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?

Direct Action in East River Park

“RIP East River Park 1939-2019,” say black banners that have been placed around trees along the East River Park promenade. No group has claimed responsibility for this action yet, but it seems rooted in the deep distrust citizens feel as the city cast away the community led plan in favor of a “Preferred Alternative Plan” that will close the park for years, destroy it, and rebuild it for flood protection.

But we say WAIT. It is not time for a funeral. There is a better way forward for flood protection, for our park, and for our community.

The East River Alliance is working with the community and the city to develop a plan that provides immediate flood protection this season, and maintains access to our greenspaces through the construction period.

“We will miss your breeze, your trees, your plants and flowers and your birds and bees.”
Alex Weidler captured these images. Thank you Alex for the photos and Charles Krezell for sending them in.

We can change the plan so that we

  • Gain long-term Flood Protection that is environmentally sound and will preserve parts of our park. In the meantime, in the coming year and through construction, we need emergency deployable barriers.
  • The city will work with us in a collaborative, transparent process to find alternatives to the current plan–which the city put together in a hurry without consulting our community or meeting the needs of our community. For instance, go back to an earlier proposal developed with our community: Build parkland over the FDR Drive, which would provide flood protection and new park space. It would also keep much of the current park intact. At the time, the idea was too expensive. Now, the budget has doubled to $1.4 billion. The plan is feasible.
  • Keep parts of the park open during the years of reconstruction (as the mayor promised just last week!)
  • Improve other parks in the East Side Coastal Resiliency area, and activate underutilized and unused spaces for the good of the communities they belong to.

(If you have been trying to email us and have been getting an error message, many apologies–we have fixed that.)

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

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.

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


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