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Street of the Future

The Department of Environmental Protection unveiled four bioswales on Dean Street to manage stormwater runoff and reduce combined sewer overflows into the Gowanus Canal on Thursday.

On Dean Street, between Fourth and Fifth avenues, there's a bike lane, muni-meters and four bioswales. This is the street of the future.

, which are enhanced tree pits that retain and filter 1,870 gallons of stormwater per pit every time it rains, are part of a $2.4 billion Green Infrastructure Plan to manage stormwater runoff, reduce combined sewer overflows and improve water quality in the Gowanus Canal in the next 20 years. 

“We are on a living, working, New York City street,” said Department of Environmental Protection commissioner Carter Strickland at the unveiling of the bioswales, the first of their kind in the city. “I think what you see in front of you are elements coming together of a 21st century street.”

The green infrastructures, which are tiny ecosystems spanning 20 feet long, five feet wide and five feet deep, will prevent 7,200 gallons of stormwater from entering the sewer system each time it rains. They are designed with two curb cuts, so water comes in on one end, is absorbed by the plants and tree, a system of dirt, gravel and a filtering net, and what water is left comes out by the other curb cut and goes into the sewer. 

“They help beautify the street, but most importantly, our infrastructure that is largely hidden under ground, is brought to the surface so people can understand the important work we do everyday by keeping stormwater off the streets,” Strickland said.

The bioswales are a joint project funded by the Department of Environmental Protection, in conjunction with the Department of Parks and Recreation and the Department of Transportation. In the next nine months, 40 more bioswales will be installed throughout the city. 

The location is very specific, for Dean Street is a notorious flooding area in the Gowanus Canal watershed area.   

For , which is a nonprofit dance company on Dean Street, the bioswales could not have come at a more perfect time. The studio has flooded, due to the combined sewer overflows, twice since the spring of 2010.

“It rained heavily, the sewers in the street flooded as usual and water started to come out of the toilet,” said Diane Jacobwitz, the executive director of Dancewave, who explained that her wood floors were almost ruined by the four-inch flood. “When you see water on your dance floor you spent thousands of dollars to build, it’s a scary thing. You can’t have a dance studio with warped floors.”

“This is a perfect place to have bioswales, I believe they will help reduce the sewer overflows and hopefully stop the floods,” Jacobwitz said, also saying that when it rains huge puddles form at the corners of Dean Street and Fourth Avenue.

The filtration and absorption micro-ecosystem in the bioswales are composed of a London Plane tree, a type of Sycamore, Inkberry (a type of Holly), Coneflower, Black-Eyed Susans, Spirea and Catmints. The pits cost $1,600 a piece and according to Magdi Farag, the assistant commissioner of Green Infrastructure for the DEP, the system of bioswales will reduce combined sewer overflows by 33 percent.

Strickland explained that the Gowanus Canal has come a long way in terms of pollution. “Water quality is at an all time high,” he said. “We have been measuring for 100 years, but we know we have to do more.” 

And that’s exactly what these bioswales are meant to do.

“This is where the city walks the walk to become a greener, more sustainable city,” said Adrian Benepe, the commissioner of the Department of Parks and Recreation, whose Greenstreets crews will be maintaining the tree pits. “What an auspicious beginning this is, from a humble tree pit to a piece of green infrastructure over night and the beginning of what we hope to be thousands to come.” 

Michael Brown November 11, 2011 at 05:50 PM
This is just a band-aid over our pathetically underfunded infrastructure system.
tom murphy November 12, 2011 at 08:23 PM
What you call bioswales act like suburban dry sinks. Will locating of bioswales be focused where there has been local flooding, like here on Dean Street, or, where there has been more significant combined sewer overflows(Sunset Park waterfront and Gravesend Bay) with resultant pollution of the harbor? Second, removing twenty-feet by five-feet of the 4-inch protective cement pavement and five-feet of soil from the curb area will expose the homeowner's water, gas, electric service and waste lines to certain risk and presents a great threat to public safety on the street. Are Con Ed, National Grid, FDNY and the Department of Buildings OK with this?
NewYorkBuilt December 19, 2011 at 12:14 AM
It appears that the solutions to the miserable history of infrastructure development in NYC generally and Brooklyn specifically is a band aid approach. The construction of the multi- million gallon sewage run off storage and treatment tanks under Flushing Meadow Corona Park the Harlem storage and treatment plant with the park toupee on top, and the northwest Bronx treatment tanks under the combined parklands there will need to be built here. I thought the waterfall under the Brooklyn Bridge was the demonstration Project. Buckets and shrubbery appear to be the city's solution.

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