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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Gated Closing Of Roosevelt Island Pedestrian Waterfront Promenade Across From Cornell Construction Site After 10 PM Angers And Frustrates Resident - RIOC President Says Putting Together A Plan Allowing 24 Hour Access To Promenade Area

The Twittervese asked:

 Daytime View Of Promenade Area Blocked By Gate After 10 PM

Yesterday, Ms. Wade elaborated:
Good morning,

I am writing about a concern regarding the construction of Cornell.

Every evening, unless it’s an absolute monsoon, I, along with dozens of islanders and visitors, unwind by taking a walk/sitting on the pedestrian river walk, overlooking Manhattan, south of the 59th Street Bridge. I used to sit on the Queens side (it’s even quieter) until it was necessarily obstructed by the demolition barges.

I was concerned last week when I saw that someone (RIOC?) had installed a gate across the pedestrian walkway at the guard shack, but thought it might be for times like the 4th of July, where crowd control becomes more necessary.

Last night I found out differently. At 10:20 the gate was closed (I usually cannot make it out until after 9 or 10PM) and there were, at any time, between four and six personnel of various types (I do not believe they were all security, but could have been) stationed at the pedestrian walkway and the blocked-off-to-cars, road. When asked what was going on, I was told a few different versions of this: Either RIOC or PSD had erected the gate, and had instructed that it be closed every night from 10PM to 5 or 6 AM in the morning. They were told that they had no warning and were just given those instructions upon arriving at work.

In frustration, I sat on the bench closest to the guard shack, trying to avoid the myriad people who also run, walk, take pictures, exercise their dogs, etc. each and every night, who were also congregating, wondering why they could not pass. As I sat there I heard the various personnel discussing heatedly, “missing locks on several gates”.

To say the least, I am angry. In this ever more populated island of ours the pedestrian walkway provides a safe place to have some semblance of peace and solitude after the hectic workday. Also, we have been told many times- in e-mails, and in person during presentations about the Cornell construction that the Manhattan side would remain open and unobstructed for the duration of this project. These actions were taken without consultation of, or warning to, the public.

My concern is that this is just another in an increasing long list of ways that the current RIOC administration is out of touch with and inconsiderate of the needs and wants of the people it is here to serve, and taking actions that diminish our quality of life.

What can be done about this?
Roosevelt Island Residents Association (RIRA) President Jeff Escobar also received Ms. Wade's inquiry and added:
Pursuant to the Cornell ULURP Land Use proceedings before Community Board 8, and the Amendment to the Zoning Resolution which was part of the approval of the Project, the pedestrian pathway and those areas to the West/East of the Roadway which abut the water were made not part of the Cornell Project nor part of the land leased to the City. This is an area duly controlled by RIOC which I believe RIOC provides an easement/leaseback for use in exchange for certain community concessions.

Aside from raising the issue within both ourselves and the Roosevelt Island Community Coalition (RICC), the issue should be raised at the next Cornell Construction Committee meeting for the Project. If the practice continues for an extended amount of time and pressure on both the Construction Committee and RIOC results in no action, we will levy the issue before the Committee at Community Board 8. As part of the deal with the City, Cornell agreed to ensure that there would be no obstructions on their part to the pedestrian ring. Even if they are not the responsible party, they do have an obligation as part of the deal in having a hand in eliminating such obstructions.
I forwarded Ms. Wade's email to Roosevelt Island Operating Corp (RIOC) President Charlene Indelicato and the RIOC Directors asking:
I received email below from resident inquiring about the status of pedestrian river side promenade walkway on Manhattan side of a Cornell construction site. She says that it has recently closed in the evening after 10 PM preventing people from using the pedestrian promenade pathway.

Has that pathway been closed?

Any statement from RIOC?
Ms. Indelicato replied:
Mr. Escobar is absolutely right as to the promenade and grassed area of the West Roadway. RIOC has been working with Cornell to ensure a safe and viable pedestrian walkway.

As you know, the west road is closed to vehicular traffic including bicycles. We are trying to accommodate the bicyclists by allowing bikers individually to ride carefully on the promenade. We have also discussed the possibility of calling ahead for groups of bicyclists to gain entrance on the roadway. Clearly, this is a work in progress and we will try to have a set of regulations and signage ASAP which will address daily and weekend usage of the roadway by bicyclists.

The issue of opening the promenade 24/7 is a bit more challenging. As you know, Southpoint Park closes at 10. Unfortunately, there have been a number of incidents reported to PSD of individuals climbing fences or trying to obtain entrance into South Point, FFP and the Cornell site. Again, addressing this issue is work in progress. I now understand the importance of keeping the promenade open and working in conjunction with Cornell I am sure we will put together a plan that makes sense and will also allow 24 hour access. In closing and in fairness to Cornell, the idea to close the promenade at 10pm - the same time as the park - was mine alone.
Mr. Escobar responded to Ms. Indelicato:
I thank you for both your attention and responsiveness to the matter, and willingness to recognize the importance of keeping the access viable to residents as a quality of life issue. We will continue to review and monitor the situation, but we have confidence that the issue will be clearly ameliorated so that access will continue unfettered. If I may, encourage RIOC to work closely with Aaron Hamburger and the Island Services Committee that he chairs under RIRA to find a solution and as a direct interface to the community concerns surrounding this issue.

I look forward to the solution.
UPDATE 8/28: Ms. Wade updated us on the gate situation Wednesday night:
I arrived tonight at the promenade at 10 to 9PM to find the gate closed already.

The security guard, Andrew Leelam who answers to a Mr. Terry, his supervisor, told me that his instructions are now to close the gate at 9:45. As I am standing here a Public Safety car approaches and I am told that they don't even know about this. Mr. Terry has just now told their chief.

Not only are we not remedying this situation, but now we are moving backward.
RIOC Public Safety Director Jack McManus replied to Ms. Wade today:
As soon as my staff alerted me to the "promenade closure" by Cornell Security Personnel last night, they were directed to advise Cornell Security that NO such directive existed.

Earlier today, I spoke with Cornell and their private security vendor to reiterate this fact.

I am confident that my inquiry last evening and today has rectified this matter.

Additionally, I have prepared a memo advising my staff that the West Drive Pedestrian Promenade is to remain OPEN and ACCESSIBLE at all times.

I hope this email serves to clarify the "misinformation" you received from Cornell and the measures we are taking to ensure that this doesn't happen again.

Sorry for any inconvenience this may have caused you and/or any other RI residents.
Ms Wade responded to Director McManus:
Thank you so much for your help and your response! You're a gift to this community.

I want to reiterate that PSD were great last night and made it clear that this was not their decision and they could not weigh in on it, other than to contact (you).

The security guard on duty was also extremely professional and respectful. Remarking that he understood my frustration but that he was following orders he had received from "some woman with shoulder length hair he sees at the park, often" who works in some official capacity with the project. He asked me questions, trying to gain understanding of the situation, and again- was very empathetic.

Thanks again for all of your help,
UPDATE 8/29 - According to RIOC:
Please be advised that the waterfront promenade located on the west side of the Cornell Tech construction site will be accessible to the public 24 hours a day, seven days a week.


Roosevelt Island Operating Corp Advisories Group