Hudson Square BID Sets Out to Reclaim Streets From Holland Tunnel Traffic

Every day, thousands of drivers, including trucks too large for city roadways, cross from the Manhattan or Williamsburg bridges, through the streets of Lower Manhattan, to the Holland Tunnel – all for a free ride (often to avoid the westbound toll on the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge).

The Hudson Square BID wants to enhance SoHo Square by turning a short side street, Little Sixth Avenue, into a shared space that prioritizes pedestrians. Image: Hudson Square BID

The result is congestion, pollution, noise and dangerous conditions for everyone who dares to get in the way.

This week, the Hudson Square Connection Business Improvement District released a master plan [PDF] for the traffic-choked streets around the Holland Tunnel entrance, outlining $27 million in street improvements – from pedestrian space to bike lanes – aimed at making the neighborhood a less hostile environment.

The plan builds on work already underway to make the area a better place to walk. The BID has hired pedestrian safety managers to help with crossings at often-gridlocked intersections. Manhattan Community Board 2′s transportation committee unanimously supported a DOT plan that was quickly approved by the full board in June to expand pedestrian space and provide clarity for drivers on Varick Street, Canal Street and Sixth Avenue.

The BID’s five-year master plan goes further. In addition to neighborhood-wide recommendations for streetscape features, it focuses on four key places: Varick Street, Hudson Street, Spring Street and “SoHo Square,” at the intersection of Spring and Sixth Avenue.

The plan for SoHo Square would convert Little Sixth Avenue into a shared street and construct raised crosswalks to slow vehicular traffic through the expanded plaza. For Varick Street, the BID wants to examine the feasibility of installing a planted median to separate tunnel-bound traffic from neighborhood traffic, to replace the strip of plastic white posts there today. Hudson Street would gain a protected bike lane —  an idea that Community Board 2 endorsed last year –while the entire neighborhood would see more trees.

Changes to Freeman Plaza, at the entrance to the Holland Tunnel, have garnered the most press attention but are not included in the master plan, which aims to improve streets throughout the neighborhood. In 2010, the BID and the Regional Plan Association collaborated on conceptual plans for the plaza.

The Hudson Square Connection, launched in 2009, serves the area bounded by West Houston Street to the north, Sixth Avenue to the east, Canal Street to the south and the Hudson River to the west. It is home to over 50,000 people during the daytime, with 2,500 residents. The plan, developed by a team led by Mathews Nielsen Landscape Architects, Rogers Marvel Architects, Billings Jackson Design, ARUP and Open, would be funded through BID assessments and public dollars.

This is not a parking lot; it's a crosswalk on Varick Street. Photo: Doug Gordon

The BID’s recommendations aim to transform the neighborhood’s streets, but traffic will continue to plague the area until policymakers address the underlying reason why many drivers find idling in Lower Manhattan traffic worthwhile — the free ride going westbound across the island.

The BID’s plan notes that tunnel traffic is a major problem in the neighborhood. Varick Street, it notes, “is choked by cars accessing the Holland Tunnel, which makes it hard for pedestrians to cross and interferes with local deliveries.”

Community Board 2 was the first community board in the city to pass a resolution in favor of congestion pricing, and has remained engaged on the issue, hosting a forum on bridge tolls in May. In an email, the BID said it is “not involved” in discussions related to road pricing to reduce congestion.

Even though the topic of fair tolls remains on the back burner, a slate of pedestrian, bicycle and park improvements are a good start to making streets around the Holland Tunnel less threatening for people who live and work in the neighborhood.