Letter: Preserving the Rector Street Bridge

To the Editor:

I would like to take this opportunity to report progress on saving the Rector Street Bridge to the Battery Park City Community. 

We now have over 1,800 signatures and a letter from Margaret Chin; the steps of the bridge are repainted and the elevator is running consistently.

There are many questions that remain unanswered about the origins of conflicting misunderstandings over the Rector Street Bridge. Why were two bridges proposed at once in the first place? Why, in 2002, was one declared “temporary” and the other not? When the Rector Bridge was completed, and for the succeeding 17 years, was there any public signage or announcement to users that it would be “temporary”? Who decided that West Thames location, backed into a dingy garage, was more vital for the long term than the more obviously prominent Rector Street with its very practical subway, work and community connections? All this, long before, the gardens, basketball courts or move-in of Metropolitan College were even imagined (Tom Goodkind lobbied for years for tennis).

How was the Rector Bridge completed for $3.5 million in 2002, and the nearby Morris Street Bridge demolished and completed for $4 million in less than 6 months? Why was the initial estimate for the West Thames Bridge $18 million or more than 5 times more than the Rector Bridge over the same thoroughfare? Why did it take over 17 years from planning to completion for the Thames Bridge? Why was the cost of Thames permitted to expand to $45.5 million? Who approved these increases of public cost? Why were there no penalties for time or cost over-runs? Why should it cost $5.5 million to demolish Rector Street Bridge rather than applying a similar amount for restoration?

If the Thames Street Bridge were never completed, would the Rector Bridge have been sustained indefinitely? After more than 17 years of operation, had not the Rector Bridge earned its place as a community asset? If we now know that a quiet August afternoon on the bridge averages more than 200 crossings per hour and more than 1,800 local residents offered their signatures on petitions in support of the bridge, are these not an objective statement of need? 

Although the original West Thames proposal mentions “outreach,” there was no consideration of the users of the Rector Street Bridge. Could it be that West Thames cannot be a replacement of, but rather a safety addition to the Rector Bridge? In a survey taken in July 2019, 69.5% of bridge users had no idea that demolition was being planned. Was there no effort to inform the public of the planning for their asset whatsoever?

Recently a survey established that 98.9% of users regard crossing the street at Albany as dangerous, yet 82.8% of them would cross at Albany despite the danger rather than using the West Thames Bridge. Is not public safety a basic reason for community boards, the EDC, the BPCA, the DOT? And also listening? Are they not responsible for proper public outreach and information? When Council Member Chin calls for community engagement, aren’t 1,800 user signatures the foundation of what she means? 

We still do not know why Rector Bridge was ever considered “temporary,” especially after 17 years of direct public service. It was certainly not announced as such at its formal launch. It has become a working symbol of effective public safety and New-York-necessary-personal convenience… and it is a picture of the voice of community democracy.

If you want to keep crossing the Rector Street Bridge, you can make you voice heard by writing to the Economic Development Corporation (wfisher@edc.nyc), the Battery Park City Authority (info.bpc@bpca.ny.gov), and Manhattan Community Board One (man01@cb.nyc.gov) –– Or you can write Letters to the Editors of our local journals.

Bob Schneck