On the Brian Lehrer radio call-in show on WNYC recently, Mayor Bill de Blasio supported phased closing of East River Park during the construction of the East Side Coastal Resiliency flood protection project. This is a change from the plan that would have closed the entire park for 3 1/2 years. This phased closing is one of the things we’ve been asking for!
Here’s from a transcript of the mayor’s encouraging remarks:
“… the idea is to have the park redone in segments so that [there] will be pieces of the park available to the community at all times and once one segment is done then another segment is addressed. So it’s – we’re very sensitive to the fact that people need their park space. “
The remark was in answer to a caller, Billie, who asked about what she called an “enormously risky, expensive plan…with a huge risk of failure, of incompletion…”
The mayor acknowledged there might be reason for cynicism, but said, “This has been a very carefully assessed project.” While he said, reassuringly, “It is being discussed with the community,” it’s clear we don’t have much time: “We have to get going. The resiliency issue is one of urgency, but I do want you to know none of this has been done lightly and I think when you see more the facts, you’ll be more comfortable that the East Side approach is going to work.”
If it is going to work for our community, we must continue to persuade the city that our alternatives will be better. We know from the mayor’s statement about phased closing, that he is listening. Now let’s keep pushing on protecting our community from toxic dust and other hazards, and insist on meaningful mitigation of the enormous adverse impacts of clear-cutting and bulldozing over 70 acres of public green space.
To hear to the show with Billie’s question and the mayor’s complete answer, follow the WNYC link.
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?
“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 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: Buildparkland 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.)