By Sabina Mollot
Last Thursday, a plan was announced for the redevelopment of the East River waterfront from the Brooklyn Bridge to 38th Street, which would not only add a number of recreational water-related activities for area residents but also protect the East Side from a future Sandy-like disaster.
The plan, which has been in the works for over a year through a study conducted by Borough President Scott Stringer and Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh, not to mention the input of dozens of agencies and community groups, has yet to be formally discussed in detail.
However, some of the major aspects of the project, which could cost “in the tens of millions,” said Stringer, have already been provided for, such as $3.5 million allocated by the borough president for the addition of wetlands, specifically salt marshes, to spots along the riverfront.
The man-made wetlands would be extended from the shoreline and serve a few purposes. One is to add drainage under the FDR Drive to prevent flooding like that experienced during Sandy in the event of another storm. Other functions of the wetlands would be to help improve the overall quality of the water in the river and to encourage pedestrian access to the water.
“With this blueprint what we’re doing is opening up the Lower East Side waterfront,” said Stringer, “to amenities and beaches.”
The salt marshes would be placed along the areas from the Brooklyn Bridge to Rutgers Slip and Stuyvesant Cove to around East 14th Street. They would improve water quality by helping to absorb some of the combined sewer overflow, which has a habit of showing up in the river at certain points after heavy rainfalls. Renderings for the plan, created by W X Y architecture + urban design, also show a number of new trees lining the area of what’s being called the East River Blueway.
Other parts of the plan for the Blueway include transforming the roof of the Skyport Garage into a garden and recreational area with some sort of food service and opening a boat launch on a floating dock for kayaks and other man-powered boats by Stuyvesant Cove Park as well as a kayak launch by the Brooklyn Bridge.
According to Kavanagh, the boat launches would actually be one of the less expensive aspects of the plan though it’s already proved to be a popular one. Last August, a kayak launch was organized at Stuyvesant Cove Park that was a huge hit with area residents. The event didn’t happen randomly though.
“It was partially intended to be a demonstration of the demand for that kind of thing,” said Kavanagh, who was there participating. “It was great to see people lining up all day to get kayaks.”
The kayaks would be included in the floating dock feature.
The plan also calls for an elevated footbridge to be built at 14th Street and the FDR Drive by the Con Ed steam plant. This would eliminate what’s become known as the “choke point,” where the foot and bike path is at its narrowest — four feet and six inches. It will also serve as a water barrier that, as it turns out, Con Ed needs if there’s a storm surge in order to prevent blackouts in the area.
This would probably be one of the more expensive projects to execute, but also one of the most necessary, said Kavanagh, if just to relieve traffic at the choke point. “As we continue to encourage waterfront projects, you get more people into this street,” he said.
As for the proposal for the Blueway, Stringer said over 40 stakeholders have been consulted so far from Con Ed to various city and state departments to elected officials to tenant groups like the Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village and Waterside Tenants Associations and the Murray Hill Neighborhood Association. The Lower East Side Ecology Center and Community Boards 3 and 6 have also been involved and are considered community partners. There will also, Stringer noted, be many more opportunities for the community to weigh in, including in a few weeks time when more details are rolled out. The borough president and comptroller hopeful, who announced the plan in his state of the borough address, added that he also thought of the Blueway as “a model for the whole East Side and the whole city.
“Some projects will happen sooner rather than later, but look at what we have changed on the West Side waterfront,” he said. “We should start to do that on the East Side. It’s not fancy stuff. It’s priority.”
Stringer added that he wasn’t too worried about securing the funds for the project, despite its hefty estimated price tag. Compared to the over $60 billion in Sandy aid that’s become available and the billions in infrastructure that would be protected, “It’s really pennies on the dollar,” he said.
Kavanagh agreed about the funding, noting that the plan was still just that, in the idea phase, for the longterm vision of the East Side waterfront.
“We’re not saying, ‘Build it tomorrow,” he said. “Our goal is to have a comprehensive plan that looks at ways the community would like to use the river and protects the ecology of the river.”
The Blueway follows another proposed huge project that envisions a greener waterfront, the East River Greenway plan. The Greenway project includes expanding the United Nations campus and building a promenade from 38th to 60th Streets.