Pols, Residents Ponder: What Should East River ‘Blueway’ Look Like?

East-River-Blueway_Interactive-Map An interactive map allows users to submit Blueway ideas.

“The west side has the High Line, Hudson River Park, Chelsea Piers,” said Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer at the first community-wide planning meeting for the East River Blueway. “Now it’s time for the East Side to have an iconic outdoor space.”

In its planning stages since September 2011, the Blueway aims to make the East River more accessible, with beautified walkways, from the Brooklyn Bridge to East 38th Street. Yesterday’s meeting brought together residents, politicians, and members of Community Board 6 as well as the project’s design team to share ideas regarding water access, biking routes, and improved water quality for swimming, kayaking and fishing.

Crossing the FDR is currently a major obstacle to accessing the river. According to Adam Lubinsky, Managing Principal of WXY Architecture + Urban Design, the East Side has only half the number of street crossings – including underpasses, overpasses and street level pathways – as the West Side. “How can we engage with a river that we’ve been separated from for so long?” asked Mr. Lubinsky.

Representatives from WXY presented their own ideas for improving bike and pedestrian access, and let residents give feedback and suggestions of their own. The major concern was a “choke point” at East 14th Street, where the bike path narrows and is wedged between the FDR and a waterfront Con Ed facility.  “It gets down to this wide,” said State Assemblyman Brian Kavanagh, stretching his arms out to less than one wingspan. “And people go by in both directions.”

One possible solution is a pedestrian “flyover” path. The 475-foot-long raised path for pedestrians and cyclists would be at least 12-feet wide and 14.5-feet high. Cantilevered from the rear of the Con Ed facility, it would be approached from both sides by gradual 300-foot inclines. But forget a river view: regulations require this kind of path to be enclosed, with a solid wall on the water side.

“We can’t extend anything over the water, because Con Ed takes ship deliveries of 50,000 barrels of fuel oil twice a week at their wharf,” explained Mark Yoes, the Y of WXY Architecture.

Caroline Kruse, Development Director of the Lower East Side Ecology Center, wanted to see the pathway widened to stretch above the easternmost lane of the FDR. “This would give it more of a Highline-esque feel, with benches and plantings and maybe food vendors,” she said.

Another group suggested raising the path clear above the Con Ed facility, restoring the river view and turning the pathway into a park of its own.

The Blueway idea was proposed by a partnership of groups including Community Board 3, Community Board 6, the New York State Department of Coastal Resources, the LES Ecology Center, Mr. Kavanagh and Mr. Stringer. The project timeline aims for the plan to be finalized by September 2012.

Yesterday’s meeting was focused on a section of waterfront from the north end of East River Park to 38th Street. A similar planning meeting for the East Village waterfront will be scheduled soon.

This post has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: April 10, 2012

An original version of this post misstated that members of Community Board 3 attended the meeting. In fact it was members of C.B. 6.