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Scenic Midtown Greenway Section Opens, But Gap Remains

It's a beautiful greenway, but it still doesn't fill the Midtown gap.

6:51 PM EST on December 19, 2023

Photo: Kevin Duggan|

The city opened a new section of greenway between 53rd and 61st Streets in Midtown on Dec. 19.

Eight down, 12 more to go.

The city cut the ribbon on a much-anticipated eight block, $217-million portion of the unfinished East River Greenway between E. 61st and E. 53rd streets on Tuesday, but another dozen blocks to close the Midtown gap down to E. 41st Street won't get underway until 2026 — and will cost another $153 million.

After that, there are still some gaps in Manhattan's bike- and walkable ring route in Harlem and Inwood, but construction on at least one of those projects won't start until 2027

But on Tuesday, under a glorious sky amid a mirthful ribbon-cutting, the head of the city’s quasi-public Economic Development Corporation said that all of the gaps to finish a continuous 32.5-mile loop will get done by 2030, which would be the end of a second for Mayor Adams if he gets re-elected in 2025.

“What is so important is that this mayor, Eric Adams, remained committed to that generational vision to link the entire Manhattan Greenway and it will get done during his tenure,” said EDC President and CEO Andrew Kimball, though he rang a warning bell: “There are substantial portions that are funded, there are some portions that are going to need additional funding.”

The project will eventually fill in this 22-block gap of the waterfront greenway along the East River.Map: DOT

Former Mayor Bill de Blasio in 2021 announced the city would invest $723 million to close the remaining gaps in the Manhattan greenway network, which include the nearly one-mile segment in Midtown, close to two miles in two sections along the Harlem River, 1.7 miles in Inwood, and 0.1 miles on the Lower East Side.

But Tuesday was about celebrating what has gotten done, as local officials lauded the finished work, which offers marvelous new spaces for cyclists and pedestrians, plus a revamped park just north of the Queensboro Bridge and a newly built pedestrian and bike bridge that connects to Sutton Place South and E. 54th Street, but cyclists are then forced to mix with regular traffic and ride two avenues west to get to the next southbound protected bike lane on Second Avenue.

The new elevated paths, park, and bridge took four years and $217 million to build, running next to the busy FDR Drive.

The two-way bike lane is a spacious 14-feet wide — as big as the nation’s busiest bike lane on the West Side along the Hudson River — and runs alongside a separate pedestrian path with plantings and seating. 

There's plenty of room for cyclists and pedestrians on the new greenway. Photo: Kevin Duggan

The path offers glorious views of the East River, but it comes to a sudden halt around 53rd Street, because the city has yet to fill in the rest of the greenway gap down to E. 41st Street in front of the United Nations headquarters.

Construction on the eight newest blocks of greenway began in 2019, but the Covid-19 pandemic caused some delays, and a group of residents also unsuccessfully sued the city claiming the pedestrian and bike bridge at the south was illegally seizing parkland on the Manhattan side. 

The paths sit atop about two dozen underwater beams known as caissons that the state installed in the East River in 2002 to support a $140-million temporary detour of the FDR Drive, which the state Department of Transportation was rehabilitating at the time. 

Local advocates pushed officials in the Bloomberg administration to repurpose the highway bypass into public open space along the water, inspired by the in-the-works High Line, and the state left behind its caissons for the future path, which was funded under former Mayor Bill de Blasio.  

Here are some shots of what the safe and inviting greenway looks like:

The new paths come to a sudden halt at E. 53rd Street. The remaining 12 blocks of greenway are still in design. Photo: Kevin Duggan
A new pedestrian and bike bridge connects the paths back to the Manhattan shore at E. 54th Street. Photo: Kevin Duggan
Part of the new path sits atop caissons the state installed 21 years ago to support a detour of the FDR Drive during a rehabilitation of the highway. Photo: Kevin Duggan
The city also connected the greenway to Andrew Haswell Green Park at the northern end. Photo: Kevin Duggan

Existing greenways, mostly managed by the Parks Department, are in poor shape across the city, including further uptown along the East River esplanade north of E. 90th Street, and on the upper portion’s of the Hudson River Greenway, where paths are chronically caving in and repairing a small but crucial bridge will take the city longer than building the entire Brooklyn Bridge.

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