First on amNY: City to break ground on important East River Greenway link

Officials on Friday are breaking ground on the $100 million project to add pedestrian and bicycle pathways in addition to new park space along the waterfront in midtown, from 53rd to 61st streets. The construction will create a 40-foot-wide esplanade built out over the river, running parallel to the FDR Drive. Rendering courtesy of Stantec.

The project is part of a plan to create a continuous loop of public open space around the perimeter of Manhattan.

The city is finally moving to close one of the biggest gaps in the East River Greenway.

Officials on Friday are breaking ground on the $100 million project to add pedestrian and bicycle pathways in addition to new park space along the waterfront in midtown, from 53rd to 61st streets. The construction will build out a 40-foot-wide esplanade over the river, running parallel to the FDR Drive.

The project advances the city’s vision from 1993 to create a continuous, 32.5-mile mixed-use path around the entire island of Manhattan — though the timeline greenway’s full completion is still unclear.

“Creating a continuous loop of public open space around the perimeter of Manhattan is key to enhancing quality of life for all New Yorkers by allowing use of the waterfront for enjoyment and safe travel,” said James Patchett, president CEO of the city’s Economic Development Corporation, which is overseeing the project.

The esplanade is expected to be completed in 2022 and will be connected by a new ADA-accessible pedestrian bridge at 54th Street. The work also includes a revamp of the Andrew Haswell Park at its northern terminus.

Even with the eight-block addition, the East River Greenway still suffers several more glaring gaps peppered between a patchwork of paths that shrink and widen around buildings and other obstacles along the waterfront. The hodgepodge means the path a far cry from the smoother, more uniform Hudson River Greenway across the island.

Many more cyclists tend to ride the protected bike lanes on First and Second Avenues, as well as the Hudson River Greenway, according to the city’s nearest cycling counts uptown.

There were 236 cyclists riding on the greenway at 86th Street during a 12-hour count by the Department of Transportation. More than 3,000 riders were counted in total riding on First and Second Avenues during that same that period and another 3,170 cyclists were counted crossing at the Hudson River Greenway.

Jon Orcutt, spokesman for Bike New York, said it’s critical to build out better cycling infrastructure along the East River to attract more bicyclists and give them a safe haven away from vehicles on the streets.

“First Avenue is good, Second Avenue is improving, but there is still a lot of interaction with cars, whereas this would have none of that,” Orcutt said.

Looking down on the esplanade construction site at the East River, from 61st Street Thursday morning. (Photo by Todd Maisel)

There are four other holes in the East River Greenway that need to be filled. The city has outlined a total of $250 million close a portion of those gaps and tweak another two stretches. The most significant missing piece is just south of the midtown project—a stretch behind the United Nations, from 53rd to 41st streets.

“That is the biggest problem — it is a huge lift to get done but it would be a game-changer for not only the waterfront but for bike commuting on the East Side of Manhattan,” Orcutt continued.

The other needed links are further north. There is a section in Inwood, from Sherman Creek to Inwood Hill Park; a link along the Harlem River Greenway, from East 125th to East 132nd streets; and another portion between East 145th to East 163rd streets, along the Esplanade Gardens-Harlem River Drive.

The city expects to start construction on the Inwood and Harlem River Greenway sections in 2021, with completion slated for around 2024. The UN stretch is still not completely funded.

Some residents in midtown were willing to take what they could get.

“I love it — this is my neighborhood and I have a 10-year-old child so that’s great,” said Lisa Steinmetz, a resident of Sutton Place for five years.  “I know the city got the back of Sutton Place building for the park, so we are 100 percent for it.”

Others who have watched other waterfront projects stall worried this midtown link would, too.

“When I see it, I’ll believe it,” said Jim Elkind. “It’s about time – are they ever going to really do it though? I like to take walks with the dog or bike around Manhattan and the path is all broken up here. The city deserves this.”

Heather Barlow, 45, of the Upper East Side, offered her own completion date: “I’ll be 95 by the time they do this.”

This esplanade will be connected to 61st Street when the project is complete. (Photo by Todd Maisel)

Vincent Barone