$100 Million for East River Greenway

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With climate change in mind, city announces waterfront expansion; will seek to upgrade portions of path vulnerable to sea-level rise


  • A rendering of the planned expansion of the East River Greenway between East 53rd Street and East 61st Street. Image courtesy of NYC Mayor’s Office

The city’s plan to add eight blocks of waterfront paths to the East River Greenway, announced last week, will account for rising sea levels under new city guidelines. Elsewhere on the East Side riverfront, the mayor’s office is exploring the possibility of raising several stretches of existing esplanade on the East Side riverfront that, according to current forecasts, could be jeopardized in the future by rising water levels.

Both initiatives fit within the city’s larger climate change planning and mitigation efforts on the Upper East Side in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, which extend well beyond the waterfront.

“Sandy, fortunately, didn’t hit Community District 8 in the same way it hit other parts of the city, but it did affect its critical infrastructure and it did affect those things you rely on in an emergency,” Michael Shaikh, deputy director for external affairs with the mayor’s climate policy and programs team, said at an April 27 meeting of Community Board 8’s waterfront committee. On the Upper East Side, he explained, the city has focused on efforts to minimize the disruption of essential services in the case of another Sandy-level event, prioritizing steps like upgrading wastewater treatment plants and moving electrical equipment to the roofs of hospitals and public housing to prevent shutdowns during storm surge conditions. “Resiliency is not about keeping us perfectly dry,” he said. “It is about making sure we can recover quicker from a storm.”

New city infrastructure is also being designed with climate projections in mind. Last week, the office of Mayor Bill de Blasio unveiled preliminary design guidelines mandating that new city construction and improvements to city buildings and infrastructure account for anticipated changes in temperature, precipitation, and sea levels.

These new guidelines will apply to the $100 million initiative to add eight blocks of waterfront esplanade to the East River Greenway below East 61st Street, announced April 25. The project will narrow the largest remaining gaps in Manhattan’s waterfront pathway, which officials hope will one day encircle the island’s entire 32-mile waterfront. The plan calls for the construction of an elevated path raised on pilings over the East River from East 61st Street to East 53rd Street. Once the project is completed, a few gaps East Side greenway will remain, including from 52nd to 41st Streets and at several points in East Harlem. Construction is expected to commence in 2019 and last three years.

North of the planned addition, the city is working to upgrade existing portions of the esplanade put at risk by climate change. The East River esplanade from 62nd Street to 81st Street is included in the first phase of the city’s raised shorelines initiative to mitigate the impact of rising sea levels, announced last year. The city is currently performing studies to identify particularly vulnerable portions of the greenway that will be targeted for design improvements, Shaikh said.

“This is not to protect, necessarily, from storm surge, but it is to account for the sea level rise projections,” he said, noting that the city anticipates sea levels to rise by as much as three to six feet by 2100. “It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when the sea level rises.”

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