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Greenway Through East River Park Will Be Partly Open During Coastal Revamp

12:01 AM EDT on October 3, 2019

A rendering from the city’s East Side Coastal Resiliency plan shows the East River waterfront.

The city will phase the construction of a much-anticipated (and much-reviled) project to shore up the Lower East Side’s coastline — giving a bit of a reprieve to cyclists who rely on riverfront park as a safe route. 

The East Side Coastal Resiliency Project, a $1.45-billion scheme to ward off the ravages of climate change by raising the height of the East River Park, would have closed the park for about four years, routing cyclists along unsafe avenues. Now part of the park will remain open during the entire construction period, Mayor de Blasio announced on Wednesday. 

Cyclists will benefit like other park users because of the changes, the city said, although representatives used slippery language that was short on details. 

“The new phased construction plan provides opportunities to maintain segments of the greenway open for cycling in place of the current contiguous setup,” said Department of Transportation spokesman Scott Gastel, adding, “DOT will evaluate ways to improve bike access to these segments and to ensure that detours are clearly signed.”

But, Gastel added, “as under the previous plan and full park closure, First and Second avenues will provide the most direct and continuous transportation route for many cyclists.” DOT, he added, remains “open to discussing other north-south connections on Avenues A, B and C with elected officials and local residents.”

That might not be enough for cyclists who rely on the park.

“I’m really nervous about my daily work commute, which is currently a safe and car-free ride along the East River, along with hundreds if not thousands of other cyclists,” said bike commuter Sophie Maerowitz, who lives on the Lower East Side. “We will need more [north-south] protected lanes on the East Side to make up for that loss of safe passage. Avenue B is a great candidate. In addition, the bike lanes on First and Second avenues are becoming overcrowded. I’d like to see the city commit to expanding those lanes as part of the plan.”

The resiliency project has provoked controversy since it was announced last year. Lower East Side residents generally support the plan’s objective of protecting the waterfront from potential storm surges related to climate change, while also modernizing park facilities along a three-mile stretch from Montgomery to East 25th streets. But they protested the four-year closure of the park, which would deny access to its ball fields and their well-traveled riverside bike path — even as the adjacent highway, the FDR Drive remained open for vehicle traffic.

According to the city, during the first phase of construction — next fall to spring, 2023 — “the vast majority of the park areas from Delancey to Houston Streets will remain open as well as the amphitheater area in the south and the portion from approximately East 10th to East 12th Street in the north.” 

During the second phase of construction — spring 2023 to late 2025 — “newly rebuilt portions of East River Park will be open from Houston Street to approximately East 10th Street, as well as the vast majority of the park areas from Corlears Hook Bridge to Delancey Street.”

The City Council will hear details of the plan on Thursday.

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