West 79th Street Rotunda in Riverside Park to Get A Refresh


Photo via NYC Parks. Photographer: Malcolm Pinckney.

By Alex Israel

The West 79th St Rotunda Complex, a traffic circle that sits atop the Boat Basin Cafe and a pedestrian path into Riverside Park — is getting rehabilitated.

During a joint Community Board 7 Parks & Environment and Transportation Committee Meeting, the NYC Department of Transportation provided an update on plans to rehabilitate the rotunda and bridge over Amtrak in Riverside Park.

The Rotunda was built in 1936 and is owned by the Department of Parks & Recreation (DPR); the 79th Street bridge over Amtrak was last renovated in 1975 and is owned by the NYC Department of Transportation (DOT). Project goals include comprehensive rehabilitation of the three-level Rotunda and bringing the bridge into a state of good repair. An initial plan was presented to the joint committee in June, 2017.

While specific details are still being determined, the DOT is working on a staged approach to construction that may include two stages of partial closure and one “short stage” of full closure, according to Nick Roberts, a Project Manager and Engineer at HDR, the consulting architectural firm working with the DOT. With a number of city and state agency approvals required, they are optimistically looking to start construction in summer of 2019, and have estimated the project will take between 3-4 years. The $150 million project is already funded, and includes a 15% contingency cushion.

A summary of presented updates includes:

Traffic Circle Level

–Restoring stone masonry and reinforcing concrete barrier

–Updating road paint to more clearly indicate bike lanes

–Upgrading concrete deck, sidewalks, lighting, and drainage

Pedestrian Plaza Level

–Expanding the existing DPR Maintenance and Operations office and Concessionaire spaces

–Creating ADA compliant ramps that connect from the pedestrian plaza level to the terrace level and from the terrace level down to the Riverside Park promenade

–Restoring the fountain and its bronze turtles, existing masonry, Guastavino ceilings, and historic lighting

–Upgrading public restrooms, handrails, concrete deck, floor finishes, and drainage

Garage Level

–Expanding the existing DPR Maintenance and Operations office

–Restoring stone masonry on the exterior

–Replacing stairs to pedestrian plaza

–Enhancing mechanical and electrical elements

–Upgrading concrete ramps, floor finishes, and drainage

Bridge over Amtrak

–Upgrading concrete deck, sidewalks, lighting, and drainage


New plans show that the project will extend the Concessionaire operating area on the north, and mirror it on the south sides of the Rotunda.

Michele Parker, Co-Chair of CB7’s Business & Consumer Issues Committee, dropped by the meeting to determine the impact of the project on any consumer-facing businesses that occupy that space (currently The Boat Basin Cafe).

According to Deputy Park Administrator Ben Kramer, DPR plans to continue working with a Concessionaire in this area following the completion of the project. He said that while the fountain restoration would displace some of the seats in the center of the Rotunda, the expansion of the Concessionaire’s operating area to the north and south may potentially allow for more seating in those areas.

One of the major issues voiced by committee members was regarding bicycle traffic at the Traffic Circle level. Ken Coughlin, Co-Chair of the Parks & Environment Committee, said he “would feel uncomfortable” approving a proposal that does not do more to address both pedestrian and cyclist safety.

A local resident also chimed in, acknowledging that the DOT faced a “very difficult design challenge,” but urging them to explore more solutions. “As a cyclist, I feel very vulnerable. Adding paint to a car design project isn’t going to do it … We’re counting on you to make it safe for all of us.” The committee floated some options for the DOT to consider, including additional signage, traffic light patterns, rumble strips, and raised tables.

Another concern raised was about how the project would affect city traffic. While Roberts confirmed there would be no planned disruption to Amtrak service or pedestrian access throughout the project, he said the ramps on the west side of the Traffic Circle level would likely be closed for its duration. Community Relation Specialist Colleen Chattergoon relayed DOT’s commitment to working closely with the New York City Transit Authority to determine a plan for necessary bus re-routes, including the M79, as well as traffic re-routes to the 95th-96th Street exit along the Henry Hudson Parkway.

As specifics are still in development, no formal actions were proposed during the meeting, but the DOT will plan to return to the joint committee later this year to address the concerns expressed in hopes of ultimately receiving a CB7 resolution that approves the plan.

NEWS | 19 comments | permalink
    1. AC says:

      I remember when the fountain was operable and it would ‘shoot’ water 25′-30′ up into the air. I hope ‘restoring the fountain’ includes making the fountain operable once again. It was a beautiful site.

    2. Harriet F. says:

      Hooray. That circle has needed to be re-paved and re-striped for about 20+ years.

    3. Eric says:

      Let’s make sure we get those bike lanes painted……

    4. Jimbo says:

      You think they will ever re-pave the on and off ramps to the Henry Hudson Parkway? Even during the Obama era when highway funds were flush this didn’t happen. What the heck is going on?

    5. Ted says:

      I just hope they preserve the proud heritage of mob killings and Russian espionage that have made it such an important historic landmark.

    6. BILLYNYC says:

      Well bravo it’s about time…I’ve been living here for 50 years and watching this whole Rotunda disintegrate before my very eyes. But I hate to be Johnny raincloud … rumors from the mayors office is going to re-propose a ferry dock at the 79th St. boat basin to service lower Manhattan and New Jersey by New York waterways. This project will be additional two-year project that will include the renovation of The Rotunda adding another $5/10million roughly to the bill and a total of six years for this project…By the way the 1975 renovation was only a patch job and harley called a renovation.

    7. Reverse Commuter says:

      This sounds great. It needs an upgrade!

      My only concern is the diverting of traffic to the 95th-96th St ramps. These are in much need of repair themselves. If the DOT does include the rerouting in the plan, I think the 95/96 ramps need some TLC first to better accommodate an increase in traffic.

      • BillyNYC says:

        WOW!! – its going to be hell on the Westside H’way with the back up traffic trying to get off the highway at 95th Street and down Riverside Drive for a few years!!!

      • Mark says:

        I have been fighting with local gov about paving the on/off ramp at 95th for five years. The city says it’s a state issue and the state says it’s a city issue. Thus nothing ever gets done.

    8. Jess says:

      A couple of thoughts here…

      There is a ton of congestion at this exit, made worse by the fact that (from what I vaguely remember? Or am I imagining) there used to be an exit at 72nd street before T-Rump built his beautiful skyscrapers on Riveride Blvd. So how is that going to be dealt with, I wonder? Already on Sunday nights in the summer the traffic backs up beyond belief. I don’t drive around there during rush hour, but I imagine it is horrendous.

      Second, how are they going to ensure pedestrians, as well as bikers, are safe? Every time we drive through there people are milling around in the middle of the street, unable to figure out how to get to the boat basin (or how to get home – which means they often mill around while very drunk). I am amazed their aren’t more accidents there. And truly, it IS confusing.

      Finally, the boat basin cafe needs a major facelift – it is wasted space IMHO and could be a ton more inviting than it currently is. It’s a grubby mess and doesn’t have to be that way. I am curious exactly what they are planning (beyond the photo here).

      • UWS-er says:

        Yes, there used to be a 72nd St. exit, and Trump got it closed as part of his real estate deal. Traffic at the 79th St exit got MUCH worse as a result. If they close 79th to renovate, 95th will become an absolute nightmare.

        • yourneighbor says:

          The 72nd street exit was in the northbound direction only.

        • peter brandt says:

          Have you seen the ‘Grand Canynon” condition of the road surface at the 96h Street exit ramps? TERRIBLE !

    9. robert says:

      Folks no where in this presentation was the reason for the increased speed of the round-a-bot’s deterioration. The using it as a bus turn around and layover parking. The structure was only designed to take the static loading of passenger cars, not buses. Once it is re opened they should not have buses on it at all. Its was in need of repair but the weight and vibrations from the buses have damaged the structure and decreased its useable life. Because of that the cost of the reairs has gone up. Alos this is a Highway off/on ramp they are talking about, there is NO reason for bike to be there. There is a parallel walkway that is at the far southern part of the structure separated from the ramps by a 3 foot high, nearly a foot thick wall. The structure is only so wide and to increase its foot print would be a large cost, as it would require taking over the path by the river and extending out into the river with fill as well as taking parts of the nearby playground and/or park land.
      Lastly, don’t forget that this entire structure was built over a six track active rail line. So if you add to the structure you will need to also create additional load bearing columns that will have to be placed through this railway right of way.

    10. Darwin says:

      You take your life in your hands trying to walk down to the boat basin there, forget about navigating it via bike. Hope these issues really are addressed.

    11. Ish Kabibble says:

      Now the Boat Basin can further raise prices for their crappy food. Sigh….

    12. yourneighbor says:

      I really dislkie how the Boat Basin Cafe occasionally likes to close the entrances to the cafe/park for private events.

      Hopefully we can additionally renovote the concessionaire and get a restaurant/cafe that realizes that they are occupying a public space.

    13. Peter Brandt says:

      Pity that NYC always has a policy of “Rob Peter to Pay Paul” in its NYC maintenance, rather than giving all its properties their own maintenance budget.