Project planners for the East Side Coastal Resiliency Project have retreated from last year’s ambitious preliminary designs for a new pedestrian bridge across the FDR at Delancey Street in the face of engineering obstacles and controversy in the community.
- Curved ramps and an organic span over the FDR have become straight lines due to municipal requirements that the new structure be easily maintained with standard building elements.
- A wide, welcoming park entrance on Delancey has been narrowed because of Department of Homeland Security requirements that a 50-foot security buffer be respected next to the Williamsburgh Bridge foundation.
- An approach toward Grand Street for improved access to bus lines has been scrapped after considering the narrow sidewalk in front of building 4 and opposition from building 4 residents.
This last element — an approach toward Grand Street — was the most controversial when preliminary designs were shown last fall. Presenters tonight in the East River community room carefully explained the engineering and other obstacles that have forced them to abandon that part of the concept. A full ramp leading to Grand Street, where three city bus lines congregate, had no room over the narrow sidewalk and frontage road for supports. A shorter staircase faced similar problems and would have violated a stated goal of universal access, the idea that stairs should not be built where a ramp could not.
What’s left is still an improvement over the current bridge.
- A shallow 5% grade on the ramp makes the park much more accessible for the elderly and disabled.
- The ramp would be 4- to 6-feet wider, making it safer for pedestrians and bicycles to coexist.
- New placement of the entrance ramp and relocation of the East River parking lot entrance enlarges the buffer between cars and bikes.
There’s still a lot left to learn about what the full ESCRP designs will look like. We are just over one-third of the way through the design process, with several more milestones for public engagement before plans are finalized. The date for construction to begin, which had been fast-tracked to 2017 by aggressive federal funding deadlines, has been pushed back two years. In particular, the question of what materials will be used — and whether sound absorbing materials can be used for the 8-foot wall we will be looking at across the FDR — could not be answered at all, and apparently will not even be considered until farther into the process.