Temporary Roadway for Cars May Be Transformed Into Permanent Refuge From Them

December 28, 2006 at 2:30 am Leave a comment

Don Hogan Charles/The New York Times

Looking south near the F. D. R. Drive at the outboard detour. It may be used for pedestrian and bicycle paths.

A temporary detour route on the Franklin D. Roosevelt Drive that extends 25 feet over the East River would be remodeled into a waterfront park under a plan being studied by the Bloomberg administration.


The New York Times

Large ships passing beside the detour are required to use tugboats.

The Outboard Detour Roadway, completed in 2004 from roughly 54th to 63rd Street while that section of the drive was being refurbished, had been scheduled to be dismantled last month. Now, though, city officials are pressing to use the abandoned 2,500-foot strip of roadway to extend the esplanade around Manhattan to a portion of waterfront currently inaccessible to pedestrians and cyclists.

The plan, in its very early stages, calls for demolishing all but the roadway’s westernmost underwater support beams and building a new structure that would not extend as far over the river.

The new park would probably be at most 20 feet wide, city officials said, enough room for bicycle lanes and a narrow pedestrian walkway. Advocates say the result would be akin to the High Line park being developed out of an abandoned elevated railway line on the West Side, although it would be much smaller, and over water.

“It is on the water, it is already built, and we would like to have a nice bikeway, a nice walkway that would connect to the rest of the esplanade,” said Lyle Frank, chairman of the local community board. “This is a tremendous opportunity to do it.”

The plan faces substantial obstacles. The Coast Guard and the Army Corps of Engineers have expressed concern that the design would interfere with shipping traffic, and the State Department of Environmental Conservation has voiced fears that the park would disturb fish habitats because of the permanent shadow it would cast on the water.

“It’s something we are very interested in, but a lot more work has to be done to make sure it is feasible,” said Daniel L. Doctoroff, the deputy mayor for economic development. “We’re trying to find as many creative ways as we can to give people access to the waterfront.”

The Bloomberg administration has made it a priority to complete an uninterrupted greenway around the waterfront of the five boroughs, particularly in Manhattan. While there is generally contiguous riverfront access along the West Side except for a stretch from approximately 81st to 91st Street, there are several significant gaps on the East River esplanade. Among them are the Consolidated Edison site from 34th to 41st Street and the United Nations headquarters at 42nd Street.

The site of the proposed park also lacks waterfront access because the F. D. R. Drive extends to the river there.

When a plan to refurbish the drive was proposed in the 1990s, some residents of the adjacent neighborhood worried that vehicles seeking to avoid highway delays would clog its streets, creating noise and safety problems.

Because the drive, which carries about 150,000 vehicles daily, is among the city’s busiest arteries, state and city officials ruled out closing a heavily used section of the highway for several years of repairs or even blocking off a few lanes at a time for weekend and night work.

Instead, the Outboard Detour Roadway was designed. The detour, which cost $139 million in federal money, is essentially a bridge built parallel to the existing F.D.R. Drive. The section from 53rd to 60th Street alone, which is entirely over the river, cost about $40 million to construct.

Because the detour extended so far over the river — which at that point is particularly turbulent and only about 800 feet wide — engineers had to figure out how to ensure that the 2,100 vessels a year that pass through that stretch of water would not strike the roadway.

So they designed a system of floating guardrails held in place by four anchors drilled into the bottom of the river, some as deep as 120 feet below the surface.

The anchors are secured to one another by a heavy chain with links that weigh more than 150 pounds each. They keep the system in place during changing tides and currents, which moved water levels up and down by as much as six feet a day during construction. For the last two years, even with that safeguard in place, large ships have been required to have tugboats help them navigate that stretch of river.

When the detour was completed in 2004, it won engineering awards for its innovation.

Now, even as sections of the detour are being dismantled to allow ship traffic unimpeded access in the river, advocates for a new esplanade are wondering whether spending the estimated $50 million it would cost to build a base for a park would make sense.

“We have to decide if the structure is worth the cost,” Mr. Doctoroff said. “It is too early to give odds, but if I could give odds — outside of cost — based only on our desire, they’d be pretty high.”

“But,” he added, “desire is not the only factor involved.”

NEW YORK TIMES

Published: December 26, 2006

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