First Segment of Downtown East River Esplanade Opens, Already Packed

With fixtures and landscaping highly reminiscent of the High Line, the designers of the new East River Waterfront Esplanade created a high-quality public space despite the elevated highway running in the background. All photos: Noah Kazis.

The first section of the new East River Waterfront Esplanade officially opened in the short stretch between Wall Street and Maiden Lane today. The full two-mile, $165 million park will run from the Battery to just north of the Manhattan Bridge when complete in 2013.

The new public space was already in heavy use today: office workers ate their lunch on bar stools overlooking the river, downtown residents brought their dogs to a high-design dog run, and tourists biked and strolled along the water. Considering that the elevated FDR Drive cuts through and above the new park space, creating a people-friendly environment was an impressive feat by the city’s planners and SHoP Architects, the lead design firm.

When the full esplanade is complete, it will be, as Mayor Bloomberg said at today’s press event, “a crucial link in the greenway that will run in a continuous loop around Manhattan and provide public access to the waterfront at every turn.” Under the new design, cyclists riding that greenway are actually directed off the esplanade itself between Wall Street and John Street and onto a two-way bike lane along South Street. Right now, that lane is unprotected and was blocked by vehicles at a number of points, but when construction is completed, it will be in some way physically protected from traffic.

Check out the pictures below the jump and let us know what you think of the project.

Cyclists are expected to bike on street space, not on the esplanade itself, between Wall Street and John Street. The lane is frequently obstructed at this point and may remain so until physical separation is put in place.

At either end of the on-street bike way, ramps guide cyclists back onto the esplanade.

Whether it's a sign of how starved Lower Manhattan is for public space, how well designed the new esplanade is, or how nice the weather was today, even the areas directly underneath the FDR were packed.

The high-design dog run offers canines sprinklers, a doghouse Snoopy could be jealous of, and other amenities.