Seven Street Redesigns That DDC Is Taking Forever to Build

Progress has been hard to spot at Roberto Clemente Plaza in Mott Haven, according to BID director Steven Fish. Photo: Steven Fish
DDC construction projects like Roberto Clemente Plaza in Mott Haven are years behind schedule. Photo: Steven Fish

How long does it take the Department of Design and Construction to build out a pedestrian plaza with permanent materials? How about a protected bike lane separated from traffic by concrete curbs? Sidewalk extensions?

The answer, if you can call it that, is “anyone’s guess.” Or, to be slightly more specific, “anyone’s guess, but at least a few years and maybe several.”

When the city has to move curbs or tear up subsurface infrastructure like sewers to redesign a street, the project gets built by DDC. But DDC takes so long to build things that DOT has become adept at avoiding this process. Whenever possible, DOT uses paint, planters, and light construction techniques to implement projects without digging up the guts of a street.

When DDC is involved in street redesigns, the agency tends to miss one deadline after another, taking years to complete projects. Not only does the public have to wait for the benefits of a redesign to materialize, but by the time DDC gets around to building something, the public process is usually a distant memory and all the energy that went into advocating for the project has dissipated. As we saw recently with the West Street segment of the Brooklyn Waterfront Greenway, this creates openings for misinformation to spread and leads to even more drag on getting projects done.

So what takes so long? Why can’t DDC deliver projects in a reasonable amount of time?

Streetsblog checked in with DDC to get status reports on seven delayed street projects. Here’s what they told us, and how the current timetables measure up to what was promised initially.

1. The Brooklyn Bridge Gateway: At Least a Year Behind Schedule

The Downtown Brooklyn entrance to the Brooklyn Bridge was supposed to get overhauled in 2015, but work has yet to begin. Image: DDC [PDF]
In 2009, DOT began public outreach and released a conceptual design for the Brooklyn Bridge Gateway Project, which will create better biking and walking connections on the streets that funnel into the Brooklyn side of the bridge. The design was finalized by 2011, but the department didn’t lock down the necessary funding until early 2014.

Initial project timeline: The project got a supportive vote from Community Board 2 in February, 2014, and Phase I was slated to break ground in late 2014 or early 2015, with an estimated construction time of 18 months.

Current DDC official projected completion date: 6/16/2017

DDC says: “There were delays due to changes and updates during the design phase of the project.  We anticipate construction activity to begin in early spring 2016.”

2. DUMBO/Vinegar Hill Street and Plaza Reconstruction: More Than a Year Behind Schedule

Brooklyn Community Board 2 endorsed this project — which will repair cobblestone streets, improve sewage systems, add flat stone strips for cycling, and expand the Pearl Street Triangle Plaza — in mid-2013, and the Landmarks Preservation Commission approved it later that year. The project is a link in the Brooklyn Waterfront Greenway, providing a smooth biking surface on DUMBO’s uneven cobblestones. According to DDC, the project is on hold as the city determines who legally owns underground vaults beneath the neighborhood’s streets. The DDC database lists the projected completion date as July, 2019, nearly three years later than the date DOT originally told the community.

Street reconstruction in DUMBO will add special bike lanes to the neighborhood's cobblestone streets. Image: DOT
Street reconstruction in DUMBO will add flat stone paths for biking to the neighborhood’s cobblestone streets. Image: DOT

Initial project timeline: Construction was set to begin in fall 2014 and take two years.

Current DDC official projected completion date: 7/18/2019

DDC says: “The project design is on-hold pending resolution of the underground vault that are underneath the existing sidewalk and a portion of the roadway. These vaults underneath the sidewalk may belong to private property owners. DOT and NYC Legal personnel are dealing with the legal matter related to this issue.”

3. Brooklyn Waterfront Greenway, Flushing Avenue: More Than a Year Behind Schedule

This project will add a two-way protected bike path and extend the sidewalk by the Brooklyn Navy Yard, one of the most important transportation links in the greenway. CB 2 gave its nod of approval in October, 2013, but while construction was slated to begin a year later, Flushing Avenue has yet to see any substantial work. Milton Puryear of the Brooklyn Greenway Initiative told Streetsblog that the project was delayed due to subsurface infrastructure work that must happen before construction. Puryear said he expects construction to start sometime this year

Initial project timeline: Construction was set to begin in fall 2014.

Current DDC official projected completion date: 6/4/2017

DDC says: “Utility relocation work is underway. DDC construction activities can commence only after the utility relocation nears completion, expected in mid-Winter 2016.”

4. Brooklyn Waterfront Greenway, West Street: More Than a Year Behind Schedule

A preliminary rendering of the two-way bikeway and planted buffer slated for West Street in Greenpoint. Image: DDC
A preliminary rendering of the two-way bikeway and planted buffer slated for West Street in Greenpoint. Image: DDC

West Street sits at the Brooklyn Waterfront Greenway’s northernmost point. As with the rest of the Greenway projects, the West Street redesign was developed over the course of a number of years with ample public outreach. That process ended in 2012 when Brooklyn CB 1 gave the project the thumbs up. Since then, there hasn’t been any visible construction on West Street and, with progress stalled, some people have started turning up at CB 1 meetings to try to halt the project altogether

Initial project timeline: In 2012, Streetsblog reported that “construction could begin in 2014.”

Current DDC official projected completion date: 10/31/2017

DDC says: “DDC construction activity is expected in early spring 2016.”

5. Astor Place Reconstruction: More Than a Year Behind Schedule

Astor Place and Cooper Square have been in the process transforming for a decade. In 2008, DDC and DOT unveiled the initial design, which aimed to turn a complicated and busy traffic triangle into multiple public plazas with ample space for pedestrians. The project received community board approval in January of 2011. At the time, DDC told Streetsblog that construction would begin in the spring of 2012. It did not break ground until mid-2013 and, despite a January 31 projected completion date, appears far from finished.

Initial project timeline: DDC told Streetsblog in 2011 that construction would begin in spring 2012.

Current DDC official projected completion date: 1/31/2016

DDC says: “There are delays due to utility interference and additional work from our client agency [DOT].”

6. Roberto Clemente Plaza: Two Years Behind Schedule

Mott Haven business leaders and residents are up in arms about the lack of progress on Roberto Clemente Plaza. In addition to a new memorial for the late baseball legend and humanitarian Roberto Clemente, the project will build a 15,000-square-foot plaza out of permanent materials. For now, though, The Hub/Third Avenue BID Director Steven Fish says he spends his days watching inactive workers do nothing on a years-old construction site filled with trash. Fish said he has not seen construction on the site since he began working in the neighborhood in July. In October, his organization hosted a town hall to address concerns about the project, but received no word from DDC representatives in attendance as to when the project would actually be done.  

Initial project timeline: DDC broke ground in 2013 with an 18-month timeline for completion.

Current DDC official projected completion date: 8/13/2016

DDC says: “DDC is working closely with our general contractor for a successful completion of the Roberto Clemente Plaza. Our contractor was experiencing financial difficulties and have filed bankruptcy. While there is no apparent work currently due to the holidays, we are working diligently with our contractor to complete this project and to minimize further delays. We will continue to remain good neighbors to the residents and businesses in the communities experiencing our construction activities.”

7. Church Avenue Reconstruction: More Than Two Years Behind Schedule

Pedestrian safety improvements along Church Avenue, originally proposed in 2013, do not even have a timeline for construction. Image: DOT
Pedestrian safety improvements along Church Avenue, originally proposed in 2013, do not even have a timeline for construction yet. Image: DOT

Church Avenue BID director Lauren Collins requested capital improvements along a busy stretch of Church Avenue between Coney Island Avenue and Flatbush Avenue. The project will build out curb extensions at seven intersections along one of Brooklyn’s more dangerous corridors for pedestrians. In 2013, Collins reported that DDC hoped to complete the project over the course of 2014, but construction has yet to even start. 

Initial project timeline: Construction was expected in 2014.

Current DDC official projected completion date: 3/2/2017

DDC says: “We are still in the early phases with this project, please check back next year [2016] for updates.”

Filed Under: DDC

  • I think I mentioned this the last time it came out but Pershing Square deserves to be on the list as well.

  • Canonchet

    “These vaults underneath the sidewalk may belong to private property owners.” Really? How? What? Where? Vaults underneath sidewalks??

  • This makes them look like idiots.

  • SSkate

    What’s the story on when the East Houston construction at the intersection of First/Allen will be done? That has to be the most dangerous spot that I skate through regularly.

  • thfs

    DDC (and other agencies) often get really bad contractors winning bids, particularly during times when there is a lot of work to go around. So the agency has to execute “defaults” on the contracts and work with surety bond companies (which the contractors have to take out in the first place) to complete – likely what is happening in the Mott Haven situation.

    In the meantime, any project that has unexpected complications (read: most projects) takes longer.

    There is a huge problem here of the government being a subprime construction client – agencies pay bills slowly, they definitely will sue the contractors rather than resolve disputes quickly (as in the private sector), and it’s a lot of work to bid on the contracts. As a result, agencies often get sh**ty contractors as a result of the lowest bid system. And guess what – the lowest bid isn’t always correct!

  • thfs

    Yup. Very common especially in loft and older apartment house districts.

    http://cenews.com/article/8089/sidewalk-vaults-what-lurks-below

  • BBnet3000

    When you see metal plating or a raised part on the building side of the sidewalk in neighborhoods like SoHo, that’s a vault underneath. There are little glass panes that actually let you see daylight through the sidewalk from the outside edge of the basement in the REI on Houston.

  • David Meyer

    I know – I’m on it.

  • SSkate
  • Reader

    Beyond the frustration of waiting for these projects to be completed, not to mention the costs, there’s another big problem with these delays. The longer neighboring communities have to deal with the noise and inconvenience of living next to or near a construction site, the harder it becomes for DDC (and DOT or other partners) to get future projects approved. If cranky community board complains about what happened the last time DDC tore up the street, that can jeopardize even the most worthy of redesigns.

  • Is the bike path on the Pulaski Bridge not a DDC project? Because, while that now seems to be near completion, that has bust clean through every completion deadline.

  • David Meyer

    You can also check this handy (but possibly unhelpful) map. From what I’ve seen, the project completion dates don’t always reflect reality: http://maps.nyc.gov/doitt/nycitymap/?searchType=AddressSearch&addressNumber=52&street=CHAMBERS%20street&borough=manhattan&infoType&featureTypes=DDC_PROJECTS

  • r

    That’s DOT.

  • DOT does bridges.

  • Thank you for filling that gap in my knowledge.

  • Alexander Vucelic

    There Is a certain NYC Developer running for Prez that Might be the perfect fellow to get these projects done. 🙂

  • SSkate

    Thanks for that. I’d also wondered about the work on lower Broadway, which I now see is slated to continue until summer 2017, with a phase 2 that extends into frigging 2020.

  • aarrrrrimapirate

    I know it’s really easy to s**t on DDC and “The City” for their frustrating lack of progress on, well, pretty much everything, but there’s more to all of these projects than “JUST GET IT DONE.” Civil Engineering is insanely complicated, especially when we’re talking about updating centuries-old infrastructure. There’s much more at play than just digging up soil and pouring concrete, like in #’s 1, 2, 3, and 5 where we’re talking about extremely old streets with complicated ownership issues and engineering challenges. Working with DDC isn’t easy, as with many city agencies, but they can certainly be trusted to complete projects correctly and respectably.

  • neroden

    Some of these are more excusable than others.

    There is really no excuse for not knowing the ownership of the vaults. There’s a reason we have a city property registry. Am I right? A property records search should take mere *days*. If nobody shows up with contrary documents, you assume the stuff registered at the deeds registry is correct, and you *run with it*.

    General contractor going bankrupt, that’s a “really not our fault” one.

  • neroden

    The vault ownership should be recorded in the deeds. If it isn’t there is a problem.

  • NYer

    The government agency that heroically cleaned up (and/or got rid of evidence of) the World Trade Center wreckage in a matter of months takes years to redesign a street. Why is that?

  • Ari_F_S

    Why isn’t the Myrtle Avenue Plaza on this list. 1+ years behind schedule. 2+ years if you include the original projection.

  • Still trying to get updates on a few more projects, including that one.

  • iSkyscraper

    The 215th St steps in Inwood should finally be finished in 2016, about a year behind schedule since DDC started construction and years after first being announced as a project.

    But DDC is hardly the worst city agency at capital projects. The much-beloved Nature Centre in Inwood Hill Park lies in ruins because it was partially flooded by Hurricane Sandy and apparently Parks is incapable of doing within 5 years what should take only 5 weeks of work to fix up.

  • David Meyer

    Whomp – the city’s map database lists the steps’ projected completion date as December 16, 2014.

  • EM Prentiss

    Let’s not mention Columbus Circle which DDC is now re doing. I wonder how much worse they can make it?

  • AnoNYC

    There’s a big difference between Wall Street and YOUR street when it comes to prioritization.

  • an urbangardener

    ithaca – 100,000 people? Community Board 2 Manhattan = 120,000 people? How many Ithaca County Courthouses would fint into our / Dinkins muni building/1 Centre Street? Thanks for making a city of 8 million people seem so simple, though — Glad to have you on board with this

  • an urbangardener

    I love the 3rd Ave./ Cooper Sq. / Astor Place project. It is going to look great. Did you watch the Verizon/NY Tel. co. relocate the telephone switch vault? The vault, more like an underground bunker, had to move for the new sewer alignment. Not a small job.

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