FDR Drive dismantling and Manhattan land extension considered in downtown flood plan

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A higher waterfront and a lower freeway may be suggested for Lower Manhattan.

The city has a new proposal to protect the financial district and seaport from future flooding: extend the eastern edge of tip Manhattan up to 188 feet – while raising the shoreline and possibly removing the bridge’s elevated FDR Drive. from Brooklyn on drums.

The city’s economic development corporation plans to reveal a master plan for the FiDi Resilience Project – Seaport – first proposed by Mayor Bill de Blasio in 2019 as a possible 500-foot extension of Lower Manhattan into the harbor – by the end of the year.

The concept developed from a global reflection in the wake of Super Storm Sandy on how to protect the lower parts of the island. In the Financial District, daily high tides are likely to flood the area two to three blocks inland by 2100, according to EDC’s analysis of data from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. By then, coastal storms could rise 18 feet above the current plaza.

And in this section of Manhattan lies a dizzying array of critical infrastructure, both underground and overhead, including subway tunnels, office buildings, homes, and utilities.

“I can’t imagine anywhere in the United States that there is a bigger puzzle in terms of resilience infrastructure,” said Melanie Dupuis, professor of environmental studies and science at Pace University who monitors the project. “If they can solve that one, they can solve everything. They will have to solve it with money and a lot of very innovative engineering.

New FDR Drive offering

EDC will present updates at town halls on Wednesday and Thursday. Prior to that, EDC recently shared new design ideas with a community advisory group that has been meeting privately for months to brainstorm the Seaport-FiDi plan.

At the group’s last meeting on Nov. 4, the agency presented its latest proposal for the nearly mile-long stretch of waterfront on the east side of Lower Manhattan. According to several group members and parts of EDC’s presentation shared with THE CITY, the proposal has evolved significantly since the 2019 announcement.

The vision of an extension of the landfill in the harbor is unlikely to extend 500 feet, but rather will add sections between 90 feet and 188 feet at various points on the current eastern edge of the triangular end of the island.

A rendering by the Economic Development Corporation shows that the FDR Drive elevated highway has been removed from the downtown area.
Obtained by THE CITY

The idea that the new landmass could provide development sites for large new income-generating buildings is also eclipsed. EDC’s current plan includes the possibility of small new one- or two-story structures, but “no larger residential or office buildings,” reads a slide in the Nov. 4 presentation.

A big change could happen to FDR Drive: EDC is considering removing the current elevated highway that runs from the Brooklyn Bridge to The Battery and replacing the section with a street-level causeway.

Elijah Hutchinson, vice president of neighborhood strategies at EDC, stressed that the removal of the freeway is not final.

“We’re not proposing to remove the FDR drive as part of this project, but we are designing it to know if at some future date someone decides that the FDR drive doesn’t need to be there. more as an infrastructure, our project still works, ”he told LA VILLE.

The comprehensive plan is several years and billions of dollars away from becoming reality. EDC is still in discussions with affected parties and must secure funding for the project, whether federal or otherwise.

A member of the advisory group who spoke with THE CITY about the plan on condition of anonymity called it “wishful thinking right now.”

“They are looking at between $ 5 billion and $ 10 billion. They haven’t really evaluated all of this yet, ”he said. “Removing the FDR at this point would cost a lot of money. “

Yet residents of Lower Manhattan that THE CITY spoke to take seriously EDC’s proposal, developed with input from approximately 30 community and resilience advocacy groups, as well as members of community councils. local and elected officials.

For Catherine McVay Hughes, a member of the project’s advisory group, the removal of the elevated highway “is a huge transformational opportunity for the east side.”

“People are very supportive of removing the FDR. We need to invest in sneakers and bikes, ”said McVay Hughes, a resident of the Financial District for over 30 years and former president of Manhattan Community Council 1.“ If we are to move away from a fossil fuel environment, there is is important for giving people the opportunity to walk and cycle safely.

A future of possibilities

For Amy Chester, Managing Director of Rebuild By Design, the Seaport-FiDi plan aligns with other conversations and projects in the county that aim to “reconnect neighborhoods that have been separated from their waterfronts or the neighboring neighborhood.” .

This includes across the East River from Lower Manhattan, where the newly enacted federal infrastructure dollars have renewed talks about the tear-up of the Brooklyn-Queens freeway.

“I think that with the new conversation on the future of BQE has kind of rekindled people’s thinking: what are the possibilities across the city for the future? ” she said.

Aixa Torres, longtime tenant leader of Smith Houses on the Lower East Side and a member of the Resilience Project Advisory Group, is more skeptical.

She is concerned that the removal of part of the elevated freeway will flood the streets around the Smith Houses, located next to the freeway just north of the Brooklyn Bridge, with vehicles.

“We’re going to have all this traffic,” she said. “I mean, it’s bad enough that we get the fumes from the FDR drive that’s elevated, and then from the bridge. But then if you bring it back to our level, you know, it’s just crazy. “

An artist's rendering of what the Resilience Project might look like for the East Side of Lower Manhattan.

An artist’s rendering of what the Resilience Project might look like for the East Side of Lower Manhattan.
Courtesy of NYCEDC

According to state Department of Transportation data, the average amount of traffic on the route between the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel and the Brooklyn Bridge was 50,926 vehicles per day in 2019, the latest year for which data is available. .

That’s a lot of wheels. But compared to other sections of the FDR, the total traffic is low.

Just north on the freeway, between the Brooklyn Bridge and East Houston Street, average daily traffic was 136,765 vehicles in 2019, according to DOT data. Between East Houston and East 23rd Street, the average daily traffic brought in 125,622 vehicles in the same year.

Bruce Schaller, transport consultant and former deputy traffic and planning commissioner at the city’s DOT, said the southernmost section of FDR Drive is “an important link” in the regional travel system of the city. city ​​- but recognized that it is larger than necessary.

“It’s way too overbuilt right now,” he said, while adding that he will be affected in the future by possible changes to the BQE, as well as congestion pricing.

If the city were to bring the FDR to a level roadway, it would have to find a way to slow traffic and allow pedestrians to cross safely to access the waterfront.

Slips slide

The most recent version of EDC’s plan is the result of at least two years of work to gather input from New Yorkers on the Resilience Project and consider options for the narrow strip of waterfront. which is a prime target for more extreme weather conditions caused by climate change. .

Much of the financial district itself is already built on landfills. Water and Pearl streets once ran along the waterfront; the various “briefs” – Pike Slip, Rutgers Slip, Peck Slip – refer to the names of the docks of the colonial era.

Today, the low-lying neighborhood is home to some of the city’s densest real estate and waterfront infrastructure: the Staten Island and Governors Island ferry terminals, the Lower Manhattan Heliport, and the platforms 11, 15, 16 and 17.

A first iteration of the plan proposes to rebuild the Whitehall ferry terminal, create a new terminal for the Governor’s Island ferry, and preserve the Battery Maritime Building without ferry slips.

The plan could also include the reconstruction of Jetties 15 and 16. A new helipad and Jetty 11 for ferries would be built on new structures above the water.

The coastal infrastructure built would include a series of flood gates and walls, including at Pier 17 at South Street Seaport. The new design could raise the ground up to 18 feet higher to the highest level.

For McVay Hughes, the job couldn’t come quickly enough. She implored local, state and federal leaders to act quickly to complete the design and lock in funding.

“We have to put a shovel in the ground,” she said.

“Critical for a resilient NYC”

Several locals involved in the community advisory group expressed cautious optimism about the planning process. In particular, those involved seemed relieved and encouraged that EDC had abandoned the idea of ​​including development sites on the possible extension of the coastline.

“It’s not Seaport City,” said a downtown resident familiar with the latest proposals, referring to the Bloomberg-era concept for a new neighborhood built on the East River.

This idea, also launched at the tail of a municipal administration, never saw the light of day. Whether Seaport-FiDi’s current proposal sinks or swims depends on who carries it beyond Blasio’s administration.

FDR Drive is illuminated near the Battery Maritime Building on November 12, 2021.

FDR Drive near the Battery Maritime Building, November 12, 2021.
Hiram Alejandro Durán / THE CITY

“The history of the seafront is the history of town halls. All the mayors wanted to leave their mark on the water’s edge, ”said Dupuis. “What kind of brand is [Mayor-elect Eric] Adams will do?

In his own waterfront and resilience plan unveiled in September, Adams emphasized “working[ing] with the state and federal government to fully fund the missing areas of Lower Manhattan’s Resilience Plans ”as a priority for the administration.

“Securing this area is more than just these two neighborhoods,” Hutchinson said. “It’s really essential to have a resilient New York City as a whole. “


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