New details on disputed Esplanade bridge

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EDC presents basis for proposed 54th Street bridge location, which has stirred opposition from some Sutton Area residents


  • Sutton Place Park South is the site of the entrance to a proposed pedestrian bridge that would provide access to a new stretch of waterfront esplanade on the East River. Photo: Michael Garofalo

  • A rendering the proposed esplanade access bridge at East 54th Street, which would occupy a portion of Sutton Place Park South and is opposed by some neighbors. Image: NYC EDC

by the numbers

• The East Midtown Waterfront Esplanade project will eventually add 1.1 miles of new esplanade from East 38th Street to East 60th Street along the East River

• City committed $100 million in funding in April 2017 to complete Phase 2, which will span from East 53rd Street to East 60th Street

• Construction on Phase 2 expected to commence in 2019 and last three years

• Typical esplanade sections consist of 40-foot-wide pathway raised on pilings over the East River, with two-way bike lanes, landscaping, pedestrian paths and seating areas

A plan to install a pedestrian bridge in a small park near 54th Street and Sutton Place that would provide access to a new section of the East Midtown Waterfront Esplanade has become a source of neighborhood controversy. Representatives from the New York City Economic Development Corporation, the lead agency on the project, laid out the rationale for the location of the proposed bridge at a Jan. 22 meeting of Community Board 6’s land use and waterfront committee.

The “flyover,” as EDC officials have termed the proposed span, would create an access point bridging the FDR Drive to the new span of riverfront esplanade set to be built between 53rd and 60th Streets on the East River. The entrance to the bridge would occupy much of what is now the northern portion of Sutton Place Park South, a small area of green space with riverfront views along Sutton Place South between 53rd and 54th Streets.

The proposed bridge is opposed by some residents, who fear that the entrance ramp would have a negative impact on the park’s character, resulting in a loss of walking space and benches, drawing additional bicycle and pedestrian traffic to Sutton Place, and potentially impacting river views from the street and lower floors of neighboring buildings. A number of local groups and officials, including the Sutton Area Community and Rep. Carolyn Maloney, have voiced their disapproval of the planned bridge.

In addition to the 54th Street site, which was identified during conceptual design planning that took place from 2009 to 2012, EDC representative Kathryn Prybylski said that EDC also examined 51st, 52nd and 54th Streets as potential sites for a new bridge. In designing the connection, EDC aims to provide access to the new esplanade at regular intervals that complies with applicable regulations, including the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Some residents questioned why the existing pedestrian bridge at 51st Street that currently connects Peter Detmold Park to a small seating area along the river could not be repurposed to provide access to the new esplanade. Prybylski said that the existing bridge, which has stairs on both sides, is not ADA-compliant. If 51st Street were chosen as a connection site, she said, the existing bridge would have to be demolished to make way for a new bridge featuring ramps.

Prybylski explained that a ramped bridge at 51st or 52nd Streets would have to be very long to account for the significant rise in height from the esplanade, which will sit 17 feet above the water, to street level, which is over 40 feet in elevation. 53rd and 54th Streets are significantly closer to esplanade level, necessitating less ramp space and allowing for bridge design to be shorter in length.

According to EDC, constructing a bridge at 53rd Street would be complicated by the presence of a subway tunnel below the site, as well as the presence of an exit ramp from the FDR Drive that would potentially have to be closed to make way for pedestrian and bicycle traffic (the next southbound FDR exit is at 49th Street).

Though it would take up part of the park, 54th Street allows for the shortest bridge span of the four locations.

“We have kept it to the northern portion of the park to limit impact to the rest of Sutton Place Park,” Prybylski said. “We’ve chosen conscientious designers that do not want to just drop something in the park and destroy it.”

The proposed 54th Street bridge is designed with ramps at the steepest incline permissible under ADA, to minimize the entrance’s footprint in the park while maintaining accessibility. EDC’s presentation included an illustration showing that the bridge would sit below the level of windows on the first floor of 45 Sutton Place South, which sits adjacent to the bridge.

Permitting and environmental review are already in place for the bridge at the 54th Street site. “If a location [that is] not 54th Street is chosen, then the environmental review has to be reopened,” Prybylski said, noting that a change in the bridge site would result in a significant delay in the project’s timeline.

EDC officials said they plan to schedule a meeting to discuss the project with Sutton Area residents and the Sutton Place Parks Conservancy “in the very near term.”

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