The 2015 Report Card on Beaches is Here

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

New York City’s eight swimming beaches have made steady overall progress since New Yorkers for Parks began tracking them in 2007, despite the interruption of Hurricane Sandy.

There is more work to do, though, to make these beaches consistently great.

The 2015 Report Card on Beaches, released today by New Yorkers for Parks (NY4P), revisits and reassesses the seven swimming beaches surveyed between 2007 and 2011, and adds an assessment of Cedar Grove Beach in Staten Island. Results were strong: half the beaches scored in the A or B range, and only one received a failing grade. The depth and breadth of our study make this report - the only independent assessment of its kind - and its recommendations timely as beach season resumes.

 The report awarded the top scoring Rockaway Beach in Queens with a grade of 90, and runner up Manhattan Beach in southeastern Brooklyn received a score of 87. The report also depicts beaches where the city has serious work to do: Orchard Beach in the Bronx scores a 69 and Wolfe’s Pond Beach in Staten Island pulled in a low score of 36.  Overall the results of the 2015 report prove that the trend towards improved conditions at the city’s beaches continues.

“The Parks Department has worked diligently and visibly to improve beach quality since our first report in 2007, and to deal with the unique challenges of recovering from Hurricane Sandy,” said Tupper Thomas, NY4P’s Executive Director. “With this report, we hope to help the city work for even stronger systems of maintenance and operations as well as to spell out and dedicate the capital improvements that are needed to make our beaches world class.”

The report presents findings and recommendations based on data collected by NY4P surveyors at all eight city beaches that have lifeguards during the summer months of 2014. Each surveyor used NY4P’s established methodology to physically assess and score four key features: Shorelines, Pathways, Bathrooms, and Drinking Fountains. NYC Parks has generally improved the maintenance of all these areas since NY4P began assessing beaches in 2007, though some beaches score notably higher than others. The data collected shows significant variety within and across beaches. Just in Staten Island, Midland Beach got a 45 for its drinking fountains but scored a 96 on its pathway.

The report makes six key recommendations:

  • Continue capital repairs required to recover from Hurricane Sandy. Although many structures and amenities have been replaced since the storm, many beaches remain without permanent replacements for facilities and infrastructure that the storm damaged.
  • Use dedicated contractors to meet plumbing and carpentry needs at beaches. This would dedicate attention to the beaches, which require an especially high amount of plumbing and carpentry for their share of the NYC Parks portfolio. Private contracting will allow NYC Parks staff to adequately service the plumbing and carpentry needs at parks and playgrounds.
  • Make clear where access is prohibited with uniform, consistent signage across all beaches. Clear signage helps to protect visitors and fragile beach environments alike. Visitors should unequivocally know where they may tread on open sand and across fragile beach dunes.
  • Keep investing capital dollars in new drinking fountain and spray shower models. Modern, drainless drinking fountains, such as the new models found at Rockaway Beach, do not clog with sand or litter. Stand-alone spray showers help swimmers rinse off sand and salt water, keeping existing fountains and comfort stations clean.
  • Create a capital plan for maintaining and renovating Orchard Beach. The popular Bronx beach, inside Pelham Bay Park, has suffered long-term effects from Sandy without getting capital investment priority, as the Long Island and Staten Island beaches did. The City must create a long-term plan to make Orchard Beach resilient and magnificent.
  • Replenish sand at Wolfe’s Pond and other Staten Island beaches. Erosion has taken its toll on these sites. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers needs to enter a contract to study what would be necessary to keep these beaches well-maintained over the long term.

The good news in the Report Card on Beaches is that the city has continued a general upward trend in beach conditions since NY4P’s surveys began. Average scores in all areas were equal to or higher than they were in 2009. That year, the highest score was 77. This year, despite the ongoing challenges from Sandy, the city showed one Excellent and three Very Good beaches.

That Rockaway Beach in Queens, where Sandy ripped miles of boardwalk from the earth, earned a grade of 90 just two years later shows what NYC Parks can do with enough capital and a thorough plan. The Report Card on Beaches shows ways to bring all beaches to that standard.

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