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Trottenberg Announces Plaza Equity Program at Plaza de Las Americas Reveal

Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, and a cast of uptown players marked the opening of Plaza de Las Americas today. Photo: Brad Aaron

Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, and a cast of uptown players marked the opening of Plaza de Las Americas today. Photos: Brad Aaron

Just eight months after the groundbreaking ceremony, officials held a ribbon-cutting this morning at Plaza de Las Americas, an impressive new public space in Washington Heights. Also today, Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg announced a City Hall initiative to assist plazas in neighborhoods without the resources of a major business improvement district.

Plaza de Las Americas reclaims one block of W. 175th Street, between Broadway and Wadsworth Avenue, with 16,000 square feet of pedestrian space. Bookended to the north and south by the United Palace theater and a grocery store, respectively, the plaza comes equipped with electric and water service for vendors. Other amenities include a public restroom, decorative pavers, benches, trees, and a fountain by artist Ester Partegás.

The block has been the site of a farmers market since 1980, and since 1994 vendors have set up on the street to sell household wares, clothes, and other items. Sponsored by the Washington Heights and Inwood Development Corporation, the proposal to make those uses permanent received $5 million in city funds when it was chosen in the first round of the plaza program in 2008. The project was designed and built by DOT and the Department of Design and Construction.

“After years of planning, today we come together to celebrate the location our community has valued for decades transformed into an even better venue,” said City Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez in prepared remarks. “La Plaza de Las Americas will be a focal point for the communities of Northern Manhattan and assuredly a boon to local business and our very active street vendors.”

Other electeds on hand included Congressman Charles Rangel, State Senator Adriano Espaillat, Assembly Member Guillermo Linares, and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer.

Trottenberg announced the OneNYC Plaza Equity Program, which will allocate $1.4 million from the city budget to provide maintenance and management assistance to 30 “medium and high need” plaza projects, most of them in Queens, Brooklyn, the Bronx, and Upper Manhattan. Trottenberg said projects are eligible to receive up to $80,000, along with other assistance, such as organizing and fundraising help, for up to three years. Plazas that lack resources for upkeep can quickly fall out of favor with the public.

Another tidbit: Rodriguez said he’d like to see Plaza de Las Americas extended to St. Nicholas Avenue, two blocks east, as a “gateway” to Washington Heights and Inwood.

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Temporary Red Hook Greenway Plan Looks Better Than the Permanent One


Currently, plans call for ditching an interim on-street two-way bike lane in Red Hook once a waterfront greenway is built, but there’s no reason DOT couldn’t keep the interim design. Image: NYC DOT

Eventually, New York City intends to build a biking and walking path along the Red Hook waterfront, one link in the longer Brooklyn Waterfront Greenway. It’s going to be several years before that project gets built, so in the meantime DOT plans to make streets a few blocks inland safer for biking and walking. The question is, why not keep the safer, multi-modal surface streets after the permanent project wraps up?

Last night, DOT presented the interim plan [PDF] to the Brooklyn Community Board 6 transportation committee, which voted for it unanimously. The plan would reconstruct bumpy Ferris Street and Beard Street and make room for a two-way curbside bike lane and green infrastructure features. But the long-term plan for the greenway currently calls for moving the bikeway to the waterfront and putting a parking lane back on the street.

Currently, Ferris and Beard are in such poor condition that there is no sidewalk on large sections of each street, which impedes walking. The shoddy pavement and lack of bike lanes also prevent cyclists from comfortably accessing nearby Valentino Pier. The interim treatment will address both problems, and some people at the meeting last night questioned why the on-street bikeway is slated to be removed once the permanent greenway is built.

“I think that having an interim design is an appeasement to people who are worried about parking,” said committee member Bahij Chancey.

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Empire Boulevard Reconstruction Will Create Two Plazas

A reconstruction project will add pedestrian plazas to Empire Boulevard, including this one at Remsen Avenue. Images: DOT [PDF]

A street reconstruction will add plazas to Empire Boulevard, including this one at Remsen Avenue. Images: DOT [PDF]

Dangerous intersections at each end of Empire Boulevard, which stretches east-west across the southern edge of Crown Heights, are set for some major new pedestrian space.

A street reconstruction project will reconfigure the area where Empire Boulevard, East New York Avenue, Remsen Avenue, and Utica Avenue converge. There, DOT will reroute traffic, creating a new pedestrian plaza. Similar changes are coming to the intersection of Empire Boulevard, Franklin Avenue, and Washington Avenue.

From 2009 to 2013, there were 490 injuries at the two locations combined, including 29 serious injuries, placing them in the most dangerous 10 percent of Brooklyn streets, according to DOT [PDF].

The changes are part of a multi-agency capital project to rebuild utilities and roadbeds on both ends of Empire. The project will also repave the 1.5-mile street, which received a road diet, pedestrian islands and bike lanes in 2009.

Today, the intersections where Empire Boulevard meets Utica Avenue are a mess. East New York Avenue and Remsen Avenues slice diagonally across Empire, creating triangles surrounded by car traffic and forcing pedestrians to make multiple dangerous crossings.

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Eyes on the Street: New 215th Step-Street, With Bike Ramp, Taking Shape

Photos: Brad Aaron

Looking up the northern section of the 215th Step-Street from Broadway, with bike ramp on the left. Photos: Brad Aaron

It’s been a year since we checked up on the 215th Step-Street in Inwood, where the northern section of the long, steep stairway looks to be nearly finished — complete with bike ramp.

These stairs serve as a car-free street between Broadway and the 1 train and residential blocks that make up the northwest corner of the neighborhood. “The ancient passageway was built in an era when the automobile was still a relatively new contraption and getting up or down a hill required nothing more than a decent pair of shoes,” writes Cole Thompson at My Inwood. Check Thompson’s site for photos of the step-street dating from 100 years ago, when Broadway was paved with cobblestones and there’s not a car in sight.

As promised, the Department of Design and Construction is rehabbing the northern and southern sections one at a time, with one remaining open. Locals have waited for the city to fix the stairs since the late 90s, at least, and while it seems doubtful that DDC will meet its spring deadline (the project, which began last January, was supposed to take 17 months), Inwoodites may be using the new northern section before long.

How cool is it that, on a public stairway built before the city ceded the streets to motor vehicles, the reconstructed stairs will feature a bike ramp as a modern amenity.

The stairs in 2008.

The stairs in 2008.


Eyes on the Street: It’s Not Easy, Being the Right Shade of Green

Photo: Julia Day

Does something seem… off? It’s not just you: This is not the standard color DOT uses for bike lanes. Photo: Julia Day

With construction on the massive Third Water Tunnel shifting east along Grand Street, the section of the street through Soho, Little Italy, and Chinatown is getting repaved for the first time in years. Along with the new surface comes restoration of Grand Street’s protected bike lane — this time with a twist: Unlike other NYC bike lanes, this lane is being repainted in a bright, Kermit the Frog shade of green.

DOT, which lays down a more bluish-green color on its bike lanes, directed questions about the hue to the Department of Design and Construction, which is in charge of the Grand Street reconstruction. (DDC hasn’t yet responded to a request for comment.) While this color scheme may be closer to the green on display in some other cities, it appears to be the DDC’s shade, not the new standard in bike lane tinting here in New York.

Photo: Clarence Eckerson Jr.

I am green. And it’ll do fine. It’s beautiful! And I think it’s what I want to be. Photo: Clarence Eckerson Jr.


City Begins to Reclaim Space for Pedestrians at Fordham Plaza

The multi-year project to improve Fordham Plaza in the Bronx — a critical transit hub — entered its latest phase yesterday with the groundbreaking for a bigger and better public space for pedestrians.

Each day, more than 80,000 pedestrians flow through Fordham Plaza, the crossroads of a dozen bus lines (including two Select Bus Service routes) and the fourth-busiest station in the Metro-North system. The adjacent intersection of Fordham Road and Webster Avenue ranked in 2010 as the city’s third most dangerous for pedestrians and cyclists.

The plan realigns bus stops and increases pedestrian space by 25 percent. Image: DDC [PDF]

The plan realigns bus stops and increases pedestrian space by 25 percent. Image: DDC [PDF]

Once complete in fall 2015, the project will increase pedestrian space by more than a quarter and reduce the amount of asphalt by almost 40 percent. While yesterday marked the beginning of a new phase of construction, the event was really one of many milestones along the way to transforming the plaza.

A conceptual plan for the space was prepared for EDC by WXY Architecture + Urban Design in 2010. Later that year, DOT received a $10 million TIGER grant from the federal government, and the Department of Design and Construction began work soon after. The area has been in a near-permanent state of construction ever since as the project proceeds through various phases.

Earlier work focused on reconstructing nearby roadways, including the addition of new curb extensions. The latest round of improvements turns inward, to rebuild the plaza itself [PDF].

The plaza, constructed in the mid-1990s, is a rectangle between Fordham Road and East 189th Street, with Third Avenue running along its east side. Currently, bus stops and bus parking line Third Avenue, with an “L”-shaped brick driveway running through the plaza. Bus shelters, retail kiosks, and merchants’ tents sit in the middle of the plaza.

In the new design, buses will use a shorter driveway closer to Third Avenue, opening up a continuous pedestrian space in the middle of the rectangle that’s better connected to retail along the plaza’s western edge. The plan adds vegetation by installing two large concrete planters and ten smaller steel planters with attached wooden seating.

The new plaza will also include wayfinding signs, three kiosks for vendors, and a larger café structure with a canopy. This structure will replace the existing retail building at the north end of the plaza.

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Eyes on the Street: Rehab of Inwood’s 215th Step-Street Finally Underway

Photo: Brad Aaron

Photo: Brad Aaron

After years of delays, work began today to rebuild the 215th Step-Street in Inwood.

These stairs, which technically serve as a car-free street, connect residential blocks in northwest Inwood with shops on Broadway, and they are a link for commuters headed to the 1 train. The step-street is quite steep, with cracked stairs and broken lamps. The city has done a decent job patching the steps as needed, but there’s only so much that can be done in its current state. In 2007 a woman tripped on a hole in the stairs, cutting her legs and face. Several steps had begun to crumble again during the recent cold snap.

In the fall of 2011, the Department of Design and Construction told Streetsblog the stairs would be rehabbed in the summer of 2013. Before that, the timeline called for a 2009 finish date — and before that, Inwood residents were told it would be done in 2005.

DNAinfo reported last July that a contract had been awarded, and now it looks like the wait is over. By 7:30 this morning, crews had cordoned off a segment of the stairs to start work. In addition to new steps, the design will include tracks for bikes to be wheeled up and down the stairs.

Construction is expected to take 17 months, according to DNAinfo, and DDC says the steps will remain open for use throughout.


Here’s What’s Next for the Flushing Ave Segment of the Brooklyn Greenway

Image: NYC DOT/DDC/Parsons

The next phase of Brooklyn Waterfront Greenway construction on Flushing Avenue will build a raised two-way bikeway and planted buffers alongside the Brooklyn Navy Yard, creating a safer, more appealing environment on what has already become a much-used bike route. Here’s a look at the recently unveiled design from NYC DOT, the Department of Design and Construction, and project consultant Parsons.

As the city builds out the permanent greenway, reconstructing Flushing Avenue is one of the most important capital projects — a mile-long link connecting the Manhattan Bridge approach, DUMBO, and Farragut Houses to Williamsburg Street West, Kent Avenue, and Williamsburg/Greenpoint. The major upgrade entails converting the existing westbound curbside bike lane into a two-way bikeway at sidewalk grade, separated from motor traffic by a three-foot, planted cobblestone buffer. Another planting strip will separate the bikeway from the pedestrian path. For pedestrians, adding this bikeway will narrow crossing distances substantially — about 20 percent.

The Flushing Avenue greenway segment will add an eight-foot-wide, two-way bikeway at sidewalk grade and shorten crossing distances for pedestrians by about 20 percent. Image: NYC DOT/DDC/Parsons

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Queens CB 5 Set to Move Ahead With Bike Lane Planning, Plaza Construction

In Queens, Community Board 2 has garnered attention for its partnership with DOT on bike route planning. Immediately to the southeast, CB 5 has been busy working with the Department of City Planning on a parallel effort to map out routes in Ridgewood, Maspeth, and Middle Village that could receive bike lanes as soon as fall of next year.

Ridgewood, Middle Village, and Maspeth are missing the bike lanes that neighboring areas to the north and west enjoy. CB 5 is looking to change that. Map: NYC DOT

Last year, the community board approached DOT asking for new bike lanes; while DOT will handle implementation in CB 5, it has handed off planning for the area to DCP’s transportation planning division. Community meetings over the spring and summer led DCP to develop a list of routes:

  • Eliot Avenue from Metropolitan Avenue to Woodhaven Boulevard;
  • Juniper Boulevard South from 69th Street to Dry Harbor Road;
  • Woodward Avenue, Onderdonk Avenue, and connecting streets from Metropolitan Avenue to Cypress Hills Cemetery;
  • Central Avenue and Cooper Avenue from Cypress Hills Street to Woodhaven Boulevard;
  • 69th Street from Calamus Avenue to Metropolitan Avenue; and
  • 80th Street from the Long Island Expressway to Myrtle Avenue.

There are four additional routes that could receive further study: Grand Avenue, a north-south route between Ridgewood and Maspeth, a route between Ridgewood and Bushwick, and a loop around Juniper Valley Park. CB 5 transportation committee member John Maier said DCP was also considering a route along Rust Street, connecting to streets near Woodside.

“That’s just what they’re looking at; it doesn’t mean they’re going to get any specific treatment,” Maier said, adding that DCP staff is currently taking measurements of streets and coming up with design treatments for some of the streets. DCP will host another workshop with the community board next month to show its preliminary recommendations. Those projects could be implemented as soon as fall 2014. (DCP and DOT have not responded to questions from Streetsblog.)

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City Releases New Design Recommendations for Sidewalks

The latest update to the city's Active Design Guidelines recommends treatments for the four “planes” framing the sidewalk — the canopy, the ground plane, the building wall, and the roadside. Photo: Center for Active Design

Last month at the the eighth Fit City conference, the same day DOT unveiled a new pedestrian wayfinding initiative, the city released an update to its Active Design Guidelines focusing specifically on sidewalk design. Although the new guidelines are just suggestions, the new document lays out a vision for how the city’s sidewalks can be designed to encourage more walking, and it has the imprimatur of the mayor and the commissioners of transportation, city planning, health, and design and construction.

The two-part document, funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, categorizes its recommendations into four “planes” framing the sidewalk — the canopy, the ground plane, the building wall, and the roadside. The authors visited more than 30 sidewalks in six cities to observe and measure what gets people to walk more, and what doesn’t. The guide recognizes the many types of sidewalks in New York, from busy Midtown to quiet residential streets lined with trees and lawns. It identifies six attributes of a good sidewalk: safety, accessibility, sustainability and resilience, human scale, continuous variety, and connectivity.

Although the report does not propose specific regulatory changes, it does include general suggestions for how zoning, agency design guides, and other rules can be used to improve the sidewalk experience.

The report recommends constant variety in retail stores — also known as “skinny storefronts” — to foster an engaging environment for walking. On the Upper West Side, a rezoning last year restricted storefront width to 40 feet, with the goal of keeping blocks from becoming monotonous and uninviting to pedestrians.

These types of policies can make or break a streetscape. On Fourth Avenue in Brooklyn, a wave of new development following a 2003 rezoning faced the sidewalk with big blank walls and parking lots. Eventually the Department of City Planning updated the zoning, banning garages next to the sidewalk on the avenue and mandating some retail on ground floors.