An 'Only If' Is Added to CB1 Committee Support for Taking Down Bridge

At Transportation Committee meeting, attended by residents opposed to demolition of the Rector Street Bridge, Robert Schneck makes a plea for reversing Community Board 1's long-held position that the bridge can come down. Photo: Carl Glassman/Tribeca Trib

Jan. 08, 2020

Update 1/17/20: Demolition of the bridge has begun.

Days before the Rector Street Bridge was due to be demolished, Battery Park City residents who use the span to cross West Street packed a Community Board 1 committee room to appeal for a reprieve. The emotional two-hour discussion on Tuesday was the climax to a six-month petitioning campaign by CB1 member Robert Schneck to save the 17-year-old “temporary” bridge that city and state officials have long insisted must come down. 

Schneck had collected nearly 3,000 signatures of support.

A draft resolution before the Transportation Committee restated the board’s longstanding approval of the demolition once the West Thames Street Bridge, two blocks south, opened up. But Schneck and his allies weren’t having it.

“The bridge is there so I don’t understand why you want to take it down,” said Jonathan Jossen. “If you have to walk all the way down to West Thames, that makes absolutely no sense for somebody on Rector Street.”

“Make sure people have a safe way to go home,” urged Don Lee.

“All these people are here because the bridge is important to them. And it really matters in their life,” Schneck said. “We should look at this as a problem solving situation, work together as much as possible to preserve the bridge as long as possible.”

Schneck has long argued that rather than walk the two blocks south to cross the new West Thames Street Bridge, many people will choose to cross the eight West Street lanes at nearby Albany Street. 

“We’re throwing people into the stream of traffic rather than protecting them,” Schneck said, adding, “The community board’s job is to respond to the people.”

“It has been explained why that location does not work,” replied committee chair Betty Kay, who noted that officials directly involved with the bridge had appeard at a November committee meeting to explain their position. 

“But it worked for 17 years,” Schneck said.

“And that was very lucky,” Kay replied. “People should be glad about it.”

Officials cite multiple reasons why the bridge can’t remain in place, chief among them, they say, is that it stands too close to the Metropolitan College of New York’s fire exit at 60 West St.; and a footing of the bridge is above vital underground utilities, making them inaccessible. In addition, once the ramp is gone on the west side, the community gardens and basketball courts can be expanded.

The Rector Street Bridge went up in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, a temporary substitute for the badly damaged Liberty Street Bridge and destroyed bridge at Vesey Street. Scuttled plans, interagency squabbles and ballooning costs plagued the construction of the West Thames Street Bridge for years, leaving the Rector Street Bridge in place far longer than expected. At the time that repairs to the bridge were made in 2007, its lifespan was estimated at five years, 10 years at the most, said Battery Park City Authority spokesman Nick Sbordone.

But some in the room questioned why a bridge that has continued to function for so many years, without meeting code requirements, should now be removed.

“Let’s be clear, 9/11 happened and the bridge was put up. No one was handed a waiver,” said Douglas Adams from the Mayor’s Office of Capital Project Development. “The Rector Street bridge was put in and a bunch of stuff was ignored. But we can’t ignore it forever.”

While not agreeing to change their position on taking down the bridge, the committee reached a compromise—passed 5 to 2, with one abstention—that calls for a halt to the demolition until the Albany Street crossing is made safer. “We want the [Department of Transportation], the Battery Park City Authority and retail and corporate partners to fund pedestrian managers at Albany and West Street. Period,” said committee member Tammy Meltzer. 

“There’s no way to get that done in a few days,” noted fellow member Mitchell Frohman.

“I don’t know,” Meltzer replied. “They say anything can happen.”

Councilwoman Margaret Chin, who supports the effort to keep the bridge open, has asked Gov. Andrew Cuomo to intervene, but has so far received no response. Spokespeople for the State Department of Transportation and the governor’s office did not respond to the Trib’s requests for comment.

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