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Residents Want Safer Access to the Waterfront at E. 96th Street

By Amy Zimmer | May 26, 2011 3:07pm | Updated on May 26, 2011 5:43pm

By Amy Zimmer

DNAinfo News Editor

UPPER EAST SIDE — As the Bloomberg administration encourages New Yorkers to embrace the waterfront, residents on the Upper East Side want improvements made to their stretch of the East River esplanade.

But first, they need to get people there.

There are few pedestrian bridges spanning the FDR Drive, and the one street-level place to cross the heavily trafficked roadway — at East 96th Street — is hazardous to navigate.

There are five streets and highway on-ramps pedestrians have to traverse that lack crossing signals and have barely-visible painted crosswalks on the ground.

Several community groups are mounting an effort to get new pedestrian crossing signals, clearly-painted crosswalks, protective bollards at curbs where a lot of cars turn and signs at the crossing and at First Avenue letting people know about the Esplanade's entrance.

"People don't know how to cross there," said Steve Vaccaro, who chairs Transportation Alternatives East Side Committee. "They look and guess if it's going to be safe and just run across.

A spokesman for the city vowed to improve safety markers at the site.

"Safety is our top priority and we are planning to refurbish the markings at this intersection," a DOT spokesman said, adding that they would be willing to look into further changes if requested by the community boards.

When the seniors in the walking club from the Stanley Isaacs Neighborhood Center on East 93rd Street want to go to the waterfront they don't feel safe crossing at East 96th Street, Vaccaro said. Instead they go up and down hills — often with walkers — to East 90th Street.

"The East 96th Street access point is especially important because it is one of few at-grade access points to the waterfront," said Tali Cantor, associate director of Upper East Side and East Harlem community group Civitas.

"In addition to local residents," she said, "there are numerous senior centers, schools and medical facilities east of Second Avenue that could truly benefit from an additional open space that is more convenient than Carl Schurz or Central Park."

A new community effort has recently launched to improve the Upper East Side and East Harlem's waterfront. Called "The Esplanade (E. 60th – 125th Street)," the group, recently founded by resident Jennifer Ratner, plans to raise money to fix up the several decaying spots along this stretch of waterfront.

Vaccaro hopes that improving access at East 96th Street will help build the constituency for these revitalization efforts.

"People don't even know the park is there, so it's underused," Vaccaro said, "and it's underused so it doesn't get enough resources."

The groups plan to bring their proposal to community boards 8 and 11 next month since the intersection cuts across both districts.