Pedestrians: Consider Safety This Time on 81st Street Bridge

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By Sean Creamer

The dilapidated footbridge passing over the FDR Drive from East 81st Street to Carl Schurz Park has seen better days. Crumbling supports, steep stairs and discolored cement characterize this footpath built in the 1940s.

The bridge is currently under close scrutiny by local Community Board 8 and the Department of Designs and Construction as the entities work toward an estimated $10 million overhaul of the bridge.

The current design calls for a two-block-long ramp, 10 feet wide, which would replace the eroded stairs currently connecting the walk along the water. Another facet of the project is the addition of accessible ramps to replace the stairs on 81st Street that bar access to the promenade to mothers with baby carriages and those in wheelchairs, according to Craig Chin, public information officer of the Department of Design and Construction, which is responsible for the 81st Street bridge.

The design is raising eyebrows among some Upper East Siders who are worried that the reconstructed bridge will have similar issues to the 78th Street bridge just a few blocks south. The recently rebuilt bridge on 78th Street is shared by cyclists and pedestrians, and that has created safety issues, according to some locals.

"Some people fly through here and have no respect for anyone else," said Michael Thompson, a writer who lives on the Upper East Side. "If I was a mother with a baby carriage, I would feel in danger."

Community Board 8 has since passed a resolution to post signs on the 78th Street bridge that ask bikers to walk their bikes when crossing the compacted path.

While the Community Board struggles with freewheeling bikers on the 78th Street bridge, they want to make sure the 81st Street bridge doesn't have the same problems.

"The 81st Street bridge is a barrier-free space," said Chin. "This means that the bridge is open to use by dog walkers, pedestrians and cyclists."

Chuck Warren, the co-chair of the CB8 transportation committee, said that the design phase of the 81st Street bridge has been going on for several years. The first design was released in 2008 and the Board did not approve it because it was clunky and "stuck out in an ugly way."

The Board has yet to take a stance on the current design released by the Department of Construction and Design, according to Nicholas Viest, CB8 chairman.

Warren feels there should be signs posted to raise awareness for bikers that the bridge is shared, telling them to exercise caution when using it.

"The park and bridge should be open to cyclists just so long as they follow the rules and respect pedestrians," said Jim, a resident of the Upper East Side who declined to give his last name. "If they drive up here at a slower pace, I would have no problems with them."

The bridge is currently expected to take 18 months to complete.

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