This Sunday: Help Close the East River Greenway’s Midtown Gap

greenwaybikemap.jpgIf you want to close the Midtown greenway gap, make your voice heard this Sunday.

For 33 blocks in Midtown, Manhattan’s East River Greenway disappears, forcing cyclists to detour onto some of the most traffic-choked and dangerous streets in the city. That’s a major deterrent to cycling on the East Side. While bike lanes planned for First and Second Avenues will help, there are no protected lanes slated for several blocks in Midtown.

Change may be on the way, however. Over the next week, New Yorkers who want safer cycling conditions have a chance to close the greenway gap. This Sunday, the public is invited to an open house about the Midtown East waterfront, hosted by every elected official representing the area. Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe, who’s responsible for the city’s greenways, and NYCEDC executive vice president Madelyn Wils will both make presentations at the event, and a big announcement is expected. On the agenda: an interconnected set of proposals, including closing the greenway gap and expanding the United Nations into the Robert Moses Playground.

If you want a complete East River Greenway, this open house is the place to make your voice heard. It’s this Sunday, June 6, from 2:00 to 4:00 at the Schottenstein Cultural Center (239 East 34th Street, between Second and Third Avenues).

Just a few days later, Community Board 6 will be taking up the issue at its full board meeting, which will be held next Wednesday at 7 p.m. in Baruch College (17 Lexington Ave, between 22nd and 23rd).

According to a reliable source, the board is expected to put forward a resolution that imposes so many conditions on any greenway expansion that it would amount to a vote against the project. While Sunday is the higher-profile, public event, greenway supporters will also want to attend the community board meeting and help prevent poison pills from being attached to closing the greenway gap. The board’s aggressive schedule suggests it could be a controversial meeting.

  • Jason A

    I’d be hard pressed to think of a more critically needed piece of bicycle infrastructure in the city. It would be huge to finally see completion of this.

  • I’m just sick of hearing about how the UN doesn’t want a greenway due to “security concerns.” This is the United States of America. Since when do we care what the UN has to say?

  • Benton

    Anything specific we should bring. Also how should we dress – I haven’t been to these meetings before.

    I’m a tech/management consultant by trade and cycle to client locations, depending on where they are in the city. Midtown can be a hell hole to cycle in.

  • I’m just sick of hearing about how the UN doesn’t want a greenway due to “security concerns.” This is the United States of America. Since when do we care what the UN has to say?

    Ah, but we do care about security theater!

  • vnm

    Jeff, I don’t think that’s the primary dynamic here any longer. The U.N. needs additional space for much-needed office expansion. Robert Moses Park, a barren concrete plaza taking up a full block-front at 41st Street and First Avenue, offers the needed space. As mitigation for the removal of this “parkland,” the U.N. has agreed to a waterside esplanade at its complex. This would be a win-win-win for all parties. I’m interested in learning what could possibly be holding this project up.

  • Moe

    I think it is a mistake to let greenway advocacy get pulled into this convoluted U.N. land swap discussion. The city doesn’t need U.N. say-so to build outboard of the FDR if NYPD is comfortable with it. Be wary of tying the greenway to parkland alienation and real estate transactions – that’s a next-life scenario. Demanding city action and capital budget commitment to get the thing underway is much more to the point.

  • While I agree that the idea of land-swaps for greenways is a dangerous precedent, I think we can all agree that the fact that something with Robert Moses’ name on it will be dismantled as a side-effect of improving conditions for transportation modes other than private auto is poetic justice at its best!

  • East Sider

    Every day I bike most of the greenway gap both directions during rush hour. It is where I encounter 90% of the driver aggression and near collisions I’m exposed to. On First Ave, drivers either wish they were or think they actually are on the FDR as the road slowly narrows, dumping shoulder riders into traffic speeding into the 42nd street ramp. Speeds are COMPLETELY out of control and there is no extra room (and no tolerance, probably not coincidentally) whatsoever for cyclists. Coming down 2nd Ave is slightly better, but since there are cross streets, oblivious (and often sudden, for some reason — “Oh, 38th St. Wouldn’t have guessed it was after 39th”) turning autos and buses pose the major risks. Just when you think you’ve gotten through the melee, the midtown tunnel entrance offers some nice last minute merges and two lanes to cross for vehicles turning onto 36th St.

    The post does not overstate how hellish these greenway gaps are. My girlfriend would bike to work much more often than she does but this particular stretch of the commute is a HUGE deterrent. Taking the M15 bus instead adds about 20 minutes and $2.25 to what should be a beautiful, quick, free, healthy commute. If I’m ever part of the weekly carnage, dollars to donuts it’ll happen somewhere on that beastly, miserable gap.

  • My understanding is that UN participation (and hence compromise of Robert Moses Playground) is necessary to the plan because the UN is contributing much of the ~$150 million esplanade construction cost. (Because the esplanade must be built over the water, it is not a straightforward construction project). Without the UN dollars, the project won’t happen.

    Unfortunately, word on the street is that some in the community who live near RM will oppose the plan unless a replacement recreation space very close to the existing RM site is provided by the UN in return. That condition could be a deal breaker.

    Moe is right to warn against greenway advocates getting involved in a local fight over the fate of Robert Moses Playground, at least for tactical reasons. But preliminary info on the anticipated swap does not suggest it takes down any further down a “slippery slope” of giving away parkland than we already have gone. most importantly, it appears that the swap will result in a net increase in parkland, distributed so that it is more accessible to all East Siders in addition to providing a crucial transportation link for cyclists. The leaflet for the “Town Hall” meeting indicates that East Siders would get the following benefits:

    (1) a 3-acre linear park (the esplanade) providing a crucial transportation link all East Side cyclists and space for active and passive recreation for all living in Midtown East–especially those in the East 50’s who now have a grand total of 0.30 acres of parkland.

    (2) a new public park the 38th St. Pier.

    (3) expansion of existing parkland at Asser Levy Place.

    (4) pedestrian improvements at St. Vartan’s Park, around the Midtown Tunnel Plaza, and at East Side Greenway access points.

    If these are the benefits of the swap, they speak for themselves and there is no need for greenway advocates even to mention the compromise of the 3/4-acre, under-utilized, paved-over RM.

    Please come Sunday and Wednesday to demonstrate your support for a continuous East River Greenway!

  • Moe

    “Without the UN dollars, the project won’t happen.”

    That is simply a NYC budget decision, which I suggest you don’t accept.

  • With thousands of teachers being laid off and other very serious budget cuts in the offing, it is just not politically feasible for the city to “decide” to build a mile-long esplanade on the East River for $150 million. Accepting this fact, I support a swap that would yield a net increase of parkland to east siders, especially those who have virtually none right now, along with a continuous greenway route for East Side cyclists. It’s a no-brainer. The people who use RM on First Ave. now can walk a little further and use the new facilities proposed for the waterfront.

  • UES

    Can someone clue me in on something? When NYS rebuilt the FDR along roughly this stretch a few years ago, they built a temporary roadway over the river. When they were done they demolished the roadway but left the pilings in place, I guess to make it easier to extend the esplanade some day. But why didn’t they just convert the temporary roadway into a permanent esplanade?

  • That particular temporary outboard roadway was so that self-entitled people from the suburbs could sit in metal boxes and make honking noises. The esplanade proposed here is so that tax-paying citizens can efficiently get from point A to point B, which isn’t nearly as important as the needs of honk-boxes.

  • Jeff & UES: A more complete description of the Outerboard Detour Roadway and the issues that have arisen with its potential conversion to a pathway is at this link.

  • hey folks—we on the lower east side have been waiting close to ten years with our access to the river closed off while they “renovate” the “boardwalk” and greenway and the whole park …being told year after year–next year fior sure–next year for sure…….

    while the upper west side has a remarkable greenbelt for many many uninterrupted miles….

  • vnm

    Jonathan, thanks for the link. So the state agency that is in charge of protecting the environment is trying to make it much more expensive to build a greenway. Do I understand that correctly?

  • Check out this letter just sent out by some neighborhood organizations in Midtown East, if want some idea of the flavor of what’s coming at the Town Hall on Sunday and the CB6 vote on Wendesday:

    =============================================================================
    TO RESIDENTS OF THE MIDTOWN EAST SIDE:

    This Sunday, June 6, there will be a Town Hall meeting at the Schottenstein Center entitled, “New Visions for the East Side Waterfront and Parks.” Be advised that this is nothing new, and it s not a vision.

    Although the forum is being sponsored by a number of our elected officials, the presentations will be made by the City’s Economic Development Corporation and the Parks Department, which for years have been fronting for the Mayor’s scheme to take a public playground in our neighborhood as a building site.

    Note that the forum has been called for a Sunday afternoon in summer, when the agencies expect public attendance to be minimal. They will doubtless call this “reaching out to the public.” In fact, the public has been making its opposition known for many years, but the City refuses to listen.

    To know the game, you need to know the pieces:

    *Piece One*: The playground in question, officially called Robert Moses Park, is on the east side of First Avenue between 40th and 41st Streets, just south of the U.N. and adjacent to the yellow-brick air shaft of the Queens-Midtown Tunnel. This is the only playing-field available for children’s activities along some four miles on the East Side, and it gets frequent use. The Parks Department has elected to keep it a strip of asphalt, without beautifying it in any way.

    Nevertheless, this is public land, and to alienate it requires an act of the Legislature.

    *Piece Two: * Many years ago, New York City designated the square block From 44th to 45th Streets, from First to Second Avenues, as the U.N. Development Zone. To make the U.N. operations easier, and to encourage the U.N. to stay
    in New York, the taxpayers built two office buildings in the zone – called U.N. 1 and 2 – to provide low-rent space for U.N. support organizations.

    *Piece Three:* Mayor Bloomberg wants to sell U.N. 1 and 2 to private interests. But he cannot get the price he wants because the buildings have tenants paying below-market rents. Hence, he wants Robert Moses Park as the site for a massive new commercial building – presumably financed by tax-free bonds – into which he can move the tenants and thereby enable him to sell U.N. 1 and 2. It would be a one-time revenue operation, but the open space will be lost forever.

    For many years – since the Mayor first had his brainstorm — this Coalition, and Community Board 6, have consistently opposed the taking of Robert Moses Park unless there is first a substitution of an active-use park of at
    least equal size, *in the immediate neighborhood*. We cannot do with less public space, and it is flatly wrong to do away with a children’s playing-field.

    For just as long, the Administration has insisted on having its way, and has used the City agencies to engage the Community Board in endless and pointless negotiations.

    In the interim, the Mayor has inflicted more on this community:

    *First*, this City was under no obligation to give the developer of the Con Ed sites the extensive up-zoning he sought. The Coalition had urged that, as a condition of rezoning the former low-density manufacturing to high-density residential, the developer be required to donate the land for a replacement park from a portion of the properties. The City refused.

    *Second*, all the members of the City Planning Commission that were appointed by the Mayor – a majority of the Commission – voted to rezone those properties for thousands of new residential units. They added no requirement that the developer bear any of the costs for the public services the increased population required — those were for the taxpayers to
    carry. Now, of course, we find that our public transport is not to be expanded, but slashed.

    *Third*, the City Planning Commission broke the all-residential zoning in this neighborhood by allowing the developer to add a massive 60+-story commercial tower directly south of Robert Moses Park, walling in the community.

    Despite having visited all these impacts on this neighborhood, the Mayor still wants Robert Moses Park as a building site, and to try to convince the Legislature, he’s devised a new game:

    *Piece Four*: When the FDR Drive was rebuilt on the Upper East Side, a “reliever road” had to be built in the East River to carry the traffic while the old roadway was repaired. When the work was done, Community Board 6 proposed that the caissons be left in the river, to support a new bikeway and walkway that would be another link in the long-desired “greenway” around Manhattan. (It isn’t green, it’s asphalt, but it would be useful.)

    *Piece Five:* The Mayor says there is no money to build the “greenway” unless he gets to build on Robert Moses Park and sell U.N. 1 and 2, which of course he was trying to do long before the reliever road was conceived.

    *Piece Six:* The State Department of Environmental Conservation has apparently declared it must pull out the caissons unless there is immediate funding for the bikeway/walkway. (Why?)

    *Piece Seven: * The City has been playing one community against another – those uptown against those midtown – and the bicyclists against the children of the East Side, who have no one to speak for them but us.

    Now you know what the Sunday “forum” is all about.

  • Boris

    Do these organizations do anything other than write letters? Because they’ve had very little success, despite their apparent strength in numbers and wallet sizes.

    What’s most frustrating is that the NIMBY tone of this letter proposes no solutions; their do-nothing approach should at least suggest a greening of Robert Moses Park, since its bareness is apparently unsatisfactory.

  • vnm

    Jeez. Robert Moses Playground is located between 41st and 42nd, not 40th and 41st. The meeting is being held in the spring, not summer. What other facts did they get wrong?

    Also, why is there this much interest in preserving a small park next to an tunnel ventilation shaft when we could all enjoy a large waterfront park?

  • More information on Robert Moses Playground here. BicyclesOnly’s neighbors got the name of the feature wrong as well.

  • Glenn

    I did a survey in conjunction with Transportation Alternatives of usage of Robert Moses Park versus the Hudson River Greenway at 42nd Street directly across Manhattan. The results are exactly what you would expect. Over a 30 minute period, I observed exactly 40 users of Robert Moses playground. My doppleganger on the West Side observed over 700 users of the Greenway during the same half hour.

    And that’s just one location. The Greenway has the potential to unlock all the little hidden pockets of park land all along the East River and make them accessible to a recreational cyclist, casual jogger or walker. It would be a safe space where children can ride bikes for miles at a time. It would enhance the rest of the Greenway South of 38th Street and North of 60th by providing an unbroken path connecting many destinations and points of interest. You could ride all the way from Ward’s Island to the South Street Seaport without ever encountering an intersection.

    The various uses of Robert Moses Park (a few basketball hoops, a handball court, a concrete dog run and a quarter acre slab of asphalt could all be relocated in a new design and probably vastly improved or expanded. At the same time, instead of being the exit ramp to the FDR, that corner of Manhattan could be the gateway to the riverfront for tens of thousands of local residents.

  • DONALD FEURH

    The esplanade keeps getting smaller ,an esplanade ,then a promenade,then a platform .The width of the section is restricted by the corps of engineers-not a good deal for alienating parkland for a plank on the river .What about security ?This idea is not even half baked .

  • ChrisCo

    Wasn’t there a proposal a while ago to build a pedestrian/cycle path that would jut out onto the East River through this part of Midtown? What happened to that plan?

  • Rob

    this is a real estate scam by NYC government to swap a park for a building for the UN.  do not support this 

  • Changel

    I’m just wondering what’s happened to the visionary East River Charrette that was proposed four years ago. There’s still a vacant lot opposite my apartment building. Is there anybody out there…..???

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