Closing New York City’s East River Greenway Gap

A concept rendering of a potential new East River esplanade and greenway.

In recent decades, New York City has done much to open up its waterfront with new parks and piers. A key part of that has been the Hudson River Greenway, a bicycle and pedestrian path along the river that has become a major transportation and recreational asset on Manhattan’s West Side. The East Side equivalent hasn’t been as successful, in part because of long interruptions, including a 22-block gap between 38th and 60th Streets. Recently passed state legislation creates the possibility for a land-swap deal between NYC and the United Nations that would change that.

The deal would involve giving the United Nations part of a playground on First Avenue between 41st and 42nd Streets so it can build a new building. NYC would sell two buildings currently occupied by the UN, with the proceeds used to build a riverside esplanade that fills in the Greenway gap, improve other open spaces in the neighborhood, and boost the city’s budget. The deal will happen only if Mayor Bloomberg, State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, and State Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos sign a memorandum of understanding by October 10 which clearly delineates how funding will be spent. (State agreement is required for the city to give up the playground.)

The area’s local, state, and federal legislators — NYC Councilman Dan Garodnick, State Assm. Brian Kavanagh, State Sen. Liz Krueger, and Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney — have organized a series of public forums for residents to learn more about the proposal and provide input into what should be included in a final agreement. Residents can also learn more at a new website, EastSideOpenSpace.com.

At the first forum, held on August 4 at NYU Medical Center, organizations and residents were mostly supportive, with many people enthusiastic about the chance to gain so much open space in an area with very little of it. Tri-State spoke in favor of a deal to “close the greenway gap” and improve other open spaces in the neighborhood. Previous land swap proposals had been met with skepticism because there weren’t enough guarantees that the East Side would actually get open space improvements, but the recently passed legislation creates the framework needed for an “ironclad” deal, Assm. Kavanagh said at the forum.

The second and third forums will be held at Sutton Place Synagogue (225 E 51st Street) on September 8 and the NYU Medical Center (560 First Avenue) on September 20, respectively.

Image: Via EastSideOpenSpace.com.

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5 comments to Closing New York City’s East River Greenway Gap

  • Denis Byrne

    This substantial gap in the greenway needs to be addressed as soon as possible. I hope there is not any substantial opposition to the loss of playground area, perhaps that could be remedied by adding replacement play areas nearby on or adjacent to the greenway. Once this gap is closed, we will be so much closer to the dream of having the entire island of Manhattan surrounded by a continuous accessible greenway!

  • [...] Check Out What the Future East River Greenway Might Look Like (MTR) [...]

  • Larry Littlefield

    This is a tremendous possiblity. I hope it happens.

  • Steve Faust

    The playground area will be replaced by the greenway. Although there probably won’t be any basketball on the greenway, the effective usable new greenway area will exceed the lost playground’s area. Even better, closing this missing Midtown link opens up whole the critical path around Manhattan – one huge continuous recreation and non-motorized transportation greenway corridor.

    My concern is that the East River Greenway is not built on the cheap. I am worried that a few dollars will be saved by building the greenway so narrow that bicycles and pedestrians have to use the same “shared path” along the river.

    Along the Hudson, we see many cyclists diverting to the Hudson Greenway to avoid riding in West Side traffic. Motor traffic along the East Side is equally bad and cyclists will deliberately divert to use the East River Greenway. Once complete, the East River Greenway – connecting to a Harlem River Greenway and the East River Bridges – will serve as a cyclist non-motorized parkway.

    For safety and comfort of all users, there needs to be well designed, separate parallel paths for pedestrian and cyclist travel, along with benches for everyone to stop and watch the river go by.

    There also needs to be enough width so that when pathway maintenance is needed, there is space to provide bikes and pedestrians with room through the work zone, without forcing them up to 1st and 2nd Avenues. The city was able to do this along the Narrows – Belt Parkway Bike/Pedestrian Paths 3 years ago – rebuild the 70 year old dual paths and still keep that greenway open to bike and pedestrian traffic. Good work, DOT and Parks!

    It’s important that we do this greenway right the first time. It’s going to be here and heavily used for a long time.

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