81st Street Access Ramp to East River Pedestrian Bridge Halted Amidst CB8 Tensions

Though work continues on renovating the East 81st Street pedestrian bridge, the effort to incorporate an ADA-compliant ramp has been halted. | JACKSON CHEN
Though work continues on renovating the East 81st Street pedestrian bridge, the effort to incorporate an ADA-compliant ramp has been halted. | JACKSON CHEN

BY JACKSON CHEN | Work to create a ramp addition to the East 81st Street end of the pedestrian bridge that connects to the East River Esplanade, as part of an overall renovation of the bridge, has been suspended, according to the city Department of Parks and Recreation.

A parks department spokesperson said the ramp work, which would make the structure compliant with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), had not yet been started and has now been put on hold due to community concerns regarding its design.

“In response to concerns we heard from the community,” the spokesperson said, “we set aside the work… at the 81st Street cul-de-sac to investigate other options for that location, which may result in a better design for everyone.”

The city agencies involved on the project — Parks, the Department of Transportation, and the Department of Design and Construction — are still proceeding on the overhaul of the pedestrian walkway above the FDR Drive, which will include a ramp on the East River side of the bridge.

But during a July 14 Community Board 8 Parks Committee meeting, residents complained that city agencies are providing little information about the renovation, leaving them in the dark about its status, and some board members are echoing those arguments.

The renovation project is also creating divisions on CB8.

“There also has been a big problem with communication,” Susan Evans, co-chair of the Parks Committee said. “The community did not have any information about what is going on with this ramp, what it’s going to made out of, the location.”

Last December, appearing before CB8, the DDC first unveiled a new design for the pedestrian bridge that included viewing windows in the wire mesh fence, an ADA ramp at the East 81st Street cul-de-sac, and lighting locations.

After hearing residents’ complaints at its July 14 meeting, the Parks Committee proposed a joint meeting on the project in September with CB8’s Transportation Committee, but the co-chair of that committee, Charles Warren, objected to that idea during the full board meeting six days later.

“If I had been there, I would’ve objected to bringing up that kind of resolution,” Warren told Manhattan Express, adding the project was under the Transportation Committee’s jurisdiction. “There’s some confusion on this and what exactly happened.”

Warren attributed the work stoppage to the city paying attention to community comments about relocating ADA-compliant access to another street like East 82nd, 83rd, or 84th Streets that are less steep.

“These are not new concerns,” Warren said of looking at other options. “I think that it’s a good thing to examine, if there are alternatives that makes sense and if it’s less intrusive to the whole community.”

Despite claims from many residents about a lack of updates from the agencies, other involved community members contend the ramp stoppage is an unsurprising and minor hitch.

Charles Whitman, who lives at 45 East End Avenue, had no qualms about the work halting because he said the ADA access ramp was meant to be addressed toward the end of the multifaceted project anyway.

Whitman is a part of a committee, chaired by CB8’s Warren, that meets monthly to receive updates and voice concerns to the three agencies that are jointly working on the project.

“The last piece of it is the ADA ramp,” Whitman said. “The project has been moving ahead, they’ve had some delays and encountered some engineering problems.”

The temporary halt on the ramp portion of the project didn’t matter in the bigger picture, Whitman said.

While the ramp work is paused, the parks department said it would be increasing access to the promenade that offers access to the bridge by adding ramps to the entryways at 82nd and 83rd Streets, on top of the existing ADA-compliant ramp at 84th Street.

To resolve the infighting within CB8, the board’s chair, Jim Clynes, offered to lead a public forum with the date to be determined.

“To avoid any turf wars, we won’t call it a Parks Committee meeting, we won’t call it a Transportation Committee meeting,” Clynes said. “There will be a meeting, I will run it, and I think we’ll just call it a forum.”

For Evans, the jurisdictional differences between the two committees are secondary to the concerns heard from neighborhood residents.

“It’s not a turf war, and it shouldn’t be a turf war,” Evans said. “It should be a joint venture because we are here for the community.”