Trust adds safety fence around Pier 51 playground


By Elizabeth O’Brien with lincoln anderson

Parents say the new children’s water playground on the Jane St. Pier has safety hazards that force them to remain on high alert as their children play. But that could change when the Hudson River Park Trust installs a new fence around the playground over the next week.

Problems with the water playground included an outer railing over the Hudson River that children can climb like a ladder, an inner gate that older children can unlock and squat concrete barriers that kids over three or four years old can scale, parents say. Many gave the water playground high marks for child-friendly play equipment but wondered why the same care did not appear to have gone into securing the park’s periphery.

“Whoever designed this place doesn’t have kids,” said Tom Glendening, a Bleeker St. father who brought his 22-month-old twins and 3-year-old girl to the park on a recent sunny weekday.

On Tuesday, a spokesperson for the Hudson River Park Trust, the city-state agency that operates the park, said that the Trust would be installing a new fence all around the playground, separating it from the walkway around the pier that borders the water. Chris Martin, the spokesperson, said it was the Trust’s plan all along to add a permanent fence around the playground, but that the Trust opened the pier with temporary safety fencing so the public could enjoy it immediately after the park’s June opening. In fact, the temporary safety fencing was added later and was not present at the park’s opening day.

Martin said he did not know any details about the design of the new fence, which he said would be installed while the pier is closed from Sept. 15 through Sept. 24. He said that the outer railing around the pier would remain the same.

When asked about the safety of the railing, which parents say resembles a ladder, Martin said, “If you go to any other waterfront in any other state, they often don’t even have a railing.”

Martin also said, “I can’t really speak to the concerns of parents, but in the interest of the people who use the playground, parents and kids, we have decided to add the fence.”

The railing is the same one that borders the entire Greenwich Village segment of the park and that will be used throughout the rest of the five-mile-long waterfront park.

When the playground opened, The Villager reported parents’ immediate safety fears about the railing. In late July, CBS News reporter Arnold Diaz did a “Shame On You” segment on the drowning dangers at the sparkling new playground. Soon after the segment aired, temporary metal barriers covered in netting were installed to separate the main play area from the outer railing on the pier’s west side, parents said.

Those barriers remained in place last week, but the park’s northern and southern sides were largely unsecured, with all but the smallest children able to climb over concrete barriers or unlock the gate and exit to a walkway with only the outer railing separating them from the Hudson River 10 ft. below.

Parents said they wanted to know how the park’s original fencing and gates were approved, since they seem to pose obvious dangers for children.

“I’m just very curious about the process,” said Ann Kjellberg, the mother of a 2-year-old daughter.

Martin said he could not immediately comment on the design and approval process, since that happened before he joined the Trust and that he would have to find out the information.

Lauren McGrath, a Horatio St. mother of a 1-year-old boy, said last week that she had heard a new fence would be put up and looked forward to its installation. But she suggested that any renovations be scheduled during the winter months, so that parents and children wouldn’t be deprived of the park when the weather remained nice.

In the meantime, McGrath said, “I’d rather be able to use it and recognize its limitations.”