OPINION: A Green New Deal for the Lower East Side and East Village

The F.D.R. Drive, looking north from the Sixth St. pedestrian overpass, with East River Park on the right. (Photo by Jim Henderson via Wikipedia)

BY HOWARD BRANDSTEIN | The coastal resiliency problem we are facing is precipitated by decades of decisions that did not address the core cause and problem. We should take this opportunity to act in a new direction that can address them.

Over the past 10 years New York City has spent more than $150 million to renovate East River Park. The city now proposes to spend $1.5 billion to bulldoze the entire East River Park and raise the level of the coastline from Montgomery to 23rd Sts. by 8 to 10 feet to prevent flooding in Lower East Side and East Village neighborhoods. A new park would be built on top of this dirt pile.

The city’s plan, however, is wholly inadequate to deal with the environmental crisis confronting us since it utterly fails to address the root cause of the problem: Why are sea levels rising?

One need only observe the F.D.R. Drive adjacent to the park to witness the scope of the problem: thousands and thousands of cars polluting our environment 24/7 and wrecking our climate system with their relentless emission of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the transportation sector is the single largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions at 29 percent of the total. If nothing is done quickly to forestall and reverse this reality, no amount of dirt can be piled high enough to protect our communities from flooding. The time to act is now lest we end up with a massive billion-dollar shrine to the automobile and fossil fuel industry.

Robert Moses designed the F.D.R. Drive as an integral element in a new vision for New York. But this extravagant vision of a car city is a dead end for our 21st-century climate crisis. The F.D.R. Drive provides six lanes of highway for an endless stream of noisy gas-guzzling cars that carry an average of only two occupants per car.

In the midst of a climate emergency, why should we continue to enable this extravagance with six lanes of under-occupied polluting vehicles?

At the same time the residents of New York City Housing Authority and other developments along the F.D.R. Drive live in a transit desert with limited bus service and subways too distant for easy access. It is time to replace car lanes with dedicated bus lanes on the F.D.R. Drive and put the residents of our communities first by providing clean, quiet, nonpolluting electric buses to speed riders Downtown and Uptown on the Drive.

By substituting electric buses for cars, we will be able to shrink the F.D.R. Drive from six lanes to three lanes and provide the needed room to build a floodwall without interfering with Con Edison’s utility lines — one of the city’s primary objections to the earlier community resiliency plan.

The community’s earlier plan calls for decking over the F.D.R. Drive and expanding East River Park. By shrinking the F.D.R. Drive and introducing nonpolluting electric buses, this becomes even more feasible since the issue of ventilating noxious fumes is eliminated. The construction of the floodwall or berm also becomes feasible in or along the F.D.R. Drive by shrinking the number of lanes from six to three.

The city in arguing for its plan has also claimed that the current East River Park is unsuitable to act as a floodplain in the event of a storm surge since there is too much artificial turf on ball fields that do not absorb water. Let’s then remove the artificial turf and restore the soil and grass. This will be a bonus for the insects, birds and other wildlife that are under threat because of climate change.

The additional cost in maintaining natural grass as opposed to artificial turf is more than offset by the savings in the community plan.

Finally, it should be pointed out that the city’s plan requires an alienation-of-parkland request to New York State since the project requires state oversight. The city has failed to make this request.

A plan that fuses together resiliency, sustainability and transportation equity is the essence of a Green New Deal for Community Board 3. The community’s earlier plan together with the transportation and other elements described above can also be a model for many shoreline communities in New York City.

Time is short. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change tells us we have about 10 years to make dramatic reductions in greenhouse gas emissions or face dire consequences. We have the opportunity now to do something that will have a real impact on climate change and flood protection. It will not happen without us and without a new vision for New York in the 21st century.

Now is the time to seize this opportunity to implement a real plan for survival. If we fail to act, a degraded nature will implement its plan, and we are sure not to like it.

Brandstein is executive director of Sixth Street Community Center in the East Village.

10 Responses to OPINION: A Green New Deal for the Lower East Side and East Village

  1. I agree with everything you wrote and also would like to add that the air pollution, noise pollution and stress that are imposed by the cars driving on the FDR Drive are not servicing the communities who live next to the road: 75% of us don’t own motor vehicles. The FDR Drive is a Passenger Car Only road: trucks cannot deliver goods to the neighborhood and because it is so congested Emergency Vehicles cannot travel fast enough on it.
    The FDR Drive benefits the few at the expense of the many.

  2. Great ideas! The city’s plan is environmentally destructive and will only help to speed climate change. Tell the city we need a better plan. Come to a March and Protest Saturday, Sept. 21, to Save East River Park. Meet at Tompkins Square Park at noon, march through the streets to East River Park, and rally at the labyrinth (between the Houston and Delancey St. bridges). Bury the Plan, Not the Park!

  3. Bury the FDR, not the park!

    • You can’t because if you remove the FDR you will flood all of the local streets in Manhattan with each day with tens of thousands of extra cars each day.

      All those cars coming off the bridges along the east river, guest now were they are going to go?

      They will be coming right through Ave D, C, B and A
      1 or 2 cars breakdown anywhere in Manhattan after shutting the FDR and you shutdown the island for hours…and that’s not counting emergencyso like fires or water main breaks.

  4. Pie in the sky. I live on fdr dr. I wish they’d bury it. Yes it’s mostly 1 person in 1 car. Consider also that congestion pricing is gonna fling many more vehicles onto fdr.

  5. Even if the entirety of not just the LES, but all of NYC, no… all of the United States, did EVERYTHING you suggested; the rest of the world, including China and Russia, would still pollute and water levels will still rise. So whilst placing a water mitigation system may seem to be a stop gap measure, it is at least one that can be controlled locally.

  6. Let’s Do It!
    This is the time to be brave enough to embrace visionary, bold answers to our present day crisis. We have to shut down access to reduce cars. Implement congestion pricing, invest in mass transit, redesign our streets NOW!!!

    If you remove 3 lanes of the FDR you will have 1 lane going north and 1 lane going south, what the 3rd lane for then ?

    If 1 car breaks down you just shut down the entire FDR in one direction.

    If you get rid of FDR car travel and replace it with electric busses, you don’t have enough passengers to sustain such a service just for a few people and thereby diverting tens of thousands of cars into the streets of Manhattan.

    Put this way, when the President comes to the city and has to use the FDR , all that traffic floods into Manhattan. And that’s just for a few hours.

    Now imagine that on a daily basis and that’s without adding the thousands of taxi cabs and that’s without including water main breaks, fires, car accidents and winter blizzards.

    Oh and for those who say to redesign the streets…well you can’t because people live on those streets so you can’t start tearing down buildings and making people homeless to accommodate transportation.

    Investing in mass transit, only thing you can do is to add more trains so that they are literally 5 to 10 minutes apart and the same with busses but making all the busses electric.

    You can also extend the rail lines to reach into parts of the city were people need to take a bus just to get to the train.

  8. Bury the plan, not the park! I went to the Proposed Action Plan Amendment Hearing last night—not a single person from the community and community organizations spoke in favor of burying the park. The FDR is a Robert Moses, cars-first legacy. Cars are not the future. Go back to Plan 3, and deck the FDR. That’s what the community worked on for 5 years, before the city, without transparency, decided to bury the park.

  9. Makes too much sense, the council member will never listen to it.

    This point is not accurate-“The additional cost in maintaining natural grass as opposed to artificial turf is more than offset by the savings in the community plan.”

    The capital cost of installing and then later removing and having to replace work astroturf is not in the medium and long run less expensive than just maintaining natural grass.

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