Panel: We were suckered into voting for Union St. bridge replacement!

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The fixed is in!

A Department of Transportation honcho suckered a Gowanus-area panel into voting on how to replace the aging Union Street drawbridge — with either a stationary span or another moveable one — by asking them to conduct a straw poll she said was meaningless, then going ahead and using the results to pick a design anyway, say the unwitting electors.

“It was very much an abstract thing and not intended to be an indication of the board’s preference,” said Eric McClure, chair of Community Board 6’s transportation committee. “If we had thought we were voting on the fixed bridge or retractable bridge at that point I think we would have proceeded very differently.”

Committee members voted 6–3 in favor of replacing the 111-year-old moveable path across the Gowanus Canal with a fixed bridge at the meeting on April 19, after agency spokeswoman Joannene Kidder urged members to raise their hands for their preference to satisfy her curiosity.

Community boards’ votes are typically only advisory, but Kidder told the committee that its decision would have a big impact on the final choice, as the agency didn’t want to design two bridges. She said they’d like to return a few weeks later for a real vote — but that never happened.

Now the department has just gone ahead and applied for the Coast Guard’s permission to build the fixed bridge — and says the panel’s expressed preference in the April meeting is its mandate, according to spokeswoman Alana Morales.

But McClure says the city had been clear before the meeting that it was a show and tell for the replacement bridge options — not a decision-making session.

“They told us right up front that they were not looking for a vote from the board, they just wanted to present it as informatio­nal,” he said.

Morales claimed officials have not yet settled on the fixed bridge, but also that they would only “revert” to a movable bridge if the Coast Guard doesn’t okay the stationary crossing.

The Coast Guard will still have to conduct a public review process, but Morales refused to say whether the city would come back to the community board for an official vote before it makes its final selection.

The board members maintain that they have not made up their minds and need more time and information before they do.

“We have taken no position at this time on the complex question before us and … we are prepared to give the matter the additional consideration it is due,” board chair Sayar Lonial and district manager Craig Hammerman wrote in a letter to the department.

The stationary crossing is more attractive than a drawbridge, but members remain concerned that it will block boats needed for dredging the fetid waterway, and that it will intrude on private land, according to Hammerman.

At least one of those concerns might be dealt with, however — the city has already agreed to hold off installing the new crossing until federal canal cleanup is finished, according to a federal Environmental Protection Agency spokeswoman.

Still, Hammerman said he hasn’t heard a peep from the city since mailing his letter more than a month ago and just wants to know exactly what is going on.

“These events seem to be transpiring and we seem to be out of the loop,” he sad.

Reach reporter Lauren Gill at or by calling (718) 260–2511. Follow her on Twitter @laurenk_gill
Updated 10:17 pm, July 9, 2018
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Reasonable discourse

AMH says:
This landmark bridge should be preserved. It's no Carroll Street Bridge but it's still very unique.
July 25, 2016, 10:19 am
Penny from Park Slope says:
It would be better not to replace the bridge at all. Why do we need it? If people want to get across the canal, they can find another street. Besides, the people on the other side come over, and a lot of them are criminals. Some of them are rapists. While some of them, I assume, are good people, we really don't want them in Park Slope.
July 25, 2016, 10:26 am
John Wasserman from Prospect Heights says:
I hate to say this, but just because something is aging does not make it void of opinion. Why, even your own John Wasserman has made many an urgent and recent trip across this particular bridge without personal hindrance and nor did I feel in danger. I then enjoyed some fine wine from 1983 with aged cheese.
John Wasserman
July 25, 2016, 11:10 am
Jim from Cobble Hill says:
Union Street is an important crossing not only for local businesses, but more importantly for emergency services such as ambulance and fire department vehicles.
That being said, a fixed bridge is something that will hinder clean-up efforts.
It would actually be nice if they walled off the canal and drained it from Union Street to the north, making it something like a dry-moat much like the ones seen around Edo castles in Japan or The Tower of London. This isn't practical however, since storm drain runoff is directed to that section of the canal.
July 25, 2016, 12:02 pm
make new bridges but keep the old from Cobble Hill says:
One is silver and the other gold.

The culture is changing around the Gowanus Canal. It's no longer simply a tool, but rather a recognized historical element in transition from industrial to housing, art and culture.

As we are restoring this historical canal, we must restore it's historical artifacts. In this case, the Union St. Bridge is beautiful and should be preserved. And the community board shouldn't be the decision maker, but rather the people by popular poll.

Further, the bridge must function as the new culture will include pleasure boating and the boats must maintain the right-of-way they have historically.
July 25, 2016, 12:30 pm
Martin from Park Slope says:
I don't see why the current bridge cannot be repaired. I didn't even realized anythig was wrong with it to begin with.
July 26, 2016, 7:55 am
Tal Barzilai from Pleasantville, NY says:
My guess is that they don't want to repair the existing bridge is because it will cost less and can be done faster, which the anti-car fanatics will never like not to mention the politicians that want to have a legacy with a new bridge.
July 26, 2016, 3:16 pm
TOM from SUNSET PARK says:
So, the all-knowing, all-seeing Eric McClure, the DoT's partner in Park Slope was fooled by DoT and they won't accommodate him?

I hope you've learned something. Bureaucracies always get their way.
July 28, 2016, 10:46 am

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