Silicon Alley U

Roosevelt Islanders Brace for Traffic As Cornell’s Tech Campus Gets Community Board Approval

"We have some future problems coming up, one of which is Cornell."
Snazzy! (Photo: CornellNYC Tech)

Snazzy! (Photo: Cornell Tech)

Classes start in January, but unless Cornell Tech wants to live in Google’s spare bedroom forever it’s got to get cracking on that splashy Roosevelt Island campus. Last night, the campus plan got the official a-okay from Manhattan Community Board 8, clearing its first hurdle.

A press release that went out this morning trumpets “community support” and frames the approval as the cherry on top of a productive year. Cornell Tech VP Cathy Dove said in the announcement, “Roosevelt Island has a fantastic history of innovation and civic participation, and we were still gratified by the interest and support of so many Islanders from day 1,” adding,

“We are appreciative for the support of our new neighbors and assure them that the construction and operation of the campus will be handled in a way that protects, respects and welcomes the rest of the Island.”

This is just one stage in the long gauntlet that is the city’s public land use review process, which started back in October and typically takes around seven months. Next up, the plan has to clear Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer’s office, then the City Planning Commission and then the City Council. Rome wasn’t built in etc.

However, while most islanders seem pleased with the notion of a prestigious school sitting in their front yard, even the most well thought-out construction plan is likely to create a massive traffic nightmare for the tiny island community. Roosevelt Islander reports that at a recent meeting of the Roosevelt Island Operating Committee, transportation manager Cy Opperman spoke about the island’s burgeoning traffic problem, the possibility of adding a bus lane and the havoc a years-long construction project is likely to wreak.

Not much room to maneuver. (Photo:

Not much room to maneuver. (Photo:

“Traffic is absolutely getting worse, worse and worse,” Mr. Opperman said, adding that “We have some future problems coming up, one of which is Cornell.” The project will mean dealing with something like 900 construction workers on top of existing problems. Main Street is already crowded in the mornings, he said; adding just another 50 cars is going to bring traffic to a standstill. Then the bus gets stuck.

There’s also the fact that, as the New York Times has pointed out, construction managers are planning to bring construction materials in by road, rather than via water. Nothing like a dump truck to liven up the gridlock!

UPDATED: A spokesperson points out that Cornell Tech is considering options for barging construction materials that’ll reduce truck trips, and they presented a number of options at last night’s a previous meeting. Somebody want to invent them a teleporter right quick?

Maybe the thought of a two-decade traffic jam is what’s getting this irate gal’s goat, over in the comments on Roosevelt Islander:

There is no more ” what the population wants” here anymore. Never really was that way, so what the Hell! Let Pollara come in and take over, build a huge fence to cut out the pie she wants, let Cornell come in and think we all are asleep here and just give them the whole island!

Tell us how you really feel.

But it’s worth remembering what Eric Schmidt told the Observer a couple of months ago, when we bumped into him at the opening of the island’s FDR memorial: “It’ll be more gentrified, it will be more upscale” as the results of all the changes underway.

What’s a little traffic as a trade-off for moving on up?

Follow Kelly Faircloth on Twitter or via RSS.