Brainstorming Ways to Turn Tappan Zee Into Park


tappan-zee-bridgeOne drawing envisions a sprawling Seurat-like park scene with the towers of Manhattan beckoning in the distance. Others call for two ghost piers beginning at opposite sides over the river but not meeting, elegantly terraced gardens and plantings, a simple walkway surrounded by wind generators, photovoltaic cells and other examples of green energy.

The idea of turning the existing Tappan Zee Bridge into a walkway and park when a new bridge is built remains more alluring dream than likely reality, though when Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo declared it in February to be an “exciting option,” that seemed to guarantee it would at least get serious scrutiny.

But since the proposal was floated last fall by Paul Feiner, supervisor of the Town of Greenburgh in Westchester County, enough people have become entranced by the idea that some have been imagining what it might look like, and have put those imaginings on paper.

Milagros Lecuona, an urban planning professor at Columbia University who with Mr. Feiner leads the Tappan Bridge Park Alliance, which is advocating the project, has worked with her class all semester on what it would take to make the park a reality. The New York Times also put the challenge to architecture students in Laila Seewang’s advanced urban theory class at Cooper Union. Ms. Lecuona is hoping to put together an international design competition to attract ideas for the Tappan Zee as park.

Still, the ideas already generated reflect the way the proposal is consistent with trends in preservation and urban design. After all, to the north is Walkway Over the Hudson, reclaimed from a 1.2-mile abandoned railway bridge linking Poughkeepsie and Highland. To the south, along the West Side of Manhattan, is the High Line, built on what was once a 1.45-mile-long elevated rail structure.

Lisa Tziona Switkin, an associate partner with James Corner Field Operations, was one of the designers of the High Line, and she cited it as evidence that the Tappan Zee project, no matter how outlandish it might sound, has potential.

“When the High Line was first proposed it was an impossible dream, and it became an exercise in making the impossible possible,” she said. “As a designer I’m incredibly excited about this kind of opportunity; something that crosses boundaries about what it is and what it is not. Is it a building? A bridge? A park?”

Still, many bridge experts and planning professionals urge caution, doubting it will be possible to turn the existing bridge into a three-mile, 30-acre park when a new $5 billion bridge is built. (And a more pressing issue for now is what kind of bridge that will be and whether it should be built without provisions for new mass transit.)

Even with saving $150 million in demolition costs, the proposal would be enormously expensive in terms of bridge maintenance, new parking structures and pedestrian ramps on and off the bridge, new amenities, paying for security and long-term staffing.

Built at little cost 56 years ago – now six years past its anticipated life span – the bridge needs $50 million in maintenance annually and has serious long-term structural and seismic concerns, including the threat of marine borers eating into the underwater wooden pilings that support the bridge.

Even without cars and trucks, any foot traffic and added amenities – trees, planters, concession stands, new railings or decking – would add considerable weight, which could put stress on the structure’s support beams and require additional maintenance.

“It would need systematic and regular maintenance, and, boy, is that expensive,” said Henry J. Stanton, a former executive director of the New York State Bridge Authority. “People love the idea, but at some point, you’ve got to get real and know what you’re getting into. It may be perfectly feasible, but you really need to see the numbers.”

But then it took almost 20 years to bring Walkway Over the Hudson from outlandish idea to remarkable reality. The High Line was initially dismissed as utterly impractical. And unlike those two, the Tappan Zee already exists in usable form, waiting, advocates say, to be transformed.

No one denies the enormous hurdles. But, Ms. Lecuona said, more than a billion dollars will be spent to keep the bridge viable before a new one is built, money that could be spent with an eye toward supporting a permanent structure. Dan Biederman, whose company specializes in private and corporate financing for public spaces, said concessions, advertising, corporate underwriting and a modest admission fee could all be promising sources of revenue. Others say the project could be done in phases to moderate the upfront costs.

And as even these preliminary drawings show, with their evocations of the bridge, the river, the valley’s Indian past, the idea is a very contemporary one.

“There’s a huge appreciation now for infrastructure and how you make it into something new, something exciting, something that recalls our history,” said Kim Mathews, a principal with the landscape architecture firm Mathews Nielsen. “If you can bring history and nature and infrastructure together, you have the potential to make something really blossom.”

{The New York Times/ Newscenter}


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