A Compromise on Uptown Walkway Plan

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 Further compromise was made at the latest presentation of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Contract II for oceanside protection. After an issue of a concrete walkway proposed between Beach 126th and Beach 149th became a point of contention, USACE, the NYC Parks Department and the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation proposed a new solution during a virtual Community Board 14 Parks & Public Safety Committee meeting on Thursday, September 23, and obtained feedback on other concerns.

Last Thursday, representatives from USACE, NYC Parks, NYSDEC and other city agencies met with the CB14 Parks and Public Safety Committee to discuss Contract II, which the committee first heard and approved in June. After that approval, the community raised issues with specific aspects of the plan, particularly in the area of Neponsit and Belle Harbor. The major point of contention was a proposed five-foot wide concrete walkway along the baffle walls uptown. Local civics caught wind of the proposal and requested feedback from property owners in the area, who were overwhelmingly against the walkway, as well as four large ADA-compliant crossover structures that were presented. Thursday’s meeting was an opportunity for the agencies to provide updates on the plan, explain why certain things are being done, and to acquire feedback for more possible changes.

USACE Project Manager Dan Falt started off the meeting by presenting a general overview of Contract II, which will include a steel and rock reinforced dune across the entire length of the beach, several million cubic yards of sand replenishment, plus the variety of crossovers that will be needed along the beach to ensure there is ADA compliant accessibility over the new dunes which will be about 18 feet high. In the boardwalk-less neighborhoods of Neponsit and Belle Harbor, eight large ADA ramp structures were originally proposed. Since these structures are so massive, the planners reduced this to four ramps, but with a walkway that would connect Beach 126th to Beach 149th so those with disabilities would have easier access to these structures.

Originally proposed as a concrete pathway, this raised alarm as residents feared it would turn into a speedway for bicyclists and other vehicles, creating a safety issue right at the entrance points to the beach, plus a concern that a concrete structure would cause damage to homes if another Hurricane Sandy were to occur.

With these issues in mind, the agencies behind the plan went back to the drawing board and NYC Parks Deputy Commissioner Liam Kavanagh presented a compromise. “We are proposing to eliminate the concrete walkway and replace it with a mobimat walkway aligned with the baffle wall,” Kavanagh said. The idea behind this is that the rougher surface of the mobimat would deter people from riding bikes, scooters and other vehicles along them, while still being accessible to those with disabilities. The mobimat would also be situated around the beach block corrals, creating four turns around each beach entrance, which would also deter anyone from trying to speed along these mats. The mobimat would also reduce the hazards posed by big storms.

As far as the ADA ramp crossovers are concerned, there weren’t alternatives given, but rather explanations for why these large, elevated, zig-zagged structures are part of the plan. As this is a project that involves state, city and federal agencies, it must follow requirements from each. ADA structures are required, particularly ones that are elevated above the sand, so a flat mobimat cannot be the only crossover option for every beach. Victor Calise, Commissioner of the NYC Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities, who brought mobimats to NYC Parks facilities, was on the call to explain why the plan, which uses federal funding, must be ADA compliant. He said the plan as proposed, meets all requirements. “This project is accessible and it’s something we have to adhere to,” Calise said.

Leaders of local civic associations in the area were given the opportunity to chime in. Paul King, president of the Belle Harbor Property Owners Association, thanked Kavanagh for the new mobimat walkway proposal to address safety concerns, but said he didn’t want to provide feedback on the designs without consulting with the community first. He did mention that the BHPOA sent alternative ramp designs to Falt and said, “We hope you look at other ramp designs.”

Amanda Agoglia, president of the Neponsit Property Owners Association, said she was happy with the walkway design and would also bring it back to local residents for feedback. However, she also took issue with the ramps, pointing out the ramp around Beach 92nd Street, which in recent years has turned more into a pier due to severe erosion. “Our issue is should the ramps not work and be a hard structure unable to be moved, we’re going to wind up with this situation like the ramps downtown that lead into the ocean or high above the sand where a handicapped person could not come off of the ramp. We need to find a better solution for our area,” Agoglia said. She suggested exploring more mobile ramp options.

Harold Paez, leader of the Rockaway Civic Association, agreed that ADA compliant structures are needed, but addressed the size and scale of the proposed ramps and suggested a more circular curve design rather than steep angles.

The conversation was then opened to committee members. Dolores Orr asked if any extra funding was dedicated to the maintenance of such ramps. Kavanagh said there is no additional budget at this time, but a request will be put in for the next fiscal year. “I can’t guarantee we’ll receive additional funds for maintenance,” Kavanagh said.

To ensure that bikes, scooters and other vehicles do not use any proposed walkway, even if a mobimat, Brian Heffernan suggested that clear signage be posted, strictly prohibiting such vehicles from using the walkway.

In an impassioned speech, committee member Mark Anaya picked up on Agoglia’s point and called out the Parks Department for not maintaining the ramp on Beach 92nd Street. “This ramp has been like that for seven years and they didn’t do anything about it. They could care less,” Anaya said. He also suggested that instead of four ramps that there be two instead. “We have a committee of handicapped people who say they’re against these ramps. They’re almost a football field length to get on the beach and we know what it’s going to look like after a winter storm, so we’re asking you to save the money and give us better mobimats,” Anaya said. He also suggested that any ramp structures should follow the design of the natural-looking ramps used in Point Lookout. However, Anaya ended by urging the committee to not vote for the plan as is. “Please vote this thing down so we can get them to negotiate with us,” he said. Committee chair Jose Velez explained that there would be no vote at the end of this meeting.

Kavanagh closed by saying they are open to more changes. “We’re listening and we hope to arrive at a plan that people can support, even if it’s not what they envision for the beach. But we are committed to working with the civic associations and others as we develop this plan.”

 By Katie McFadden

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