Walking on Water

John Hill
8. January 2024
All photographs by John Hill/World-Architects

Technically, the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) and NYC Department of Parks & Recreation opened the East Midtown Greenway and Phase 2B of Andrew Haswell Green Park on December 19, 2023. Together, the two pieces include a park, a pedestrian walkway, a pedestrian bridge, and a bike lane. The walkway and bike lane sit on an in-water concrete structure that is connected to Manhattan via a pedestrian bridge on the south, at 54th Street, and Haswell Green Park on the north. In essence, the new structure is like a highway ramp, but one that serves pedestrians and bicyclists, not cars, on parallel paths that themselves parallel the much loathed but even more frequented FDR Drive. While other stretches of the East River have allowed for the incorporation of portions of the wider 32-mile greenway network east of FDR Drive, the roadway's path beneath apartment buildings and elevated parks in the Sutton Place neighborhood, spanning from 54th to 58th Streets, meant a new structure was necessary — at the cost of more than $100 million.

Looking south at the East Midtown Greenway from the elevated Sutton Park.
Looking north from 54th Street, with apartment buildings above the FDR Drive on the left and the new East River Greenway on the right.

Basically, the East Midtown Greenway consists of two halves: 20-foot-wide bike lanes on the west and the equally wide pedestrian walkway on the east; the latter also includes a planted median with native trees, shrubs and plants, and occasional benches. The bike lanes have smooth, light-colored pavement that pitches toward a trench drain along the railing, such that rainwater collected by it travels from the drain to the planted median, where the soil filters the water before it drains into the river. The pedestrian walkway has hexagonal pavers that incorporate Diatom Lace by artist Stacy Levy, an art installation that expresses the "intricate architecture" of the microscopic organisms found throughout the East River: thousands in a single teaspoon of its water.

Some portions of the Greenway have the bike lanes and pedestrian walkway at the same elevation, creating crossover points, while others, like here, keep the walkway at a lower level.
Stacy Levy's Diatom Lace is incorporated into the hexagonal pavers sporadically along the Greenway.

Perhaps the greatest skill in the design by Stantec is how comfortable the Greenway is as a public space, regardless of the fact it was created to move people along a network, is more engineering than architecture, and closely parallels a busy six-lane road. The planted median creates a physical and auditory buffer for pedestrians, while the benches invite them to sit down and take in views of Roosevelt Island, the Queensboro Bridge, parts of Queens and Brooklyn, and ferries and other boats plowing up and down the East River. Easy to get to via the pedestrian bridge at 54th Street and the steps/ramps at 61st Street, the pedestrian walkway is, much like the High Line — if not as elaborately designed as that famous park— conducive to a leisurely stroll.

The pedestrian bridge at 54th Street.
Andrew Haswell Green Park at 61st Street, just north of the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge; the elevated section features a steel artwork by Alice Aycock that has been in place since 1995.

On the morning of our visit to the project last week, it was sunny but freezing, less-than-ideal weather for experiencing a new park and promenade. Even though our photos might not indicate it, the Greenway nevertheless was traversed by quite a few joggers, dog walkers, and others on foot — very few bicyclists but many more pedestrians than would be expected given the conditions. It begged the question: Why did NYCEDC and Parks open an expensive piece of pedestrian infrastructure one week before Christmas, when it would hardly be picked up by news outlets and therefore fail to register with the public, and when it would get very little use compared to warmer months? Perhaps it's because the project has been in the works since 2008, per NYCEDC, so it's best to get it done and open regardless of the time of year. Whatever the case, this new public space perched above the water is clearly an amenity for locals, and one that will be appreciated by many more people once the warmer months return.

Looking south at the Greenway from the Aycock sculpture.
Project: East Midtown Greenway and Phase 2B of Andrew Haswell Green Park, 2023
Location: New York, NY, USA
Client: New York City Economic Development Corporation, New York City Department of Parks & Recreation
Architect: Stantec
Contractor: Skanska

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