In the absence of birds, I counted vehicles. There were plenty.
by Marcella Durand
There is a new hawk in town: a juvenile red-tailed hawk that sits on trees and fences between Corlears Hook Park and the tiny oblong of passive lawn in what used to be East River Park. I like to keep an eye on her (I’m guessing the gender as the hawk seems fairly large, and female red-tails are larger than males) so I’ve started walking over the temporary bridge over the FDR to make sure she is OK, and not lying hurt from a car collision, or poisoned by rat poison or lead.
However, during these winter walks, I know I am putting my own health at risk. I know because I often return home coughing or with a headache. The air quality is bad—I often hold my breath while walking over FDR and all its continuous stop-and-start traffic.*
My own sense of smell is backed up by data: air quality readings as recorded on the PurpleAir app have been marginal at best in the past few days, with some alarmingly high readings of pollution. On Jan. 3, for instance, readings next to Corlears Hook—and beyond—measured 100. Yesterday it was as high as 72. These are not good numbers.**
But there’s not much relief when I reach the East River. The few oak trees left in the area simply can’t capture nearly the same amount of air pollution and carbon like the hundreds of mature oaks and other trees that used to stand here. (See “The Case for Quercus,” to see just how much those felled trees helped our air.)
Gas Gas Gas Dust Dust Dust
And all the cars, pickup trucks, bulldozers, tractors, cranes, pile drivers and now barges operating as part of the East Side Coastal Resiliency (ESCR) project and the adjacent Pier 42 project also underway—as well as “normal” NYC Parks operations such as using gasoline-powered leafblowers to blow leaves around—must be loading substantial amounts of carbon and particulates to the air locally.
Unfortunately, we’ve been put in the impossible situation of wanting the construction to proceed quickly to cover up the stripped park and have some new trees growing as soon as possible.
Are the contractors taking the promised steps to control dust and limit emissions during construction as promised? How could we tell if they are using the Ultra-Low Sulfur Diesel Fuel, for instance? Do they indeed restrict truck idling times? Do they securely cover materials in trucks and on the ground to limit the particulate matter in our neighborhood’s air? Who is doing the oversight?****
No Hawk, Plenty of Vehicles
Yesterday morning, at 9:30 am, there was no sign of the hawk and the birding was miserable, so with these questions in mind, I decided to count** carbon-emitting vehicles and machinery instead.
Here’s what I found:
ESCR to Williamsburg Bridge/Pier 42 south to Montgomery Street:
- 28 cars including 6 pickup trucks, some parked, some moving around, some with lights on with doors open
- 2 large cranes and three smaller cherrypicker/cranes
- 7 bulldozers including 3 actively digging
- 6 trucks including one Callahead truck driving around
- 1 tractor driving back and forth
- 2 large rocket-shaped tanks that presumably hold concrete
Corlears Hook Park:
- 3 leaf blowers: 1 handheld and two push
- 4 parked cars including 1 van
- 1 Parks golf cart
The leaf blowers often concentrate on the artificial turf area in Corlears Hook Park, which now has large rips and bare spots in it. I had a brief vision—perhaps induced by lack of oxygen—of the city replacing that disintegrating plastic turf with actual soil and grass, edged perhaps by stands of bird- and insect-friendly goldenrod and asters. Could that possibly be possible? Even in this crazy age of destroying nature in the name of resiliency?
At the very least, we need oversight, accountability and emergency greening.
Marcella Durand is a poet and the author of To Husband is to Tender and The Prospect, among other books. She grew up in Lower Manhattan and has lived with her family in the Lower East Side and the East Village for close to 30 years. She is an avid birder.
* “According to the NYSDOT, the six-lane FDR parkway carries approximately 175,000 vehicles per day (AADT) through Lower Manhattan, and approximately 150,000 vehicles per day through Midtown Manhattan.” http://www.nycroads.com/roads/fdr/ That averages 7,300 cars per hour—though of course it is much higher in the daytime.
** The primary pollutant is particulate matter—which can enter the bloodstream. These come from wildfires, smokestacks, bacteria or dust particles and contribute to upper respiratory illnesses and other health problems. For more on measuring air quality on the Lower East Side and why it’s important, see our LES Breathe pages: https://eastriverparkaction.org/sensors/ and https://eastriverparkaction.org/breathe/
*** My count was approximate and based on what I could see from the temporary bridge. There may be more vehicles and construction equipment hidden behind the piles of excavated soil. I also could not count all the machinery on the barge parked in front of the former amphitheater area.
****Here is the key part of the fact sheet with the measures that are supposed to be taken to control dust and limit emissions during construction. Are the contractors following the guidelines? We need oversight and accountability to ensure they are. Ask your City Council member to follow up.