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Posts from the Pedestrian Infrastructure Category

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Eyes on the Street: The New 215th Step-Street Officially Opens Today

The 215th Step-Street, looking west from Broadway. Photos: Brad Aaron

The new 215th Step-Street, looking west from Broadway. Photos: Brad Aaron

Over a decade after the project’s first expected delivery date, the reconstruction of Inwood’s 215th Step-Street is complete.

West 215th Street crosses the width of Manhattan island’s northernmost neighborhood, from Inwood Hill Park to the Harlem River. Between Park Terrace East and Broadway, W. 215 is a step-street — one of many car-free street segments in Upper Manhattan and other parts of the city — connecting Broadway shops, buses, and the 1 train with residential blocks to the west.

Inwood history blogger Cole Thompson traced the origin of the double-wide staircase to 1915, when Broadway was paved with cobblestones and “the automobile was still a relatively new contraption.”

By the late 20th century, the long, steep staircase was in sad shape. Resident requests to renovate the stairs date at least as far back as the 1990s, and the city once pledged to get the work done by 2005. For years afterward, however, the step-street continued to deteriorate, requiring periodic repairs as locals contended with ice patches and busted street lamps. In 2007 a woman was injured when she tripped on a hole in the stairs.

The stairway in 2008.

The stairway in 2008.

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Total L.I.C. Street Rebuild to Include Safety Overhauls for Key Intersections

Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer alongside the DDC and DOT Commissioners this morning. Photo: David Meyer

Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer alongside DDC Commissioner Feniosky Pena-Mora (to the left) and DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg (on the right) this morning. Photo: David Meyer

The streets of Long Island City are getting a total rebuild, and as part of the project four major intersections along Jackson Avenue and Vernon Boulevard will get redesigned for greater safety.

Many other intersections could get curb extensions or other traffic-calming treatments as part of the $38.47 million neighborhood-wide street reconstruction. Speaking this morning at the foot of the Pulaski Bridge, Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer said DOT will prioritize four intersections: 21st Street and Jackson Avenue, 23rd Street and Jackson Avenue, Vernon Boulevard and Jackson Avenue, and Vernon Boulevard and 44th Drive.

Jackson and 11th Street, a complex multi-leg intersection that pedestrians and cyclists have to navigate to get to the Pulaski Bridge, will also be improved. Once the Pulaski Bridge bikeway opens this spring, there will be a lot more room for walking and biking, and the approach on the Queens side could use an upgrade.

Long Island City’s population is on track to soar as new development hits the market. But sandwiched by the Queensboro Bridge to the north and the Pulaski Bridge and Midtown Tunnel to the south, the neighborhood is often overrun by car and truck traffic, creating an unpleasant and unsafe environment for pedestrians.

In December, Van Bramer, DDC, and DOT hosted a public workshop where local residents and business owners overwhelmingly cited Vernon Boulevard and Jackson Avenue as streets in need of safety improvements. Jackson Avenue feeds into the Pulaski and is the site of several popular attractions, including MOMA P.S. 1, but has few safe crosswalks. In 2015 alone, 31 people were injured on Jackson Avenue within the project boundaries.

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Empire Blvd Safety Fixes Run Up Against Parking and Gentrification Politics

A federally-funded redesign and reconstruction of two dangerous Empire Boulevard intersections is in jeopardy, running up against a combination of parking politics and gentrification fears.

DOT has plans to replace a small slip lane that feeds into Empire Boulevard with a pedestrian plaza, but local anger over gentrification could prevent the project from coming to fruition. Image: DOT/DDC/RBA Group

A plan to convert a small slip lane into sidewalk space is being met with resistance at Community Board 9. Image: DOT/DDC/RBA Group

The plan would add sidewalk space by simplifying two complex intersections where several streets converge [PDF]. On the western end of Empire, a slip lane would be closed at the intersection of Washington Avenue and Franklin Avenue. To the east, pedestrian space would be claimed at the even more complicated tangle of streets where Empire meets Utica Avenue, East New York Avenue, and Remsen Avenue.

Empire Boulevard is one of the most dangerous streets in Brooklyn. At these two intersections alone, there were 490 injuries between 2009 and 2013. Removing slip lanes at both locations will eliminate shortcuts where drivers can cut quickly across pedestrians’ paths, without fundamentally changing how traffic flows.

At Wednesday’s CB 9 Transportation Committee meeting, neighborhood residents and community board members joined around 10 representatives from DOT, the Department of Design and Construction, and the RBA Group to discuss the proposal, which the committee approved in a unanimous 4-0 vote in September. Chair Tim Thomas said he invited city officials to come back and make the case after the proposal drew criticism at a meeting of the full community board in November.

Supporters of the proposal presented a petition with nearly 300 signatures Wednesday night. Daniel Kristjansson, who sits on the committee, said in an email to Streetsblog that the project is a small but necessary step to make Empire Boulevard safer. “Empire Boulevard is deadly, and even with these changes it will still kill and subject many more to a lifetime of pain and disability,” he said. “But these improvements will make a noticeable dent in the casualty figures.”

The project has become swept up in the debate over the rezoning of Empire Boulevard, a flashpoint in predominantly black neighborhoods experiencing a rapid influx of more affluent, white residents. “I’ve been living on Washington Avenue all my life and living there has been a great pleasure — until recently, when these changes [have] taken place,” one resident, Felice Robertson, told the committee.

Other complaints were typical of street redesigns anywhere in the city. Robertson also said the neighborhood is “in dire need of parking spaces.” Another resident suggested that instead of pedestrianizing a block of Franklin the city should install a neckdown, which could be done “without taking away 15 parking spaces, which is a critical part of what this community still needs.” (The project would only remove seven spaces.)

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Lentol: Safety Improvements Coming to Meeker Avenue in 2016

The intersection with Skillman Avenue is just one of many unsafe crossing along Meeker Avenue in Williamsburg/Greenpoint. Image: Google Maps

The intersection with Skillman Avenue is one of many dangerous crossings along Meeker Avenue in Williamsburg/Greenpoint. Photo: Google Maps

DOT will present safety improvements next month for Meeker Avenue by the BQE in Williamsburg, according to Assembly Member Joe Lentol. The department told Lentol’s office it would bring a proposal to Brooklyn Community Board 1 on January 12.

Meeker Avenue runs under the BQE for a mile between North 6th Street and Vandevoort Avenue, dividing the neighborhood in half and posing risks to pedestrians and cyclists at nearly every corner. In 2014, 21-year-old Marisol Martinez was killed by an MTA bus driver while crossing the street at Union Avenue. In total, there were three fatalities and 104 injuries on Meeker between 2012 and 2014.

In April, Transportation Alternatives launched the Make Meeker Move campaign, calling on DOT to study pedestrian safety improvements and protected bike lanes along the corridor.

The next month, Lentol sent a letter to DOT requesting a pedestrian crossing where Skillman Avenue intersects with Meeker. DOT’s response indicates that the agency is looking primarily at ways to shorten crossing distances:

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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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The Randall’s Island Connector Is Finally Here


This spring, the Highbridge re-opened between the Bronx and Manhattan, the first car-free crossing linking the two boroughs. Now the second one in less than a year is open with the debut of the Randall’s Island Connector. The project has been in the pipeline for what seems like forever, and on Saturday it opened to the delight of many South Bronx residents.

The connector provides a direct and easy link between the developing South Bronx greenway network and Randall’s Island, with its athletic fields, picnic tables, miles of beautiful greenways, and stunning views of the Manhattan skyline. From Randall’s Island, you can bike or walk to the big island via the 103rd Street footbridge.

Advance apologies for some of the sound. When the winds are gusting over 30 mph and you are below an Amtrak train trestle, well, those aren’t ideal conditions. But kudos to the hundreds of people who showed up on a cold and blustery fall morning to celebrate the occasion.

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Eyes on the Street: Randall’s Island Connector to Open in “Coming Weeks”

The Randall’s Island Connector is still fenced off, but not for long. EDC says an opening date will be scheduled “in the coming weeks.” Photo: Stephen Miller

The Randall’s Island Connector, a greenway link between the South Bronx and Randall’s Island, is almost complete. Bronxites are anticipating a ribbon-cutting any day now from the city’s Economic Development Corporation, which is building the project.

The new path crosses the Bronx Kill, a narrow waterway separating Randall’s Island from the Bronx. Without it, the only way to bike or walk from the Bronx to Randall’s Island is over narrow paths on the Triborough Bridge that include stairs, sharp curves, and a steep ascent to bridge level.

In contrast, the connector will provide a flat, direct crossing from E. 132nd Street in Port Morris to 330 acres of public parks and greenways on Randall’s Island.

Construction crews are currently finishing up handrail installations and minor fencing work, EDC says, before the city schedules a grand opening.

EDC wouldn’t give an exact opening date — but it should be soon. “As we put the finishing touches on the Randall’s Island Connector and schedule a grand opening event in the coming weeks, we are excited for the many opportunities that this neighborhood asset will provide for the community,” an agency spokesperson said.

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Brooklyn Beep Eric Adams Funds Eight Concrete Curb Extensions

Eight new concrete curb extensions are coming to five Brooklyn intersections after a $1 million pledge from Borough President Eric Adams.

Curb extensions reduce crossing distances for pedestrians and help drivers make slower, safer turns. Photo: DOT [PDF]

Curb extensions reduce crossing distances for pedestrians and help drivers make slower, safer turns. Photo: DOT [PDF]

Curb extensions, also known as neckdowns or bulb-outs, extend the sidewalk at intersections to shorten crossing distances for pedestrians and slow drivers as they turn around a corner.

“Our youngest and oldest Brooklynites are at particular risk when crossing some of our busiest streets,” Adams said in a press release. “Redesigning our crossings through sidewalk extensions is a common-sense approach that helps take our most vulnerable out of harm’s way.”

Eight concrete neckdowns will be added to five intersections in Sheepshead Bay, East Flatbush, Prospect Lefferts Gardens and Borough Park. The intersections were chosen because they are high-crash locations in areas with an above-average concentration of senior citizens. Three of the five intersections are located in areas included in NYC DOT’s Safe Streets for Seniors program.

Here’s the full list:

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Watch New Yorkers Using the 33rd Street Plaza With Streetfilms

Catch it while you can. Before the temporary plaza on 33rd Street at Seventh Avenue closes on October 3, Clarence Eckerson Jr. of Streetfilms stopped by to grab video of New Yorkers enjoying some breathing room in one of Midtown’s most crowded corners.

The plaza was installed in July, along with a temporary sidewalk extension on 32nd Street between Herald Square and Penn Station. The pedestrian spaces could return permanently after the trial period ends next month.

The plaza has proven immensely popular, getting rave reviews at a recent Community Board 5 meeting. The sidewalk extension, however, has come under attack — both from a tabloid columnist who thinks homelessness can be fixed with car traffic, and from 32nd Street neighbors who want more curbside loading zones.

The projects, supported by DOT and CB 5, were conceived and sponsored by real estate giant Vornado, which owns major properties near Penn Station, including Penn Plaza, the Manhattan Mall, and the Hotel Pennsylvania.

Before the public space is removed and given back to cars in less than three weeks, the 34th Street Partnership is hosting a workshop tomorrow evening to gather feedback on what people think of the plaza. It’s scheduled for tomorrow at 6 p.m. RSVP is required.

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32nd Street Finally Has Enough Space for Walking. Will It Last?

This pedestrian space could be replaced with loading zones. Photo: Stephen Miller

This pedestrian space, installed for a summer trial period, may give way to parked trucks because building owners on the south side of 32nd Street want more loading zones. Photo: Stephen Miller

New pedestrian zones near Penn Station have given people more breathing room on some of the most crowded streets in the city. Will they stay or will they go after a trial period wraps up in October?

At a Community Board 5 committee meeting last night, nearby property owners weighed in on the projects. It was smooth sailing for the new plaza on 33rd Street at Seventh Avenue, but a much-needed sidewalk expansion on the north side of 32nd Street faced pushback from property owners who aren’t pleased with how it’s changed the use of the curb in front of their buildings.

The projects were conceived and funded by real estate giant Vornado Realty Trust, which owns a number of properties near Penn Station, including Penn Plaza, the Manhattan Mall, and the Hotel Pennsylvania. The new pedestrian areas relieve crowding on sidewalks near the rail station, where people on foot overflow into the street.

The temporary public spaces, approved by NYC DOT and supported by CB 5 in June, were installed about a month ago and are set to be removed October 11. Based on the results of this evaluation period, the additional pedestrian space could be brought back and made permanent.

Property owners along 32nd Street want to see some adjustments. Fetner Properties owns The Epic, a rental residential tower with its back door on the south side of 32nd Street, across from the Manhattan Mall and the sidewalk extension. “We love the idea,” President and CEO Hal Fetner told a joint meeting of the CB 5 parks and transportation committees last night. “[But] we’re all fighting for the same sidewalk space.”

To replace the parking lane on the north side of the street with pedestrian space, the project shuffled curbside uses, shifting an MTA bus layover and reducing the length of the street’s loading zones from 680 feet to 180 feet. Now, Fetner says, his building’s trash is collected on the same curb where people wait to board the M4 and Q32 buses. When new tenants move in, he has to send staff to sit on the curb until the moving truck arrives, keeping others from taking the space. Fetner said that wasn’t an issue when the street had more loading zones.

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