Congestion Pricing and East River Park: Is This Why We Have to Close the Park Instead of Closing a Lane of the FDR?

From the earliest days of flood protection planning for the Lower East Side, decking over the FDR was a popular idea. It was a win-win-win: effective flood protection, less pollution, more and better recreation space. 

The city said it was too expensive.

Now that the ESCR budget has doubled to $1.45 billion, we have been asking, Why not reconsider decking over? 

One concern, we are told, is that it will take too long, and effective flood protection is an urgent issue. We contend that deployable walls, like the ones planned for Battery Park and the financial district, could ensure short-term safety and buy us time to slow down this frantic “preferred alternative plan.” But more on that in another post.


This week we learned that congestion pricing below 60th Street in Manhattan is coming soon. There’s just one catch: the FDR Drive will be exempt. 

“New technology can identify vehicles on any roadway and automatically charge them, so the task force was able to draw a narrower — and perhaps more politically palatable — cordon limited to the most crowded streets. In turn, that means drivers can enter Midtown and Lower Manhattan by two bridges without paying as long as they go directly to the F.D.R. Drive along the East River and then continue on it until they are out of the congestion zone,” wrote the New York Times on January 18, 2019.  


In other words, slowing traffic on the FDR for deck-over work — or closing a lane to allow flood protection to be focused at the back of East River Park — could threaten this “politically palatable” exemption from congestion pricing. If the FDR is not wide-open to traffic, it will be harder to placate drivers looking for a way around the additional charges.

It’s clear that the exemption will only increase traffic on the FDR — and increase air pollution just when the city proposes to strip over 65 acres of neighboring parkland of all trees and ground cover!  Here’s what we’d like to see instead: A comparative study of a decked-over FDR (supported by a concrete structure to provide the required flood protection). Safer homes. More parkland. Less pollution. What’s not to love?

Tell it to Uncle Sam and Cousin deBlasio

East River Alliance NYC logo

The East Side Coastal Resiliency Project that will close and demolish our parks is undergoing environmental review. Due to federal requirements, city agencies must ask the community what we think. (I love Big Government!)

The deadline has been extended until March 22. 

We can—and must!—send in our objections to the current plan (if you haven’t already done so). Please send a copy to community@eastriveralliance.org.

Let us know if we can share it. And/or share it on Twitter/Facebook/Instagram, and with your mom, who should also write in.

Here is the notice of the public review and request for comments, if you want to wade through the bureaucratic language. https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/cdbgdr/documents/public-notices/escr_Early_Floodplain_3_13_19.pd

But here are the relevant and comprehensible bits:  

“First, people who may be affected by activities in floodplains and / or wetlands, and those who have an interest in the protection of the natural environment, should be given an opportunity to express their concerns and provide information about these areas. 

“Second, an adequate public notice program can be an important public educational tool. Commenters are encouraged to offer alternate methods to serve the same project purpose and methods to minimize and mitigate impacts. The dissemination of information and request for public comment about floodplains and wetlands can facilitate and enhance federal efforts to reduce the risks associated with the occupancy and modification of these special areas. 

“Third, as a matter of fairness, when the federal government determines it will participate in actions taking place in floodplains and wetlands, it must inform those who may be put at greater or continued risk.

“All interested persons, groups, and agencies are invited to submit written comments regarding the proposed use of federal funds to support the construction of the proposed project in a floodplain and / or wetland. The City is interested in alternatives and public perceptions of possible adverse impacts that could result from the project as well as potential mitigation measures.”

Write to Calvin Johnson, Assistant Director CDBG-DR New York City Office of Management and Budget 

255 Greenwich Street-8th Floor

New York, New York 10007

Telephone: 212-788-6024

Fax: 212-788-6222

Email: CDBGDR-enviro@omb.nyc.gov

Get it in before March 22.

The city came to listen. We filled their ears

East River Alliance logo

East River Alliance had a meeting March 13 at the Roberto Clemente School on E. 4th St. with city officials to hear about the revised plans for the East River in our community and to ask questions. We have a way to go before the city and the community are going to be besties on this project.

City officials at a meeting with East River Alliance. Photo by Pat Arnow © 2019
Jamie Springer, who is in charge of the city’s Department of Design and Construction project for East River and Stuyvesant Cove Park, presented the plan for coastal resiliency. In the Power Point presentation, he showed photos of community meetings where citizens had provided ideas. However, the plan remains essentially unchanged from when it was first presented in December.
City Council member Carlina Rivera speaks to East River Aliance. Photo by Pat Arnow © 2019
Our City Council member Carlina Rivera says we can make the resiliency plan work for our community.
Ayo Harrington. Photo by Pat Arnow © 2019
Ayo Harrington led the East River Alliance meeting. After one area resident complained passionately about the unrealistic timeline and left shouting, Ayo calmly said, “He’s right.” Let us be clear, she said, “We don’t like the plan. We don’t accept the plan.”
East River Alliance member Amy Berkow (right) asked if there was any precedent for destroying every living thing in a park. The parks official said, “I don’t know.”

Other questions:

What about adopting a previous idea–decking over the FDR —that would provide green space and playgrounds and also provide flood protection while preserving the park? Decking is a possibility in a future phase. It is not in this plan.

What about phased closing (so parts of the park would remain open during construction)? “We know it’s important to you. We’re working on it,” said Springer. Later he clarified that the whole park would still be closed but that some sections may be opened as they are completed.

Is there any way to save the beautiful art deco buildings in the park? No. “We have the opportunity to have brand new buildings. These (current structures) were built in the 1930s,” and are outdated. The new buildings will be better.

How will the system deal with flooding in the East Village, which has major drainage issues? This question has been asked at four public meetings and has not been answered. It was not answered again, but answers are promised.

How much money is allocated to mitigation (other park facilities)? An answer is promised.

“Can you put yourself in the shoes of the 110,000 people who live here and won’t have green space or open air for our children for years?” asked a woman at her first meeting of the group. Amy Berkow added to the question with information about a study that shows that children who have green space grow up with fewer mental health problems that children who do not have open space. The more exposure to green space, the better the mental health of the kids. The officials responded with promises of long-term good.

—Pat Arnow

Photos © Pat Arnow 2019

 

Today’s Inspirational Project : BQ Green, Southside Williamsburg, New York

Design by DLANDstudio. https://dlandstudio.com/BQ-Green-Brooklyn-NY

BQGreen will create a “park out of thin air” by extending a concrete platform over a portion of the BQE expressway that runs below the street level in Williamsburg, Brooklyn between S. Third and S. Fifth Streets. BQGreen will integrate Marcy Green and Rodney Park, two existing parks which currently are adjacent to the expressway. The design for the new park calls for 3.5-acres of open space with a flower garden, a playground, a baseball diamond, barbecues, grassy and wooded areas, an indoor pool and a water play zon

With support and vision of City Councilwoman Diana Reyna, DLANDstudio is collaborating with NYCDOT and NYSDOT, NYCDPR and NYCDEP to pursue Federal HUD/DOT community development funding to make the vision a reality.

The project is currently ongoing. Learn more and support the Friends of BQ Green by visiting BQGreen.org.

Who We are

We are a Lower East Side/East Village volunteer group that formed organically when the city suddenly presented a plan in November 2018—without consulting anyone in our community—to close and demolish East River Park for at least three and a half years, and rebuild it eight feet higher for flood protection. 

We are working for a transparent, environmentally sound plan that meets the needs of our community. 

Join Us!