This op-ed was written by Lou Sepersky, the community historian for the 6th Community District. He was originally appointed to that position in 1999 by then-Borough President C. Virginia Fields and has been reappointed ever since.
Town & Village’s page one story (Sept. 20) on the proposed construction of a Department of Sanitation (DoS) garage on 26th Street east of First Avenue, on the Bellevue Hospital Center campus, has a very definite Town & Village root. And a lesson that needs to be learned for future public projects.
Until about 1970, DoS vehicles, including an estimated 69 garbage trucks, support vehicles and equipment, were housed in a garage at 18th Street and Avenue C. That land and building were sold to Consolidated Edison (Con Ed) for the construction of a proposed experimental clean energy electrical generating facility. The garage was demolished without a suitable replacement building having been identified, and the DoS trucks serving T&V, and Community Board 6 generally, were left homeless.
At various times, they have been unwelcome guests of other communities, and were stored in alternative overburdened DoS garages, on streets, on piers on the West Side, under the Williamsburg Bridge, or other places far from the CB6 community.
Travel from these distant locations cost tax money through the loss of productive working time, (perhaps as much as 90 minutes to two hours of each eight hour shift) while just getting to our community, and before the Sanitation crews could begin serving the CB6 neighborhoods.
In last week’s Town & Village (Sept. 27) it was pointed out that it is possible that the proposed garage is inconsistent with the existing medical, dental and scientific uses along the 14th to 34th Street stretch of First and Second Avenues, a.k.a. “bedpan alley.”
With the proposed East 26th Street site, the city is on the verge of repeating its original mistake, which was, and is, failing to plan thoughtfully and thoroughly. With East 26th Street, the city is proposing a thoroughly bad solution to a very difficult situation. Please remember, good planning is not just a matter of resolving a problem at hand, but also seeking to anticipate and avoid errors, which will be permanent and will bite, hard and mean, in the future.
East 26th Street is a narrow street that serves as the main driveway from Bellevue Hospital back to First Avenue and also serves as the base station for the nine to 11 ambulances, which serve the 18 tours of Section 8, of the Fire Department’s Emergency Medical Service (EMS).
This portion of East 26th Street is between First and the service road of the FDR Drive on what was the Bellevue Hospital Center campus. EMS has been based on East 26th Street since 1970. It moved to specially designed quarters in the southeast corner of the new Office of the Chief Medical Examiner building, which was completed in 2007.
EMS Section 8 is the primary provider of ambulance service for Midtown, Tudor City, Gramercy Park, Stuyvesant Town, Peter Cooper Village, Kips Bay, Turtle Bay and portions of the Upper East Side. That would be, roughly, about 14th Street north to, depending on circumstances, about 70th Street, and from the East River to perhaps Sixth or Seventh Avenues. Response, of course, depends of the availability of ambulances, the scope of an emergency and a number of other variables.
DoS’s proposed garage, which is to be designed and built to hold 130 garbage trucks, 36 mechanical brooms (street sweepers), an unknown number of salt spreaders, street washers, auxiliary vehicles (sedans and pick up trucks), wreckers (tow trucks) plus additional equipment, such as enough snow plows for the major vehicles.
There isn’t, at the moment, a breakdown of how many of these vehicle will be those of Community Board 6, or those of our neighboring board, Community Board 8, but 12 vehicles assigned to serve in Community Board 5, will also be garaged in the new facility.
This is a current “hard” count of 178 vehicles, plus an additional, undetermined, number of other vehicles and equipment. The narrow East 26th Street will be asked to carry the EMS ambulances and a consistent flow of sanitation trucks.
As a matter of traffic engineering, that is a bad proposition and carries with it the potential for serious disruption of ambulance response times. Clearly, there has been no thoughtful or serious planning on the traffic issue. And there is an urban planning issue. The block from First Avenue to the FDR Service Road, 25th and 26th Streets, is very long and very thin. It is going to take a substantial building to house the DoS trucks and it would appear that no thought has been given to the entirety of that block.
By its nature, this is an industrially oriented building, not one suitable for the immediate medical and residential neighborhood. Would a building of this size still allow for any sensible development on adjacent land? How would any other development relate to the garage? Would anyone want to build with a sanitation garage as its next door neighbor?
Casual comments propose retail, housing, a health care facility or a school of nursing. None of these suggestions, or others yet to be made, have any relationship to the proposed garage. There are better, and more constructive ways to address the need for DoS garage space.