Residents oppose waterfront bridge

Source: Our Town

By Michael Garofalo

A plan for a new pedestrian bridge at 54th Street connecting Sutton Place Park South to a new section of the East Midtown Waterfront Esplanade has been met with opposition from some neighbors, who say the bridge spanning the FDR Drive would disrupt the nature of the park, a small strip of green space adjacent to the FDR drive between 53rd and 54th Streets.

Plans call for the ramp to the pedestrian bridge to sit in what is now the northern portion of the park, close to its entrance near Sutton Place and East 54th Street. Several local groups, including Sutton Area Community, the Sutton Place Parks Conservancy, the Turtle Bay Association and the boards of neighboring residential buildings, have expressed concerns about the proposed bridge, which some neighbors say would take up much of the existing park, eliminate benches and walking space, and block the views of residents of the lower floors of surrounding buildings.

The bridge is one piece of a $100 million city initiative to build eight new blocks of waterfront pathway raised on pilings over the East River from 53rd to 61st Streets. This planned eight-block stretch of the East River Greenway is the second phase of the East Midtown Waterfront Esplanade project, which upon completion will run uninterrupted from 38th to 61st Streets, closing one of the largest remaining gaps in the Manhattan’s network of waterfront paths. Construction on the second phase is expected to begin in 2019 and last three years.

Plans for the project include the construction of new access points to the esplanade across the FDR drive, including the proposed pedestrian bridge at 54th Street. The New York City Economic Development Corporation is the lead city agency on the project.

Last month, Community Board 6 passed a resolution requesting that EDC provide in writing its rationale for the proposed location of the bridge at 54th Street. The community board also requested that EDC present the design to the Sutton Place community for further comment. An EDC representative said the agency is currently reviewing the resolution; at press time, EDC had not provided a written response to the community board.

EDC representatives are scheduled to attend the Jan. 22 meeting of Community Board 6’s land use and waterfront committee. “We will work closely with the community and welcome their important feedback as the project moves forward,” EDC spokesperson Shavone Williams said in an emailed statement. “EDC plans to attend the upcoming community board land use committee meeting and we will continue to work closely with our designer to reflect the needs and priorities expressed by the local community and their elected officials. We look forward to taking the next steps to provide [an] ADA compliant ramp for bicyclists and pedestrian access to the waterfront and improve the quality of life for all New Yorkers.”

The Sutton Place community’s concerns have attracted the attention of elected officials. U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney voiced her opposition to the proposed 54th Street bridge and requested that the EDC reconsider its placement in a letter to James Patchett, the EDC’s president and CEO. Maloney wrote that the bridge, as planned, “would harshly cut through the park, destroy the harmonious design and eliminate access to much of the space.”

“The design overtakes much of the available walking space and completely overwhelms the park,” Maloney’s letter continued. “Instead of creating harmonious connections to the new esplanade, the design virtually supplants the old park and renders it incidental to the massive and intrusive pedestrian bridge.”

City Council Member Keith Powers, whose district includes the proposed location of the bridge, told Our Town, “I share concerns that the 54th Street pedestrian bridge could result in lost open space in and around Sutton Place, specifically concerning an existing park. I look forward to working with both the community and the EDC to explore alternatives and identify a solution.”

Charles Coutinho, the president of Sutton Area Community, a nonprofit that represents the neighborhood’s residents and businesses, said that his organization is working with an architect to identify alternate locations for the access bridge.