Mayor Bill de Blasio is throwing $100 million into the East River — for use in constructing a bikeway and walkway that stretches for eight blocks above water.
The mayor announced Tuesday, a day ahead of his budget presentation, that he will earmark the money to jumpstart construction of an esplanade to “close the gap” in the existing Manhattan Waterfront Greenway, between East 53rd and East 61st streets.
The construction will bring the city a step closer to a continuous 32-mile pedestrian “loop” around the coast of Manhattan which has been the pursuit of all mayors since David Dinkins in 1993.
The New York City Economic Development Corp. will begin to design the esplanade this year with construction slated to commence in 2019 and be completed by 2022.
“We’re jumpstarting the completion of a Greenway linking the entire Manhattan waterfront,” de Blasio said. “The Hudson River Greenway has vastly improved quality of life on the West Side, and we want families in every corner in the borough to have that same access to bike, walk and play along the water. This is the first of many big investments we’ll make as we bring the full Greenway to reality.”
Councilman Ben Kallos, who co-chairs the East River Esplanade Taskforce, applauded the plan. “I will finally be able to run the full length of my district from Midtown East to East Harlem,” he said.
While the esplanade is being hailed by many officials, some New Yorkers believe that resources should not be diverted from maintenance of the existing pathways and parks along the East River.
"Above 70th, in the UES & Harlem, the Esplanade is not just unsightly, but dangerous. We've had enough. When will we see real improvements?" tweeted Dara Hunt to the Office of the Mayor Tuesday morning.
Another $5 million will go toward studying the remaining gaps along the Greenway, most notably between 119th and 154th streets, where “low-traffic volume links” take pedestrians back through the city.
Developing New York City’s coastlines into functional and attractive spaces continues to be one of the most discernable aspects of the city’s evolution in the 21st century.
But Mayor Bill de Blasio’s commitment of $100 million to “closing the loop” of the Manhattan greenway on the Upper East Side is just a piece of the puzzle, explained Roland Lewis, president and CEO Waterfront Alliance, a coalition of 900 organizations advocating for coastal development around all the boroughs.
The organization has been a force behind New York’s waterfront policies since 2011. It’s pursued the transformation of New York and New Jersey’s 700 miles of shoreline into beautiful, public spaces and works to prevent physical barriers from separating city and the sea.
“We are a city rediscovering our waterfront and using it, and it’s an amazing asset that should be realized, not just for use by New Yorkers but to attract and compete with the whole world,” Lewis told Metro.
Lewis believes that a five-borough greenway project should be pursued aggressively, especially in respect to changing weather patterns and rising sea levels that threaten the city from all angles.
“We’re tremendously concerned about rising sea water. Whatever is being built, it needs to be taken into consideration to account for the incremental rise in water level and also the threat from disasters we have to build with the water all around us,” he said. "Parks are a great use of the waterfront because they can flood, and when the water recedes it's usable again."