, is too steep for safe wheelchair access and needs to be lengthened to create an acceptable grade — the only way to lengthen that ramp while making it terminate at the same spot is to loop the ramp around to a pedestrian bridge farther away. That’s why the designers have set the pedestrian bridge a little farther south.
Once you do that, adding a short staircase toward Grand Street naturally lands just in front of building 4. Board president Gary Altman has already pushed through a board resolution opposing that staircase, and board member Ellen Gentilviso was again at this week’s community meeting pushing the project planners to scale back their design to include access only from Delancey.
Residents in building 4 naturally have concerns about how this design will impact them, but project planners’ attempts to meet with cooperators have been blocked by Altman and Gentilviso, who want only board members to be involved in stakeholder conversations. (Board member Lee Berman was also at this week’s meeting, encouraging project planners to seek input from more than just the board.)
What’s unfortunate is that the current board, led by Altman and Gentilviso, are blocking a more creative approach to this design problem. For one thing, refusing to move our parking lot entrance forces the pedestrian bridge south and makes any staircase on the FDR access road intrude more on to coop property.
But there’s another opportunity here that a board open to positive change might embrace: that Delancey Street parking area is inefficiently lotted for cars and has room to spare. Re-configuring the parking spaces could create new spaces for new revenue, and make room for a less imposing pedestrian bridge. If we worked with the ESCRP designers as true community partners, all sorts of interesting possibilities could arise.
The Department of Transit has added No Standing signs to a portion of Cherry Street that will give buses a clearer turn off the FDR access road, but has not given pedestrians a clear, protected crosswalk for getting into Corlears Hook Park.
The new signage eliminates four parking spaces on Cherry Street where buses have to make a tight right turn. But further measures suggested to DOT are not being implemented.
In particular, while a full crosswalk is unlikely without more foot traffic, a sidewalk cut on the park side of the street is necessary for wheelchairs and strollers to cross safely. Persons in wheelchairs currently need to ride in the street to the park entrance halfway up the block, or go all the way up to Jackson Street to find a way across Cherry.
Citizens Committee for NYC, Partnership For Parks and The Lo-Down for their sponsorship of the event, along with the numerous individual donors that chipped in to help us pay for the plants and supplies.
To the two dozen or so volunteers who came out to help dig holes, plant, weed, mulch, cultivate, rake and water. This work would not be possible without your help.
In particular, Michael gave a shout-out to cooperator and retired horticulturist Ted Pender for “spearheading this process, plotting out the areas, selecting the plantings and overseeing the work.”
Here’s video that Michael says “explains why so many backs are hurting today!”
At Thursday’s ESCRP community workshop, there was a lot of talk about whether the Delancey Street bridge or Corlears Hook bridge made for easier access to East River Park from Grand Street. A lot of the debate seemed to be between cooperators who really don’t use either bridge very often and don’t understand the meandering path one has to take to cross the FDR at either point.
So I measured it. Google Maps actually makes this very easy. Just trace the actual path on a map and you’ll get an exact distance of your route.
The answer? The distance from the corner of Grand Street right across the FDR to the seal sprinklers is almost exactly the same no matter which bridge you choose — right around 1,700 feet, or 6.5 standard city blocks. That’s the same as walking from that corner in the other direction all the way up to Bialystoker Street.
In comparison, adding stairs to a redesigned pedestrian bridge similar to the concept #2 presented last week, would cut that distance in half, to 857 feet. That’s like walking from that same Grand Street corner to Fine Fare.
Hanania points out that with three bus lines terminating at Grand & FDR, it’s important to make sure that getting over the FDR to East River Park is more accessible and safer than it is now.
Hanania attended the community workshop on Thursday and was instrumental in encouraging local support of an East River Ferry stop at Grand Street. He writes:
Urban designers have proposed an imaginative solution to resolve this, moving the Delancey overpass south while having two entrances cityside – one on Delancey, the other via a staircase towards Grand. And yet, a vocal minority of local residents are pushing against this – on the grounds that the Grand St. approach lessens the safety of nearby residents by making the area less accessible to ambulances and fire trucks.
We do not believe that the choice is either-or. We also believe that eliminating the Grand Street approach would make the area less safe — not more so. We thus request an approach to the park from Grand St., which would also accommodate emergency access. This would better serve the population of New York City, as well as the immediate community.
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.
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 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.