Plastic Wood OK'd for Part of Coney Island Boardwalk

The New York City Public Design Commission voted to replace a stretch of the Coney Island boardwalk with concrete and synthetic wood, after a tense hearing Monday in which residents and preservationists expressed their staunch opposition to the proposed plan.

The $30 million plan, developed by the city’s Parks Department, will replace a less than one mile stretch of the boardwalk with a combination of recycled plastic lumber and a concrete lane specially added to accommodate emergency vehicles.

Critics of the plan, who filled the room to capacity, said the replacement will destroy one of the city’s historic treasures and may end up more expensive to maintain.

The NYC Parks Department said it designed the plan to reduce boardwalk maintenance costs and to shift away from using rain forest woods, part of the Bloomberg administration’s PlaNYC sustainability initiative that was launched in 2007.

Alex Hart, assistant deputy chief of designs for the Parks Department, said that while other types of wood were considered during the design and testing process, they didn’t meet the demands of longevity, slip resistance and availability as required for Coney Island’s highly trafficked boardwalk.

In the end, the commission decided to approve the plan, but with several stipulations aimed at reducing the aesthetic impact of the concrete lane. They charged the Parks Department with looking into the feasibility of moving the concrete section to the land side of the boardwalk, allowing a less interrupted stretch of RPL, a synthetic wood substitute fashioned to recreate the look of the original boardwalk wood.

The commission also called for the department to include a trial section made of natural wood to study whether an alternative, such as black locust, could ultimately work for future boardwalk replacement projects.

“It’s about getting concrete out of peoples’ memory bank,” said James Polshek, a member of the commission.