How the People lost a Beach

Brooklyn Bridge Beach

Brooklyn Bridge Beach

Introduction

The Brooklyn Bridge Beach is a small sandy beach that is underneath the Brooklyn Bridge on the Manhattan side of the East River. As beaches go, it is a tiny beach, but it is the best beach in Manhattan. Unfortunately, it also seemingly is the only sandy coastal beach in all of North America where an officially sanctioned government study has determined that it is not safe to walk on.

History

The government department in charge of the beach is the NYCEDC (i.e. New York City Economic Development Corporation). Below is a timeline of NYCEDC actions relating to the beach. Observe that when they wanted public funds, they emphasized public access. But when they wanted to build a private marina nearby, they emphasized public safety:

  • Mar/2013: The NYCEDC presents the East River Blueway plan. This document contains a picture of the beach in use – for kayaking and walking. It contains no indication that beach usage would be conditional upon further study, so any person reading the document would reasonably assume that what is shown is feasible.
  • Aug/2013: The NYCEDC receives a grant for $7M to provide public access to the beach.
  • Nov/2013: The New York Times reports that the NYCEDC and Howard Hughes Corporation plan to build a marina right next to the beach (i.e. on the north side of Pier 17).
  • ???/2014: The NYCEDC contracts with OCC Engineering and SHoP (i.e. the architectural firm that is designing the adjacent marina for the Howard Hughes Corporation) to do a safety study of the Brooklyn Bridge Beach - see link below.
  • May/2015: The NYCEDC receives the Brooklyn Bridge Beach safety study. They decide that this study, by itself, contains sufficient information to make a decision regarding public safety and conclude that there should be no public access to the beach.
  • Dec/2015: The NYCEDC meets with local elected officials to share their safety study and conclusion. The public is not invited or informed.
  • Mar/2016: The NYCEDC receives a grant for $5M from the LMDC (i.e. Lower Manhattan Development Corporation) that is to be used to create limited beach access. This is despite the fact that the NYCEDC already has a safety study in hand that recommends no access.
  • Dec/2016: The NYCEDC sends a letter (see link below) to local elected officials telling them that it stands by the safety study that it received back in May/2015. The public is not informed.

Brooklyn Bridge Beach Safety Study Analysis

Having a private developer write a secret safety study of a public beach that they probably want to close down because it could affect their marina operations might be acceptable if the study was any good, but it isn't. On the contrary, the study has numerous flaws. A detailed analysis is provided in a PDF (see link below). Here are some highlights:

  • The study contains no quantitative data about the East River, or the beach.
  • The study references the wrong tide gauge when referring to currents in the East River.
  • The study references current speeds in the middle of the East River, not at the beach.
  • The study expresses concern about the fast currents in the East River, but it fails to explain why these currents are not considered a problem at any other beach on the river.
  • The study ignores the fact that there are multiple extremely popular public beaches less than a mile away from the Brooklyn Bridge Beach.
  • The study expresses concern about nearby CSOs (i.e. combined sewer overflows), but it fails to say where they are. According to the NYC DEC website, there are no tier 1, tier 2, or tier 3, CSOs near the beach.
  • The study claims that the beach will need major remedial work to prevent erosion. It fails to mention that the beach has existed just fine, without any human intervention, for many decades.
  • The study proposes a set of (unnecessary) solutions for enhancing the beach, all of which are impractical. It fails to include any practical and/or affordable solutions.

Political Issues

One should never get angry at the NYCEDC. Every controversial thing that they do has almost certainly been approved by the mayor's office. It is their job to the take the heat for unpopular actions that were initiated elsewhere, so if you get angry at them, you lose.

If you do not like what has happened to this beach, or you do not like the general concept that a private developer can cook up their own secret safety study in order to expropriate public land, then take it up with the relevant elected official.

Related Documents

The following documents are provided:

Graeme Birchall
May/2017