Eyes on the Street: Sudden Collapse in East River Greenway

east_side_cavein.jpgThe East River Greenway collapsed at 72nd Street without the usual warning signs. Photo: seth_holliday/Flickr

Gothamist posted this alarming picture of a cave-in on the East River Greenway that first appeared on Wednesday. After the initial fencing off and some calls to 311, the city responded by installing the temporary span shown below.

east_side_cavein_fix.jpgPhoto: Erin Lamberty

I’m not a regular rider of the East Side path, but reader BicyclesOnly tells us that sinkholes and cave-ins in the greenway are common occurrences. Usually a depression forms in the surface of the path first, giving some signal about what’s in store. What’s rare about the collapse at 72nd Street is that it happened without those warning signs, and that the city
responded quickly and put in a temporary pathway. (Although the
planks look like an iffy proposition for cyclists to handle without
dismounting first.)

At other sinkholes, the fencing remains in place,
narrowing the greenway path and creating pinch points that put the
squeeze on bicycle and pedestrian traffic, some of which linger for years. Right now there are large sinkholes fenced off at 110th Street and 118th Street. One pothole, at 64th Street, has been fenced off since 2006 with no permanent fix. Another, at 74th Street, is still surrounded by fencing after three years.

We have a request in with the Parks Department to see if there are any initiatives in the works to prevent these recurring hazards from happening. The only protected bicycling facility on the East Side is incomplete, riddled with pinch points, and in terrible physical condition. The suddenness of this week’s cave-in suggests that the sorry state of the greenway poses a danger that can’t be ignored any longer.

  • JamesR

    It’s odd that there are no ramps on the temporary span. Isn’t that a no-brainer? If the picture is any indication, you’re forced to either bunny-hop or dismount.

  • Bad enough for cyclists, dog walkers, runners, and parents with small children but this is also a popular area for wheelchair bound elderly with caregivers. I’m sure these greenway goers will be thrilled by the thought of hauling their charges across such make-shift solutions.

    But if the Upper East Side portion of the Greenway isn’t bad enough, it deteriorates even further north the 103rd Street Pedestrian Bridge to Ward’s Island.

  • There is also constant subsidence along the promenade in the West 90s with numerous potholes along the railing. The Parks Dept. filled them all a few months ago but they’re moving targets. This affects pedestrians more than bikes, since the center of the path isn’t affected.

  • Hmmm…

    At least you have to give the Parks Department credit for getting on top of the problem rather quickly. Yes, its rather unfortunate that this is a continuing problem and its not a perfect fix but at least they addressed the problem with a fix that allows for passage. Many of other agencies, elsewhere would have just blocked it off without any advanced warning forcing ALL users to turn around or try an ill-advised detour. I think the Parks Dept. deserve some kudos!

    BTW – Thanks for posting this since I was planning on coming down this way this weekend. A great and VERY timely “heads-up”!

  • rlb

    I would agree with you Andy, but the cave in at 118th st has been ongoing for well over 3 years. Every 5 months or so they have to expand the fence around it to deal with the east river’s assault. All in plain view of that multi million dollar East River parking lot plaza. It’s a pathetic display on the part of the parks department.

  • momos

    Parks responded quickly lest someone fall in and sue.

    Would be nice if they were as diligent in selecting a contractor guaranteed to do a quality job on these projects in the first place.

  • The Shore Promenade in Brooklyn, under the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, suffered greatly for many years from cave-ins and water damage. Eventually there was money budgeted for capital construction and it was fixed. From my (limited) understanding of city budgets, most of the time these kinds of capital projects are directed locally. Has anyone asked the local community board and council member what priority they give to repairing this East Side section?

    It seems unfair to blame Parks for not fixing something that they have no money to fix. It seems unwise to create a slush fund that can be used for Parks repairs citywide; who would decide where (and how) the money is to be spent?

  • I rode the East River Greenway today from 102nd St to 63rd St, for the first time in several years. It was not a fun experience.

    Almost the entire ride was terribly bumpy. Hexagonal pavers should never be used for a route that allows bicycling: after a few years, they become uneven and the sides wear away, causing bumps. And as noted here, there are very frequent cave-ins, uneven patches, and constrictions.

    There’s a giant, flimsy-looking staircase at 81st Street with no way to go around it. This doesn’t make for a very pleasant bike ride.

    I didn’t see a single water fountain from 102nd St until 63rd Street, when there were two (!). Water fountains should be much more frequently spaced along an esplanade.

    At the south end, I rode up what appeared to be the exit — a steep ramp past what looked like an abandoned roller coaster — only to find at the top of the steep ramp that it was closed. Some signage at the bottom would have been nice. I had to double back to exit at 63rd St.

    And then below 63rd St, the greenway doesn’t exist at all. The only thing worse than a bad greenway is no greenway at all!

  • BicyclesOnly

    Jonathan makes a good point that, with so many acres of parkland and other facilities in various states of disrepair, Parks Dep’t’s decision whether to undertake a major project like reconstructing the East River Esplanade should not be a wholly discretionary, black-box process. Even when repairs are done on a stop-gap, sporadic basis, the amount of discretion is still surprising, and it is not altogether clear how the 72nd St. cave-in could be addressed so rapidly while other cave-ins, linked in the post, have languished for years.

    But it is a waste of limited Parks Dep’t maintenance funds to apply band-aid half-measures on an emergency basis, if the whole thing is rotten and needs to be replaced. That is clear from the incredible waste caused by the partial repairs to the 64th St.cave-in, detailed in the flick photo linked in the post.

    What we need is clarity about the scope of the problem. If it really is a set of isolated occurrences, and the Esplanade is found to be fundamentally sound after a systematic, professional evaluation of the underside by engineers, then Parks should develop a list of priority repairs and try to get through them according to a schedule.

    If there is a need to replace the esplanade, citizens need to know that so they can undertake the normal political process to allocate funds to get it fixed. That’s not something I look forward to doing in this fiscal environment, but it would be worse to hide the problem by treating it as a series of isolated incidents until someone gets hurt, and then closing the esplanade altogether.

    As for laying this at Parks’ doorstep, my understanding is that Parks has only recently taken responsibility for the Esplanade. Up until about a year ago, when raising these cave-ins using 311, I found myself being bounced back and forth among Parks, Transportation, and Environmental Conservation, with none of them taking responsibility (part of the problem was that the Esplanade is not on the maps the 311 people use to specify the location of a condition reported).

  • Andrew

    If this had happened on the FDR Drive, would it have been allowed to remain like that for 3 years?

  • BicyclesOnly

    Mike,
    All your criticisms are well-taken, but the esplanade was not originally designed for bike traffic, and that accounts for some of the problems. Water is available at 84th-88th Streets to the cognoscenti who know to detour into Carl Schurz Park where there are water fountains. The staircase at 81st Street will be replaced with a ramp, but the project has been delayed by the CB8 Transpo Committee, which keeps vetoing the City’s proposed ramp design on aesthetic grounds.

    Andrew,

    I hear you on the FDR analogy, but a more fair one would ask whether a hole like this would be tolerated on the West Side bike path for 3 years. I think not. One of the main reasons the East River Esplanade is crumbling is because it gets so little use–because it has no amenities and because its crumbling. It’s a vicious cycle that the City should try to break by building a real destination on the Esplanade that will attract a constituency–not a ferry dock that’s barely used, rows of benches or another doggie run. We need a little vision here!

  • Lots of people complain that these conditions would never be tolerated on the West side but they completely overlook, or aren’t aware of, how Hudson River Park came to be. Hudson River Park and the bike path are the end result of 20 or more years of community activism in TriBeCa, the West Village, and Chelsea. It rose out of the ashes of the Old Miller Highway that collapsed in several places – at one point a truck fell through – during the fiscal crisis of the 70s. Route 9A was originally slated to become a massive highway, dubbed Westway, that would have been similar to the BQE. Eventually through the efforts of organizations including West Side Waterfront Panel and the West Side Task Force they were able to realize a design that contained minimal commercialization of the waterfront and maximized at grade community accessibility from nearly every block.

    http://www.hudsonriverpark.org/construction/planning.asp

    If East Side residents want an esplanade as beautiful as Hudson River Park they need to organize, lobby elected officials, and elect those candidates that share this vision. Take a page from west side activists. Beautiful waterfront parks don’t happen on their own.

  • LN

    And what about further up to the Willis Bridge in the 120s?. That part of the east side greenway fell into the water, the portions that were sticking out the water for a time were a homeless camp.

  • Robert

    Mike,

    While I agree with your general criticisms, the problems at the 60th St exit from the esplanadade are, I believe, temporary. The 60th St exit is closed for work on the Roosevelt Island Tram above it — once that’s done, the exit should reopen. As for signage, I remember there being signs a few weeks ago to that effect, though such signs clearly could have disappeared between then. But the unexpected, unsigned closure at 60th st is not a permanent condition.

  • BicyclesOnly

    The sign at the bottom of the ramp up to the closure of the 60th St. Entrance to the East River Esplanade read, on Friday, “No Through Traffic.”. “Dead End” would be a bit plainer.

  • Wow that’s unreal. I can’t believe that kind of thing happens on what appears to be a very sturdy surface.

  • BicyclesOnly makes a great point about the vicious cycle of disrepair and underuse of the East Side Greenway. I have ridden the complete ESG a few times and rapidly swore off using it because the riding conditions in so many places are poor, it’s just not worth using as a bicycle transit route. The more of us not using it, the less of a constituency there is to demand repairs, upgrades, and amenities (such as water fountains).

    A similar point could be made about the West Side Greenway north of 96th Street–it has a smaller constituency and therefore suffers from problems (the Cherry Walk, the Amtrak rails, the Grecian Temple) that would be more rapidly addressed (I believe) in the more affluent and politically powerful neighborhoods lying to the south.

  • R2

    Yikes! I’m familiar with the 64th and 74th street sinkholes but this is news to me (been a few weeks since I last jogged up this way).

    I’ll tell you this much. The issue with sinkholes alongside the East AND Harlem rivers should be considered endemic. It is fixable — with enough money.

  • We can expect more sudden Greenway collapses in the near future.

    Marine Borers (worm termite things) have been munching away on the wooden pilings (that support the platform on which the East River Greenway and the FDR Drive sit) for at least a decade. The city has been aware of the infestation since at least 2000 and is only finally addressing it today. Emergency repairs have been underway near E. 53rd Street since January 2010 and work to deal with the rest of the area is scheduled to begin in January 2011 and continue until November 2014. (See the NYC DOT’s 2009 Bridges and Tunnels Annual Condition Report.)

    Why was an East River Esplanade Task Force made up of all our Upper East Side Politicians (Council Member Jessica Lappin, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, Senator Liz Krueger, Senator Jose M. Serrano, Assembly Member Jonathan L. Bing, Assembly Member Micah Z. Kellner and Council Member Daniel R. Garodnick) formed in March 2010 to ” to assess the damage to the esplanade, estimate the cost of repairs, secure funding sources and develop a timeframe” for fixing the East River Greenway (see March 31, 2010 letter from Jessica Lappin and Carolyn Maloney to NYC Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe) when all this was already done and THEY KNEW IT.

    Why wasn’t the public informed that according to the NYC DOT, a red flag condition (one with potentially serious danger to life and public safety) existed and that the failure of these worm termite eaten timber piles could and CAN lead to the sudden collapse of the East River Esplanade and the FDR Drive. Isn’t this exactly what is happening now???!!! Why are we not being warned?

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