The lease – and perhaps the template – is in place.
As Chelsea Piers facility seeks new lease [PDF], Manhattan’s super-progressive Community Board 4 is set to demand that the entertainment and sports complex reduce the width of its driveway to create a safer Hudson River Greenway at one of its notorious pinch points. It’s a demand that’s been on Westsiders’ agenda for decades, ever since the docks were converted into leisure and retail space in the mid-1990s and a wide sidewalk narrowed to make way to cars and trucks.
“The service road today is still 27 feet wide, while the sidewalk is only eight feet,” complains a draft letter from the CB4 waterfront committee to the Hudson River Park Trust and Chelsea Piers. “Cyclist-pedestrian conflicts are near constant in this area, and pedestrian safety is further compromised by the movement of vehicles, including large production trucks and buses.
“Priority of vehicle access to parks is not appropriate,” continues the letter, which will likely be adopted by the full board when it meets. see you on Wednesday March 2. “Manhattan CB4’s biggest objection to the new lease is not requiring the removal of the vehicle parking lane from the east side of the facility. Eliminating the lane will increase pedestrian access to the docks, widen the sidewalk and improve pedestrian flow on the upland side of the docks, which is currently narrow, confusing and requires pedestrians to use the roadway or greenway .
“Given the demand for better management of traffic and vehicles in the city, the improvement of the environment and the need to create more safe spaces for the passage of pedestrians, the fact that no improvements to traffic lanes on park property are unacceptable,” the letter concludes.
It’s not like the driveway can’t be easily narrowed to create more pedestrian space and widen the bike path at one of its narrowest points. Currently, one of the three lanes is often used for storing vehicles or parking anyway.
“Both of these activities should take place inside the piers, not in the public domain,” the letter states. “Given their indoor vehicle facilities, it is alarming that Chelsea Piers are allowed to continue with their current outdoor operations given how much the town and surrounding area has changed since 1996.”
The committee’s concern for pedestrian and cyclist safety in the 28-acre waterfront sports and party village is unlikely to alter negotiations over the new lease, as there is much more at stake. For example, the new lease would charge Chelsea Piers approximately $4 million a year in rent in exchange for allowing the facility to continue to serve thousands of athletes (weekend and otherwise), host events, housing film crews (full disclosure: this reporter plays a laughable version of ice hockey every Sunday). Chelsea Piers will continue to maintain the basic infrastructure of the piers that give the center its name (an inexpensive job, which is part of why Chelsea Piers wants a new lease so they can refinance their mortgage).
But given the scale of the major issues, what the CB4 committee is asking for amounts to an extremely minor change that would mean a lot to cyclists and walkers.
“They say they have an engineering report that says they can’t narrow the roadway, but the road wasn’t in their original lease – and I know that because I negotiated that lease,” said said Tom Fox, who was head of the Hudson River Park. Conservancy when Chelsea Piers got his first lease (he was later fired by Governor Pataki in a move that reeked of politics and quid-pro-quo with GOP fundraiser Roland Betts, who remains in charge of the complex). “There was a lane there, but then they reduced the pedestrian path to a sidewalk that crosses all of their driveways. The cycle path has been reduced. And the lane out of Chelsea Piers is wide. None of this was in the original plan.
Fox echoed CB4’s letter in acknowledging that Chelsea Piers is an exceptional neighborhood resource that creates jobs and plenty of activity for thousands of people. But he supports CB4’s letter, saying Chelsea Piers ‘exploited the opportunity’.
“A lot of people in that original fight died, but I’m still alive,” Fox said. “At the time, we were all blown away by the arrogance. But the last time the least was with the DOT state. Now it’s with the Hudson River Park Trust, so maybe we have some effect The Trust must maximize public safety and the way to achieve this is to widen pedestrian and bicycle paths.
The draft letter from the CB4 committee admits that a recent meeting between board members and Hudson River Park Trust chair Noreen Doyle and David Tewksbury of Chelsea Piers “was, at times, heated”, but it is certainly part of the history of Chelsea Piers and its neighbours. A 1996 article in the Chelsea-Clinton News detailed the initial lease negotiations – the one that led to the proposed cycleway being narrowed by nearly a foot and a half to accommodate the three-lane carriageway in front of the piers complex – and the cover shows that the local lions were not satisfied.
“Clearly we got screwed,” said Ross Graham, then a community board member, in Tewksbury, the newspaper reported. (Graham died last year.)
Streetsblog began covering the repeated clashes between vehicles to and from Chelsea Piers in 2006, the same year a drunk driver leaving a Chelsea Piers party drove down the Hudson River Greenway instead of the West Side Highway, killing a cyclist in the process. That year too, Dr. Carl Nacht was killed by a tow truck driver as he crossed the bike path and did not yield. Other car-pedestrian-bike disputes have since been added to the greenway as the waterfront has become more commercial. A bus driver seriously injured a cyclist in 2014 near the ferry and marina complex at West 40th Street. And a driver also took the Greenway in 2015.
Neither Doyle nor Tewksbury responded to a request for comment. Betts has been much less active in his campaign contributions than he was in the salad days of the Bush years when his friend George W. became president.
Since his first $1,000 contribution in 1999 to help elect George W. Bush, Betts gave more than $100,000 to Republican causes through 2006. Then he started looting his couch cushions for Democrats, sending $4,600 to Senator Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign and $1,000 to the senator. Amy Klobuchar in 2012.
He also contributed $400 to conservative Democrat Ray McGuire’s campaign for mayor last year.
Here is a file photo of Betts and George W. Bush which is in the archives of Streetsblog.
The public consultation period on the lease runs until April 26 at 4 p.m. New York, NY 10014, Attn. Robert Nguyen. A public hearing will take place on March 22, 2022 from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. (details to come).