“Plaza 33” Will Return This Year, But a Ped-Friendly 32nd Street Won’t

“Plaza 33,” the temporary public space that opened up the eastern end of 33rd Street between Seventh Avenue and Eighth Avenue for a few months last year, will be back in August and this time there are no plans to remove it once the weather turns colder.

The other pedestrian improvement by Penn Station that real estate giant Vornado funded last year — the 32nd Street sidewalk extension — will not be back, however. Both projects were managed by Vornado with DOT’s approval.

Last night, representatives from the company showed a joint meeting of the Community Board 5 transportation and parks committees their plan to bring back Plaza 33. The 32nd Street project, which opened up space for people on a cramped walking route between Sixth Avenue and Penn Station, may get revived in the future, but Vornado said complaints about the removal of loading zones have tabled it for now.

The plaza on 33rd Street increases continuous pedestrian space on 7th Avenue by half. Image: Vornado Reality Trust

The plaza on 33rd Street (the green area) is coming back in August. Image: Vornado Reality Trust

While there are no plans to remove the plaza once it returns, DOT wants to observe it year-round before committing to a permanent build-out, which would require a multi-year capital investment.

“Part of what DOT wants to see is ‘How does this work?’” Vornado Senior VP for Development Marc Ricks told committee members. “And although they are not positioning this as a pilot, they are positioning that it’s back and it’s here to stay, the city always reserves the right to say something’s not working.”

DOT may also implement split-phase signals at the intersections of Seventh Avenue with 33rd Street and 31st Street, so pedestrians never have the walk signal at the same time that turning drivers have a green light. That decision is due to traffic concerns more than safety — DOT found that those intersections had more vehicle delay while Plaza 33 was in place.

Many of the committee’s questions focused on how and whether the space would be used for commercial purposes, and who would be responsible for determining what events will occur on the space. Their final resolution “strongly encourages” the city’s Street Activity Permit Office to only allow commercial events promoted by either the 34th Street Partnership BID or neighborhood residents.

The 32nd Street sidewalk extension opened up much-needed space for people between Sixth Avenue and Penn Station, but it won’t be back this year. Photo: Stephen Miller

Partly because of concerns about how the space would be used, the committee requested that Vornado return in one year to reevaluate the project and determine whether it should continue permanently.

The full community board will vote on the proposal on March 10. The plaza design will be finalized in April in collaboration with a CB 5 working group, and the space will open to the public in August.