Southern Brooklyn

The New Concrete “Boardwalk” Is Already Cracking


THE COMMUTE: This week’s Commute is for those of you who walk or run on the Riegelmann Boardwalk, which is in danger of extinction as we know it. The latest proposal calls for a 12-foot wide concrete strip for motorized vehicles, yielding to opposition from those who opposed a boardwalk entirely made of concrete. Now here is the latest development.

The new concrete boardwalk, laid last year, has already developed numerous hairline cracks after only one winter. The 300-foot segment between Ocean Parkway and Brighton 1st Road is already showing signs of age, although the city favored concrete over choices such as natural wood, kebony-treated wood and recycled plastic lumber. Also, the concrete is staining and shows off gum spots remarkably well.

The City Lies

This all flies in the face of the city’s claims that concrete was the most sturdy and economical choice and would last virtually forever, something they suggested on multiple occasions.

“Concrete is less expensive to use, can last decades rather than up to 10 years, and requires virtually no maintenance,” Parks Spokesperson Meghan Lalor said last fall. “It is significantly more effective than the other choices.”

Brooklyn Parks Commissioner Kevin Jeffrey said the material costs less, is not slippery, is easier to repair and is less likely to break or rot than its alternatives.  There was no mention as to how snow would be removed or if the concrete walk would be salted or plowed and how much wear and tear that would cause.

In actuality, the wood in use now was guaranteed for 20 years with some sections lasting as few as 12 years – not 10 as the city asserted.  The problem with wood, however, is that much of it came from tropical rain forests, justifiably sparking opposition from environmentalists. But the city’s opposition to other materials seems a little less substantial.

The makers of Recycled Plastic Lumber claim it can last as long as 50 years, but the city says the material is too slippery when wet. I walked on the small section installed along Steeplechase Pier and can tell you it is also slippery even when dry. Apparently the original wood grain texture giving it some traction has already worn away leaving an ultra-smooth surface. Also, I do not understand why the slats were installed with no space between for the water to drain. But, overall, these are issues that can be remedied with minor design tweaks.

Recently two groups have sprouted to preserve the Riegelmann Boardwalk: Todd Dobrin’s Friends of the Boardwalk, and Rob Burstein’s Coney-Brighton Boardwalk Alliance, which is circulating an online petition.

What Should Be Done?

Concrete apparently is not as durable as the city claimed it would be because the hairline cracks will only get worse with age and eventually will have to patched – unless, of course, the city wants to be faced with huge lawsuits, since falls on concrete are much more severe than falls on wood. Concrete is also criticized because it is more difficult to walk or run on than wood and that it is hotter than wood to walk on with bare feet. I am in favor of the recycled plastic lumber as long as a variety can be found that will not become slippery after only a few years, and if it could be installed to look like the traditional boardwalk. I do not believe we should have to destroy the rain forest to obtain a lumber that is usable for the boardwalk. Other varieties such as kebony-treated lumber should be considered.  However, the makers of kebony have not come forth to show that pricing is economically feasible as they have alleged.

What I Think Will Happen

A small section composed of recycled plastic lumber with a concrete driving strip will be constructed. The city will not acknowledge the fact that concrete is not holding up as intended, but will state after a year that recycled plastic lumber is too slippery and not suitable for further use, and will revert to their original plan to complete the remainder of the boardwalk (except for five blocks within the amusement area which they may increase to 10) entirely of concrete.  They will buy the cheapest grade of recycled plastic lumber on the market to ensure that it fails, and will make no attempt to find a type that will not get slippery or wear out too fast. They also will do no investigation of using non-tropical woods or kebony (or similarly treated) wood.

The Commute is a weekly feature highlighting news and information about the city’s mass transit system and transportation infrastructure. It is written by Allan Rosen, a Manhattan Beach resident and former Director of MTA/NYC Transit Bus Planning (1981).

Comment policy


  1. I run on the boardwalk almost daily and it’s no secret that wood is much friendlier to our bodies than concrete. When seeing and hearing all of this, it gets me mad, frustrated, and even really upset. How can they possibly do this? It’s called a BOARDWALK for a reason…and not for only 5 blocks-worth.

    I really wish some citizen would take a jackhammer to it overnight. I’ll be very happy to join in. Maybe we can just spill buckets of paint on it or something. It’s got to go.

  2. KEEP THE VEHICLES OFF THE BOARDWALK!  EASY SOLUTION! No police cars patroling or taking senic drives along the Boardwalk!!!!

  3. The police have plenty of those police scooters.  Unless they need a car to make an arrest. there is no reason for police vehicles on the boardwalk.

  4. those police cars put out fumes that are killing my children’s healthy lungs. all they wanted to do was go to the beach and enjoy the fresh air. but now they just get a ton of toxic fumes from all the vehicles the cops run up and down the boardwalk! is it wrong that i grin whenever the city fails horribly at something?

  5. It’s not only the Boardwalk.  They also use motorized vehicles on the sand.  What happened to good old fashioned walking? Some of those cops need to lose a few pounds anyway.

  6. Sorry to say but the basic criticism of this piece is wrong… All concrete develops cracks, that is normal, even within the first year.  According to building codes concrete is not seen to have structural problems unless cracks are 3/16th of an inch wide( and the length is inconsequential). The steel rebar inside the pieces is what allows the cracks to not effect the structural integrity.
    Though… personally I would rather have the recycled plastic option and keep the boardwalk look, comfort for walking/running, durability, and not chop down rainforest.

  7. Two questions.  One, are you saying that the hairline cracks will remain at the same width although more may develop, and will not need repairs?

    Two, if cracking of concrete is normal, then why are homeowners obligated to repair all cracks in concrete in front of their homes or risk receiving summonses from the City for not maintaining it in perfect condition?

  8. When the city went sidewalk crazy some years back they decided my sidewalk, constructed three years earlier, was in a state of serious disrepair, and I needed to have their contractor redo it. I challenged it, and they sent another inspector, who agreed with me. Then quite brilliantly, they redid my sidewalk anyway. No charge, because it was an “accident” but that job was so terribly done that there are already hairline cracks on the slabs. I think part of the problem is who gets these contracts. 

    Nevertheless, a concrete boardwalk is not practical.

  9. 1) yes

    2) home owners are not required to repair hairline cracks.  Large cracks that are dangerous, either to the structural integrity of the object or pedestrians walking on a sidewalk, need to be repaired for sure.  I can’t imagine that a homeowner would be summoned for cracks under 3/16ths of an inch.

     I should note that my wife and I spent are 12th wedding anniversary on the boardwalk last night and walked from the coney island stop to cafe glechik. I had not been to coney island in 20 years, and it was great to walk between the ocean and the neighborhoods.

    As we walked, the diagonal installation of the wood boardwalk showed all of its structural flaws and that stuck in my mind all the way through dinner much to my wife’s delight.  I design and build “green” buildings in the catskills and in brooklyn, which is no excuse for spending too much of the night talking to my wife about the problems and the possible solutions with the boardwalk!

    I saw the link on brownstoner to you and…

  10. ironically 90% of the real wood on the boardwalk is in good shape, the diagonal design and installation is the reason its all messed up.  (real wood is no good if you don’t know how to use it)…and yes real wood is better than plastic wood any day of the week, it just sucks that the only highly durable woods for this application, like brazilian walnut(ipe), come from destroying the last remaining untouched tropical forests… sorry to say I can’t think of a sexual pun for that one

  11. I remember when real wood was still easily found. All of sudden, around 1970 it started getting more difficult to find, and became outrageously priced. We don’t use as much paper anymore, and supposedly recycle it. So what happened with the cultivation of wood in this country for building purposes?

    i’m all for maintaining unspoiled forests but we should have a balance. It seems that the lumber industry in this country didn’t attempt to do that.
    And don’t worry, Nick will eventually find a usable innuendo, he usually does.

  12. soft woods, like pine and douglas fur, we grow a lot of. or harvest a lot of as it grows fast and straight.  you can use soft wood for framing buildings, and pressure treated soft wood for decking that will last 10 years or so with average use..But hard woods grows slow(nick where are you?)
    We harvested most of this country down to the ground from 1500s to the 1800’s, and a lot of areas have been continually forested for their lumber since.  These trees in brazil are hundreds of years old.  There are no old growth forests in the entire east coast that I know of other than some 500 year old cypress trees in georgia on a 4 acre island.  

  13. Bull(s) Island in the Delaware River is original growth I believe.  So hard wood on a Bull? Nick whoever you are…?

  14. Off topic, but speakin’ of police scooters, what good are those goofy scooters at GCT and Union Square because they cannot go up and down stairs?!? So they are stuck on 1 level! Seems like another taxpayer $ spend to me!

  15. I remember walking on the concrete part of the boardwalk for the first time.. The first thought I had wasn’t “Oh this is a great idea, and it looks good” 

    It was “What is this bullshit I’m walking on?!” I grew up on that boardwalk, it’s such a shame when they fuck around with good things, but in the most retarded way possible. Especially now that I’m a taxpayer.. -_- 


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