Cooperation on Pedestrian Bridge Design

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Community to negotiate with city on final plan for bridge at East 81st Street


  • A rendering of the proposed design for the upgraded East 81st Street pedestrian bridge.

Upper East Side residents are nothing if not engaged in their community, a characteristic that has come to the forefront in an impassioned debate over the fate of one small bridge.

Members of the city’s Dept. of Design and Construction met with Community Board 8’s transportation committee and residents who live near 81st Street and East End Avenue to discuss plans for a pedestrian bridge connecting the Upper East Side with the East River waterfront that will be built there in the spring.

The current bridge does not offer handicap access and is sorely in need of repair, a condition that prompted the city to decide years ago that it should be replaced altogether. The intervening years have been spent securing funding and coming up with a design, which is now being negotiated at the community board level with input from residents who live in the immediate vicinity.

At issue is the way the bridge looks in renderings supplied by the city. Residents who will have to look at it every day say the existing bridge proposal, with its eight-foot-high fence, looks like a prison. And the handicap accessible ramp, at 450 feet, puts a significant damper on views of the East River.

Between now and when construction begins in the spring, residents, CB 8 and the city will be holding discussions on a solution that works for everyone concerned.

The good news is that there’s “good will on both sides,” said Charles Whitman, who lives at the entrance to the pedestrian bridge and leads a community group focused on the issue.

“There’s a negotiating group that’s going to be set up [to discuss the bridge],” said Whitman, who heads up the Committee for the 81st Street Pedestrian Bridge under the auspices of the East 79th Street Neighborhood Association.

Whitman doesn’t know who will be included in the group, which is being organized by CB 8, but believes his committee will have a seat at the table. On the city’s side will be the Dept. of Design and Construction and the Dept. of Transportation.

But time is of the essence, with construction set to begin in the spring. A DDC spokesperson previously told Our Town that the agency hopes to have the project wrapped up in June of 2016. The community is pressing to have a say in an infrastructure project they’ll have to look at every day for the foreseeable future, while the city is on the cusp of implementing a plan that’s been years in the making.

“As a result we’re going to have to press and see if the good will is really good will,” said Whitman. “We really want to keep things on an even keel.”

CB 8’s transportation committee passed a resolution saying they’d like the city to use an already existing ramp at East 82nd Street for handicap access to the pedestrian bridge. They’d also like the bridge’s fence to be replaced with some sort of transparent material, likely plastic, to avoid the corrections-facility feel that such a tall chain link fence would have. Lastly, the committee would like to work with the Parks Department on plans to install a series of plantings at the base of the bridge.

Transportation committee co-chair Chuck Warren said in an interview that he agrees with Whitman that there’s a willingness on the city’s part to come to an agreement with the community. But just how much room there is to negotiate remains to be seen.

“They went out of their way to say that they’d like to work with the community,” said Warren, who thinks the hardest component to satisfy of the community’s recommendations will be to replace the fence with a transparent material. “I think it’s partly going to be a maintenance issue with the Dept. of Transportation.”

The fence is required by regulation to protect cars from objects thrown onto FDR Drive. But a Plexi-glass like material will naturally be susceptible to graffiti and other forms of vandalism, as well as exposure to the elements, and is likely less durable than a chain link fence.

The committee’s resolution will go before the full board at their Dec. 17 meeting.

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