Maloney and Kallos Present Progress Report on East River Esplanade Repairs and Call for a Master Plan
NEW YORK—Today, Congresswoman Carolyn B. Maloney (NY-12) joined Council Member Ben Kallos and members of the community to issue a report card on the progress of the East River Esplanade projects. The report applauded the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation for moving forward with effort to fix the Esplanade, celebrated the use of public and private partnerships, and expressed approval for the efforts to secure more than $110 million for the project. The report card was critical, however, of the Parks Department’s communication with the public, poor signage, failure to reveal progress on critical infrastructure repairs and construction development, and lack of a coordinated comprehensive plan for repairing the Esplanade.
“We’ve seen some real progress, but more work needs to be done to realize the East River Esplanade that New Yorkers deserve, “said Maloney. “I applaud the Parks Department for its effort to seek out private sector partners and commit additional funding for the project. However, we still lack a coordinated, comprehensive plan to fix the Esplanade and that lack of a plan is causing costly delays. We’ve lost the 107 Street Pier. We had a collapse at 90th Street. Emergency repairs are not keeping up with the needs of the Esplanade. It is time we had a thorough and long-term plan for the future of this essential resource.”
"The East River Esplanade has the potential to be a world-class park and City attraction," said Council Member Ben Kallos, Co-Chair of the East River Esplanade Taskforce. "As a community, we must stay on top of this project so that it gets finished on time and on budget. If the Parks Department needs more resources to move projects along, this is an investment New York City should be making. Thank you to Congress Member Maloney for standing up for all us and applying pressure when it is needed to get work done."
"Thank you to Congress Member Maloney for shining a light on the East River Esplanade. I am hopeful the report findings will bring positive change to continued upgrades along the waterfront. I am grateful for her work to make the Esplanade better for all New Yorkers,” said Council Member Keith Powers.
“Our partners at Rockefeller University and Hospital for Special Surgery have stepped up and done some amazing work in restoring southern sections of the Esplanade. However, major sections of the Esplanade, like the ConEd Site (73rd – 75th Streets), much of the walkway north of 72nd Street, the 107th Street Pier, and large sections of the East Harlem Esplanade still suffer from chronic neglect. We feel the time is right to build on the momentum started by the private sector and encourage both our public and private partners to continue the investment in this vital waterfront public space, “ said Friends of the East River Esplanade member, Jennifer Ratner.
The East River Esplanade runs from 60th to 120th Street between the FDR Drive and the East River. The esplanade grew piecemeal over the course of decades. Portions were created in 1939 and were built on landfill. During the 1980s, existing esplanade was unified and most of the esplanade was built or rebuilt, funded by new development on the East Side of Manhattan. Much of the esplanade is built on landfill or piers, and by the 2000s it had been allowed to deteriorate so badly that sinkholes or potholes dotted the walkway. Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney and Councilwoman Jessica Lappin created a Task Force in 2010 to bring all the parties together to repair and improve the Esplanade. Councilman Ben Kallos now co-chairs the Task Force with the Congresswoman.
The NYC Department of Parks and Recreation recently released a memo detailing funding and progress on the project. As the memo shows, nearly half of the funding for the repair and beautification on the East River Esplanade has been provided by the private sector. Roughly half of the money set aside for the project appropriated for the project has not yet been spent.
In 2012, the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation did a study of the seawall supporting the East River Esplanade and determined that $115 million worth of repairs to the seawall were needed. If these repairs were to be done, the city would have to invest $430 million in completely rebuilding the Esplanade. Some investment in repairs has been made since then, but much of the work has yet to be completed and much of the Esplanade is still in need of seawall repair. The Parks Department has determined that the study severely underestimated the actual costs of repair and a new study is underway.
Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney
Fall 2018 East River Esplanade Report Card
The East River Esplanade runs from 60th to 125th Street between the FDR Drive and the East River. The Esplanade grew piecemeal over the course of decades. Portions were created in 1939 and were built on landfill. During the 1980s, existing portions of Esplanade were integrated into a unified green necklace, funded by new development on the East Side of Manhattan.
Much of the Esplanade is built on landfill or on platforms. By the 2000s, the Esplanade had deteriorated so badly that sinkholes or potholes dotted the walkway. The condition of the supporting infrastructure was so poor that efforts to fix the problems were in vain, since repair material would just collapse for lack of support. Railings were old and rusted, benches were absent or falling apart and plantings died for lack of water. Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney and Councilwoman Jessica Lappin created a Task Force in 2010 to bring all the interested parties together to repair and improve the Esplanade -- the city agencies, the community boards, the elected officials and local community groups. Councilman Ben Kallos now co-chairs the Task Force with the Congresswoman.
In 2013, the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation (the "Parks Department") did a study of the seawall and platforms supporting the Esplanade and determined that $115 million worth of repairs were needed and that if they were not done within the next 10 years, the City would have to invest $430 million in completely rebuilding the Esplanade. Since then, over $110 million has been allocated to the Esplanade from the Mayor, the City Council, the Borough President and the private sector, and more than $50 million has been spent. Some repairs have been completed, but much of the work is yet to be done and large parts of the Esplanade are simply neglected, largely for lack of resources. Unfortunately, the Parks Department subsequently realized that the report grossly underestimated the true extent of the problem and the cost of repairs. A second study is underway to provide more accurate information.
There are bright spots to report -- plans have been drawn up, funds allocated, repairs completed. The comprehensive study of the seawall and the platforms underway will be a major milestone that will establish a benchmark against which to measure progress. In the meantime critical areas have been identified and prioritized, with those portions of the supporting platform most in danger of collapsing being given priority. The Parks Department has repaired virtually all of the sinkholes and potholes that originally led to the creation of the Task Force, but this is merely a superficial and somewhat fruitless effort unless the more substantial subsurface work of repairing the platforms and seawall is completed. Nonetheless, some discreet areas of the Esplanade have been completely redone and landscaped beautifully, and other areas are in the process of being fixed.
While it is gratifying to note that the Parks Department has participated in our Task Force and has accomplished some critical repairs, this project has not received the comprehensive approach or consistent attention it requires. Although the Esplanade is roughly three miles long, less than a third of it has received any real attention, and the most comprehensive work has been done by the private sector. Unfortunately, the areas that have been completed by the private sector hint at what the entire Esplanade could look like and make clear how far it continues to fall short of what it should be. One of the major concerns is that it takes too long for the Parks Department to complete projects. Money is appropriated and then sits for years without being spent. A second major concern is that the Parks Department is not working from a Master Plan. Instead, it has identified critical problems and is working to repair those that are in catastrophic shape. There are no current plans to do anything along much of the Esplanade although these areas have uneven paving stones and a complete lack of landscaping.
Since this is the first report card for a very significant project, there is a lot of room for improvement. It is expected that grades will improve as progress is made.
What’s Been Working
Project Merit – A
The Esplanade is an essential amenity that is in terrible physical shape. The East Side of Manhattan has very limited open space and the Esplanade constitutes a significant portion of the green space in these communities. The 2013 report documenting serious deterioration of the seawall, platforms and supporting pylons, flawed though it may have been, underscored the urgent need for significant investment in the Esplanade. The size and scope of the project is vast and requires concerted attention from the City, elected officials and the community, and significant investment.
Public/Private Partnerships - A
The City, thanks in large part to the intercession of City Councilmember Ben Kallos, has taken advantage of major construction projects being undertaken by institutions like Rockefeller University, Memorial Sloan Kettering, the Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS) and Brearley School to generate investment in the Esplanade. All told, the public/private partnerships have generated roughly $43.7 million for the Esplanade, nearly half the funding available for this project. Rockefeller University and HSS have both undertaken to use their own contractors and have completed their portions of the project. The results give us a sense of what the Esplanade could be.
The Rockefeller University portion of the project included critical repairs to seawall as well as topside landscaping improvements.
Timely Completion of Projects by the Private Sector - A+
The projects undertaken by the private sector have been completed quickly and efficiently. Rockefeller University and HSS fulfilled their promises to the community, and have given us hope that the Esplanade will eventually be transformed into a beautiful and appealing park.
Allocation of Funding - B+
The Mayor, the City Council and the Borough President have all allocated funding to this project, and there is currently over $112.5 million available (including private sector funding). While this level of funding is encouraging, the project is enormous and hundreds of millions of dollars more are needed. Further, $650,000 allocated to the 107th Street pier could be diverted to other projects since the original, limited project, is no longer considered appropriate. The funding provided thus far is just about equal to the amount of money suggested by the 2013 report; however, we now know that much more money is needed. Further, some of the funding included in the total is for Andrew Haswell Green, pedestrian bridges and topside improvements that have nothing to do with fixing the critical below surface problems. The Parks Department has reportedly requested additional funding and we will be working to make sure it is allocated.
What Needs Improvement
Communication with the Public - C+
On the positive side, the Parks Department has been meeting with the Task Force on a semi-regular basis since July 2010. The meetings are informative and important, and progress is being made. Unfortunately, it is extremely difficult for the general public to access information about the project. Unfortunately, the Parks Department has never met its commitment to come to quarterly meetings, and it has been difficult to get updates between meetings. Furthermore, despite having made a request for a report on the funding and status of projects, it took many months for the report to be delivered, and when it was issued, the information was already stale.
The Parks Department's website is also completely uninformative and confusing. The brief information available on the Parks Department's website indicates that there is a project known as East River Esplanade Stabilization and Reconstruction-East 60th-125th Streets, that there was a recent meeting with stakeholders, that design is 5% complete, that the project is supposed to be completed in December 2018 and that more than $10 million has been allocated to the project. While it is not completely clear, this reference likely relates to the $15 million Phase 1. Much of the information on this webpage is outdated and incomplete, and not only is the scope of the project unclear, but there is no indication that this is Phase 1 of a larger project.
The Parks Department is also unclear about what the Esplanade actually is – its website includes (a) a map that shows an indistinct area from about 66th to about 120th Street, (b) text describing it as the area from 90th to 125th Street, (c) a description of the East River Esplanade as an area from 36th to 41st Street and (d) a description of East River Esplanade Stabilization and Reconstruction from 60th to 125th Street. The website should be consistent as to the nature of the Esplanade, what its boundaries are and what features are incorporated into it.
Signage - C-
Better signage is needed at several places along the Esplanade. At the ramp leading to Andrew Haswell Green, there are signs saying “Do Not Enter,” to discourage cars from driving up the ramp, but no signs welcoming pedestrians and alerting them that there is a park at the top of the ramp. Andrew Haswell Green is a great park and should not be kept a secret.
There are no signs at 90th Street warning people that the Esplanade is closed south of the 90th Street pier. A new walkway was built to enable people to walk to the new ferry service on the 90th Street pier, but there is no sign warning people that the southern walkway is closed from 88th-90th, and that if they go to the pier, they will only be able to go uptown using the Esplanade.
Seawall Repair - C-
Although the Parks Department has identified serious concerns with the seawall and the platforms supporting the park, and is making these repairs its main focus, they have yet to present a comprehensive plan to fix all of the problems. The Parks Department is correct to prioritize the areas that are in worst shape, but instead of developing a comprehensive budget and working with the elected officials to ensure that the funding is forthcoming, the Parks Department has allocated the resources it has and is focused on fixing just the problems it has funding to fix. These critical infrastructure repairs need to be a city priority.
Construction Management - C-
Esplanade projects seem to take an inordinate amount of time, particularly those managed by the city. It is true that these are complicated projects and work often has to be coordinated with the tides, but the Parks Department should be able to do a better job of moving projects forward. The Con Ed site has been stalled for a long time. The 107th pier project was delayed so long that the pier was no longer fixable.
Unexpected problems related to the reconstruction of the collapsed stretch of the Esplanade near the 90th Street pier have caused months of delay. Instead of being completed in May 2018, the project will not be finished until Winter 2018/2019.
Timely Completion of Projects by the City - D
The City has completed a number of projects including the first two phases of Andrew Haswell Green, the 81st S treet pedestrian bridge, sinkhole repairs throughout the Esplanade and joint repairs at 90th Street, but many projects take longer than expected or are put on hold for long periods of time. For example, Phase 1 of Andrew Haswell Green began in 2008 and was finished in 2009, and it took six years before Phase 2a was started in the Winter 2015/2016. Design for Phase 2b has only just begun. As mentioned above, the 90th Street collapse was supposed to take just a few months to repair, but has now been extended until this winter because of technical problems. The repairs to the Con Ed site were promised years ago but procurement has only begun recently.
The City has more than $50 million allocated to the Esplanade that is waiting to be spent, with the lion's share allocated to Phase 2b of Andrew Haswell Green and to Phase 2 of the full Esplanade project. Both projects are currently in design. Design for the Andrew Haswell Green project began in 2016 and is not yet complete. Design for the Esplanade Phase 2 began in 2017 and the Parks Department advises that the scope of the project may change, likely resulting in further delays.
There should be reasonable timetables and evidence of an effort to stick to them.
Coordinated Comprehensive Plan - D
By far the most troubling part of this project is the complete absence of a coordinated comprehensive plan. Instead of developing a plan for the entire Esplanade, with a budget and a timetable, the Parks Department has adopted a piecemeal approach in which they fix whatever is most wrong, hoping to finish before the area collapses. This approach has already failed twice, with the collapse at 90th Street and the deterioration of the 107th Street pier. What's worse, while the City has the resources to fix the collapsed area between 88th and 90th Street, the pier is considered too far gone and there are no resources to fix it. There needs to be a plan, with fixed timetables and a properly funded and agreed-upon budget. Without a plan, there may soon be more areas of the Esplanade that, like the 107th Street pier, are in such bad shape that they will have to be closed indefinitely.
Overall Grade – C-
There has been some progress on this project, but overall it has been too slow. The Esplanade needs more resources, more attention, more concrete action. There must be a coordinated comprehensive plan with a timetable that is adhered to. There must be better signage and more information on the Parks Department website. There must be quarterly Task Force meetings. But most of all, there must be more progress in repairing the deteriorating platforms and seawall. The Esplanade can and should be so much more than it is.