East River Esplanade

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Construction site
The Brooklyn Bridge as seen from the East River Esplanade.
The Manhattan Bridge as seen from the East River Esplanade.
Pier 15

The East River Esplanade, also known as the East River Waterfront Project, consists of 2 miles (3 km) along the East River waterfront between the Battery Maritime Building east of Battery Park in Manhattan, New York City, along South Street to Montgomery Street in the Lower East Side. The project aims to rehabilitate the existing waterfront space and connect it to two existing waterfront parks, Battery Park and East River Park. Upon completion in 2015,[1] the East River Esplanade is slated to feature three rebuilt piers (14, 15, and 35) new glass pavilions underneath the elevated FDR Drive, new bike lanes, recreational facilities, and waterfront seating.[2]


The East River waterfront in Lower Manhattan was known for heavy maritime activity, with over 40 piers in operation by the later 1950s.[3] The busy waterfront provided easy access to New York Harbor and the Atlantic Ocean in the south, the Hudson River on the west, with a connection to the Erie Canal. However, the rise of truck traffic and the transfer of port activity to the Port Newark-Elizabeth Marine Terminal drastically reduced maritime traffic on the river after the middle 20th century. With many piers now defunct, ambitious plans have been made to reclaim and reuse the pier space. The north-south arterial highway, the FDR Drive, was moved to an elevated location to allow convenient access to the piers.[4][5] In the 1970s, the Water Street Access Plan was drafted to extend the confines of the traditional Financial District eastward and create a new business corridor along Water Street, south of Fulton Street. Noting the success of the World Financial Center, the East Side Landing plan was created in the 1980s to add commercial and office buildings along the waterfront, again south of Fulton Street, similar to Battery Park City. This plan never materialized.[3]

In 1982, there was a plan to expand the Seaport Museum of New York and attract tourist activity. Parts of the district were devoted to retail, including the main building of the Fulton Fish Market. A modern shopping mall was then built on Pier 17 and was open in September 11, 1985.[6][7][8] Furthermore, the Fulton Fish Market formerly located around South Street and Fulton Street, was pressured to relocate in 2005 to Hunts Point in The Bronx due to plans for the redevelopment of the Manhattan waterfront.

During Michael Bloomberg's tenure as mayor, he spearheaded the PlaNYC 2030 initiative, which highlights projects and plans to transform the city by the year 2030.[9] An important focus was put on the waterfront, including the East River waterfront. Bloomberg also stressed the importance of ferry transport, as an alternative to existing land transport options. The Pier 11/Wall Street ferry terminal has long operated East River waterfront, with regular trips to New Jersey. In June 2011, a ferry service to piers on Brooklyn's waterfront started.

The East River Greenway, a pedestrian and bike path, was established in the late 1990s between Montgomery Street in the Lower East Side and Broad Street in the Financial District. Benches were also added along the partially restored waterfront. The pedestrian path/bikeway has been well received by community members. Drawbacks exist however:[10][11]

  • The pedestrian path and bikeway are not segregated from each other; there is one lane in each direction which is shared by pedestrians and bikers.
  • The path curves around FDR Drive viaduct pillars.
  • The path occupies a narrow portion of the space below the viaduct; in most cases, the rest of the space is used as parking facilities and storage space.
  • Amenities are few.
  • Its legacy as a service and commercial zone offer limited pedestrian access.
  • City services, such as the Department of Sanitation, use the waterfront for equipment.

Planning and construction[edit]

SHoP Architects led the design process in the creation of the East River Esplanade, consulting community members during the planning years between 2002 and 2006. A year-long study was undertaken in 2004, allowing designers to derive ways that would "enhance waterfront access". Other groups critical to the project's planning phase include the New York City Department of Transportation, the Department of Parks and Recreation, the Economic Development Corporation, the Department of City Planning and other agencies and groups. $137 million was secured with the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, and work began on a "pilot section" in 2009 between John Street and Wall Street.[2]

Project description[edit]

According to the Department of City Planning, the overall plan is listed as:[2][1]

  • The esplanade itself: The new esplanade will consist of a recreation zone along the water’s edge with seating and plantings, pavilions under the FDR Drive to support outdoor activities, and a bikeway along South Street that ties into the Manhattan Greenway. Consistent paving, seating, railings, and lighting will be used throughout.
  • Pavilions and “get-downs”: New, proposed pavilions will help reconnect the city to the river’s edge, creating concentrated areas for recreation where appropriate. At Peck Slip and Rutgers Slip, the new esplanade design will mark historic locations by carving steps into the bulkhead line—creating means to “get down” to the water.
  • Archipelago: In order to provide a continuous greenway between Battery Park and the new East River Waterfront, the path between the Battery Maritime Building and Old Slip will be extended over the existing shoreline, creating a walkway out over the water with a of the city.
  • Pier 15: The proposed pier will lift its primary recreation area to a second tier, offering new and intimate views of the tall, historic ships that could be docked in this location.
  • Pier 35: This large pier will be opened to the public with a second tier, which will function as an amphitheater that faces west-southwest toward Governors Island, Brooklyn, Battery Park and the New York Harbor. It is connected to the greenway by a bridge.
  • Sustainability: In keeping with the City’s PlaNYC initiatives, the East River Waterfront project will seek LEED certification for its pavilions and park uses. Plans aim to reduce energy demand and consumption, conserve natural resources, improve air quality, and catch and reuse rainwater water.

The FDR Drive viaduct will be clad, and South Street will be narrowed for much of its length to make room for additional sidewalk space. The glass pavilions will be located underneath the viaduct, and the bike lanes would be moved to the side of the pavilion, underneath the FDR Drive. The piers would be reconstructed to encourage marine growth, by having reef balls to attract fish populations.[12][13]

Access to the Esplanade from the neighboring areas would be undertaken with the redevelopment of "slips" - wedge-shaped road shapes which previously allowed ships to berth. Some of these slips have been used as parking facilities, while others are the southern termini for critical north-south thoroughfares. Reconstructions of the existing slips in the Financial District, the Lower East Side and Chinatown will feature bikeways and landscaped medians. Five of these slip projects are at varying stages of construction. From east to west, they are Montgomery Slip, Rutgers Slip, Pike Slip, Peck Slip, and Burling Slip.[14][15]


The project is being undertaken in 4 phases, with first phase completed (including Pier 15).[16][17] Second phase construction started in summer 2011 (from Old Slip to the Battery Maritime Building).[18] Construction on the third phase (Pike Slip to Pier 35, Montgomery Slip) began in fall 2011. This phase will last until 2014 and will cover the rehabilitation underneath the FDR Drive from Maiden Lane to Pier 35.[19] Planning of Phase 4, between Catherine and Pike Slips, concluded in 2013, and construction is scheduled to start in 2014 and last for about a year.[1]

Storm barrier[edit]

There are plans for a new storm barrier along the southern third of the Manhattan Waterfront Greenway (of which the East River Esplanade is a part), between West 57th and East 42nd Streets.[20][21][22] The final proposal, which is geographically U-shaped, will include many features.[20] Under the elevated FDR Drive structure above South Street will be storm barriers hanging from the viaduct's ceiling, which will drop down in case of a storm.[20] A "Battery Berm" will be located at Battery Park, and a maritime museum will be opened on the site of a former Coast Guard building there.[20] The proposal, by Rebuild by Design, will also include components for storm barriers in Hunts Point, Bronx and on Staten Island.[22]

The first component, a 2.19-mile-long (4 km) barrier on the East River Esplanade in the Lower East Side between Montgomery and East 13th Streets called "The Bridging Berm", will cost $335 million.[23] In addition to storm protection, the berm—the first of three of the barrier's components—will also provide a pedestrian pathway and bikeway on top of berm, boating and fishing docks, a slope down to current sports fields, upgraded ADA-accessible ramps for bridges across the FDR Drive, and construction materials such as "slurry walls, concrete blocks, a compacted embankment, a clay cap, topsoil and salt-tolerant landscaping."[23] The total cost of the project is over $3.5 billion.[24]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "East River Waterfront Study - Department of City Planning". NYC.gov. 2011-07-14. Retrieved 2013-01-09. 
  2. ^ a b c "Lower Manhattan : Envisioning the Future, Looking Ahead — East River Waterfront Redevelopment". LowerManhattan.info. Retrieved 2013-01-09. 
  3. ^ a b "East River Waterfront Study - Department of City Planning". NYC.gov. Retrieved 2013-01-09. 
  4. ^ "Transforming the East River Waterfront", Sec. 2, pg. 14 New York City Department of City Planning
  5. ^ http://www.nyc.gov/html/dcp/pdf/erw/east_river_waterfront_book.pdf
  6. ^ "South Street Seaport - Fordham University". Fordham.edu. Retrieved 2013-01-09. 
  7. ^ Richard F. Shepard, “Seaport Site Opens Today With Fanfare”, New York Times, 28 July 1983
  8. ^ Crystal Nix, “Pier 17 Opens at Seaport With Fanfare Of Trumpets and Fireworks”. New York Times, 12 September 1985. Proquest
  9. ^ "PlaNYC 2030". NYC.gov. Retrieved 2013-01-09. 
  10. ^ "Transforming the East River Waterfront", Sec. 2, pg. 20 New York City Department of City Planning
  11. ^ Dunlap, David W. (August 1, 2002). "Plans for the Neglected East River Shoreline". The New York Times. Retrieved 2012-07-24.
  12. ^ "Transforming the East River Waterfront", Sec. 3, pp. 27-37, New York City Department of City Planning
  13. ^ "Transforming the East River Waterfront", Sec. 4, pp. 39-45, New York City Department of City Planning
  14. ^ "Transforming the East River Waterfront", Sec. 6, pp. 59, New York City Department of City Planning
  15. ^ Dunlap, David W. (March 2, 2005). "Restoring a Missing Link: Lower Manhattan to the East River". The New York Times. Retrieved 2012-07-24.
  16. ^ "Lower Manhattan : News | East River Waterfront Pilot Section Opens". Lowermanhattan.info. 2011-07-15. Retrieved 2013-01-09. 
  17. ^ "Lower Manhattan : News | East River Pier 15 Opens". Lowermanhattan.info. 2011-12-21. Retrieved 2013-01-09. 
  18. ^ "Lower Manhattan : News | East River Waterfront Work Enters Next Phase". Lowermanhattan.info. 2010-08-05. Retrieved 2013-01-09. 
  19. ^ "Lower Manhattan : East River Waterfront". Lowermanhattan.info. 2012-12-07. Retrieved 2013-01-09. 
  20. ^ a b c d "Rebuild by Design – BIG U". Rebuildbydesign.org. Retrieved 2014-06-11. 
  21. ^ BIG Team Final Proposal pdf
  22. ^ a b Beck, Graham T. (2014-04-08). "New York Unveils Dramatic New Storm-Protection Proposals – Next City". Nextcity.org. Retrieved 2014-06-11. 
  23. ^ a b Beck, Graham T. (2014-06-04). "New York’s New $335 Million Storm-Surge Barrier Will Transform the Lower East Side – Next City". Nextcity.org. Retrieved 2014-06-11. 
  24. ^ Rogers, Josh (2011-05-11). "City floats new version of ‘Seaport City,’ but Lower Manhattan committee asks for storm help now". Downtown Express. Retrieved 2014-06-11. 

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