The Long Walk on E. 81st Street

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A long-delayed pedestrian bridge may finally get built


  • A rendering of the East 81st Street pedestrian bridge, with the ramp and eight-foot fence extending south along the East River. The proposal, from the city’s Dept. of Design and Construction and dated 2012, is annotated as being the “final design.”

After years of back and forth between the city and community, the pedestrian bridge linking E. 81st St. with the East River walkway will likely be replaced, with work beginning early next year, according to a spokesperson with the city’s Dept. of Design and Construction.

“We expect shovels will be in the ground in the spring of next year,” said Howard Pollack, a spokesperson with the Dept. of Design and Construction. “An estimated completion date is June of 2016.”

Pollack said the DDC will be presenting their plan to Community Board 8’s Dec. 3 transportation committee meeting. The bridge will be replaced in its entirety and wheelchair accessible ramps will be installed on both sides of FDR Drive.

Transportation committee co-chair Chuck Warren said discussions surrounding the bridge go back at least five years and have generated no small amount of feedback from the community. A resolution from 2012 articulates the committee’s criticisms of the plan, which include the potential for crime on the bridge, bikers speeding due to its length, and the look of an eight-foot fence that will be installed over FDR Drive and along the ramps.

According to the minutes, the committee asked the Dept. of Transportation and the DDC to install surveillance cameras, safety call boxes and signs on the bridge telling bikers to walk. The minutes from 2012 do note that a number of changes were made to the design, but that the “bridge still does not fit with the surrounding neighborhood.”

But the plan doesn’t seem to have changed since that meeting in 2012. What looks to be the same presentation from 2012 was provided to Our Town by the DDC as what will be presented Dec. 3. No mention of security cameras, call boxes or signs is made in the presentation, which is marked “final design.”

As such, some in the community are still wary of what the final product will look like.

Charles Whitman lives at 45 East End Avenue and is a point person of sorts on community concerns about the bridge. The cul-de-sac in front of his building is where the pedestrian bridge begins at 81st Street, and will likely serve as a staging ground for construction come the spring. If construction is completed according to the current proposal, the cul-de-sac will have a ramp running through it with an eight foot fence, which he said will look like a prison.

Whitman said he understands the city is bound by certain rules it must follow, such as the length of the ramp, which many in the community are opposed to. But he was told the Americans with Disabilities Act says that for every inch a ramp increases in height, a foot must be added to the length. Also, the eight-foot-high fence along the bridge and ramp is there to stop people from jumping or throwing objects onto FDR Drive.

“You can’t seem to get around the fence issue, and you have an ADA compliance issue,” said Whitman. “The question I think is more one of architecture.”

Whitman doesn’t know if the solution the city has come up with is the best one, and simply wants a chance to let his and others’ concerns be known.

“There are other possible solutions,” said Whitman. “That’s one of the things right now I’m trying to figure out, whether that’s the best that can be done or not.”

For residents who live along the East River, the eight-foot-tall fences on the bridge – which sits over 30 feet above FDR Drive - and ramp mar views of the water.

“There is no question that [the city’s plan] does make a statement and it does block your view,” he said.

CB8’s transportation committee will meet on Wednesday, Dec. 3, at 6:30 p.m. at Memorial Sloan Kettering, 430 E. 67th St., room 103.

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