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An Outdoor Fitness Space is Going Under The 78th Street Bridge

Upper East Siders have a new outdoor fitness space to look forward to. The New York City Parks Department and the Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS) have teamed up with landscape architect Andrew Moore of Quennell Rothschild & Partners to reimagine the area underneath the East 78th Street Pedestrian Bridge.

East 78th Street Pedestrian Bridge fitness area

Photo c/o New York City Department of Transportation via Flickr

The $11.9 million bridge was opened in 2012 and hailed for its direct connection to the East River Esplanade. It replaced a dilapidated structure from the 1940s that was as big an eyesore as it was a safety hazard. But the area under the bridge, the ramp that links to the path over the FDR Drive, has remained unused, and thus, ripe for development. Community Board 8’s Parks and Waterfront Committee met on April 14 to discuss.

The future site will see the installation of several pieces of adult fitness equipment. An arm bike, parallel bars, a pull-up for resistance bands, steps, and a sit-up bench are part of the current plan, along with ADA accessible pull-up bars and a vertical chest press. The equipment is made by Kompan, the company that has provided similar tools across the City, and will rest on safety-surface tiles, the cushion-like surface seen usually seen in playgrounds.

Though those in attendance were unanimously pleased that the project is moving forward, not everyone was sold on the specific equipment that the Parks Department has selected.

Craig, a member of the public who repeatedly assured the Committee that he works out every day in the park and has conducted extensive research all over the City’s parks, believes that equipment with moving parts will not hold up long-term.

Craig also felt that a Roman Chair would be more functional than a sit-up bench, and raised concerns for the taller folks like himself when it comes to using the pull-up bars.

While there are spacing constraints, Leslie from the Parks Department confirmed that the city agency is open to specific suggestions for equipment pieces through the Board’s email address.

New pavers and plantings were also discussed.

Lighting was another concern that was raised. Though the space is open, with the East River on one side and a chain-link fence bordering FDR Drive to the other, the area will not be well lit when the sun goes down. Jennifer Ratner, founder and board chair of Friends of the East River Esplanade, described lighting on the Esplanade as a “perennial problem” and hopes to use this project to coordinate a long-term lighting fix.

While utilizing the area under the ramp will offer protection from the elements, several members of the public expressed concerns about the fitness spot becoming a homeless encampment. Though nothing is set in stone, the Committee will explore the feasibility of security cameras and whether they could be monitored by the New York Police Department.

The timeframe for the installation was not discussed. But what is for sure is that the space will not be pet-friendly (dogs in particular) and, barring a creative solution given the spacing constraints, there will be no shrubbery or sound buffer to deafen the noisy FDR.

The fitness equipment installation is just one of many meant to enhance the Esplanade and the surrounding greenway in the past year. HSS will be upgrading portions of the Esplanade as it constructs the Anna-Maria and Stephen Kellen Tower on the FDR at East 71st Street. An $80 million renovation to a slice of John Finley Walk in Carl Schurz Park is expected, as is a $100 million plan to overhaul the Andrew Haswell Green Park and its Alice Aycock Pavilion.
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