By Molly Sugarman
The good news: The ballfields south of the 79th Street Rotunda will remain open throughout the 48 months of construction on the Rotunda. The bad news: Pedestrian access south of 79th Street will be closed and, for 60 days, so will the southbound off-ramp from the Henry Hudson Parkway.
The Rotunda, one of the treasures of Riverside Park, is a multi-level structure built in 1936 as both a pedestrian plaza — on the middle level, and as a traffic circle — top level, to take cars to and from the Henry Hudson Parkway from 79th Street. Its third level is a parking area under the Rotunda for those using the nearby boat basin.
Until now, the Rotunda has never been rehabilitated, although it has been heavily used. It now carries cars, pedestrians, and bicycles. The project has begun, and is being done at the same time as the 79th Street Boat Basin is being upgraded, but the two are separate projects.
At a Community Board (CB)7 Transportation Committee meeting Tuesday night, representatives from the NYC Department of Transportation (DOT) offered a detailed presentation about the $150-million, 4-year remake of the Rotunda, showing the location of temporary trailers and construction staging areas. These will also require the closure of two ramps used to access parking under the Rotunda.
Some of the changes resulting from the renovation are already in place, including rerouting the M79 bus, which can no longer use the upper level of the Rotunda as a turn-around. Instead, the bus’s last stop is at West End Avenue and 79th, not Riverside. The buses then go down Riverside to 72nd, up 72nd to West End Ave. and back to 79th. No new stops will be added, but Department of Transportation spokesperson Joannene Kidder indicated that, at the end of the line, the bus drivers will allow passengers to stay on the bus until Riverside Drive.
The Committee was not entirely happy with DOT’s plan. Committee Member Mark Diller wondered if DOT had even looked at the unanimous resolution previously passed by the board, asking for adherence to historic detail in the final construction, as well as the protection of cyclists.
Committee members Ken Coughlin and Howard Yaruss reminded Kidder of the Board’s request for a separate bike lane or physical barriers between cars coming off the Henry Hudson Parkways and cyclists. The plan is, several committee members indicated, an accident waiting to happen.
Kidder responded that the suggestions of the Board were considered, and the current plan was deemed the most feasible.
The plan does include protecting birds from flying into harm, she pointed out. As Yaruss summed it up, “DOT protected the birds but not the cyclists.”
Committee Co-Chair Andrew Albert was also concerned about the “bedlam” on the 95/96th Street connections to the Henry Hudson, especially during the 60 days when one off-ramp at 79th will be closed. Kidder assured him that DOT will provide additional traffic agents and adjust signal timing.
DOT has assigned a full-time community liaison to the project, Kaitlin Magee, who can be reached at:
Please include project # HBM-1189
The Committee also considered a resolution to bring back twice-a-week street sweeping, due to excessive trash accumulation.
But the reasoning of Transportation Committee Member Rich Robbins changed the proposed resolution to one calling for more enforcement of alternate-side parking rules and escalating fines for those who don’t move their cars when the street sweepers are due.
Currently, Committee Member Coughlin said, the price of a fine is less than the price of a parking garage, so people don’t bother to move their cars, even when asked. The result is unswept streets on which trash is accumulating, bringing rats as well as unsightliness.
He proposed a return to the twice-a-week schedule, as well as implementing escalating fines for repeat offenders. But Robbins pointed out that the cost in air pollution as drivers circled the block or sat in idling cars more than offset the trash, and that if congestion pricing is approved, circling the block and traffic — as well as air pollution — will increase even more.
The consensus was, however, that the Upper West Side is trashier than ever, on both streets and sidewalks, due to a lack of enforcement. “Where are all the enforcement people who were there before the pandemic?” Committee Member Madge Rosenberg asked. “The garbage under the cars is disgraceful. Rats are living under the cars.”
Committee Member Erana Stennett took it beyond the streets, pointing out that the sidewalks were also trashed. She had the photos to prove it. Committee Member Jay Adolf said that if a larger financial burden was put on those parking cars, then restaurant owners should also bear the burden of cleaning the areas around their street sheds.
Those members of the public who spoke agreed, noting that six or seven weeks go by without a street sweeper coming by, even if people do move their cars.
In the end, the committee agreed that twice-a-week sweeping wasn’t necessary, but consistent, once-a-week cleaning was, with higher fines and better enforcement of alternate-side rules. And that is what they resolved.