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Posts from the Plazas Category

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This Is What Harlem Plaza Supporters Will Be Up Against at CB 10 Tonight

Anonymously sent by someone who had the personal email addresses of all CB 10 members.

Someone anonymously sent this to the personal email addresses of all CB 10 members.

Neighbors have fought for years to get Manhattan Community Board 10 to support creating a small plaza by Frederick Douglass Boulevard and 150th Street. Tonight that proposal is up for a vote at a general board meeting of CB 10 for the first time.

Bradhurst Plaza would convert a short one-way “slip lane” segment of Macombs Place, which runs diagonally across the Harlem grid, into pedestrian space, connecting a small triangle-shaped patch of trees to the sidewalk in front of the Dunbar Apartments building.

Today, northbound drivers on their way to the Macombs Dam Bridge make a quick right turn from Frederick Douglass. With a plaza, pedestrians would no longer have to worry about getting hit by drivers taking fast turns. Drivers going to Macombs Place would have to turn from 150th Street instead.

In addition to improving the pedestrian environment, the plaza would provide space for a new farmers market. Local businesses and community groups, led by the Harlem Community Development Corporation, have signed on to maintain the plaza.

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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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Turn Times Square Back Into Traffic Hell? Tell Bratton and de Blasio: No Way

Replacing people with cars? Not a good idea, public space advocates say. Photo: Nicolas Vollmer/Flickr

Try to picture ramming a road through this crowd and cramming them onto the sidewalk. Photo: Nicolas Vollmer/Flickr

Since Mayor Bill de Blasio won’t rule out the threat of removing the Times Square plazas, first raised by Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, it’s time to take action. Two petitions are circulating to urge the mayor not to give Times Square back to cars.

One petition organized by the Design Trust for Public Space and backed by the Municipal Art Society and a similar petition from Transportation Alternatives call on Bratton and de Blasio to do the right thing by the hundreds of thousands of people who walk in Times Square every day.

“Commissioner Bratton and Mayor de Blasio want to rip up the pedestrian plazas. We can’t let that happen,” the Design Trust’s petition says. “Aggressive street performers and ‘desnudas’ are an enforcement problem. They aren’t a plaza problem.”

Here’s what some of the signatories are saying…

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Bratton Won’t Stop Talking About Removing Times Square Plazas

It wasn’t just an offhand remark. Police Commissioner Bill Bratton has reiterated his desire to eliminate the public plazas at Times Square and go back to the days when people were spilling off the sidewalk into the path of traffic. This time, he’s insisting that taking away space for people won’t just cure Times Square of topless women and costumed characters — it’ll actually improve traffic safety.

He's the Energizer bunny of car-centric thinking. Photo: Policy Exchange/Flickr

He’s the Energizer bunny of windshield perspective. Photo: Policy Exchange/Flickr

The year after the plazas were installed, pedestrian injuries fell 40 percent at Times Square, and injuries to car drivers and passengers dropped 63 percent along Broadway in Midtown, according to a 2010 DOT report [PDF]. At the same time, pedestrian volumes in Times Square increased 11 percent after the plaza opened.

Earlier this week, the Wall Street Journal crunched the numbers and found that total traffic injuries in Times Square have fallen nearly 25 percent in the five years since the redesign compared to the five previous years. Times Square is safer now than it was before the plazas were installed.

Not so, says Bratton.

“That story was really, very inappropriate in its findings. It took a look at Seventh Avenue and Broadway. It didn’t look at the cross streets, it didn’t look at the larger Times Square area,” he said on WGTK-AM 970, reports Politico. “When you look at the larger Times Square area, actually, accidents have gone up. So, all the traffic that has been pushed into the side street… it tells a very different story.”

Whatever stats Bratton is referring to, they clearly don’t account for the huge growth in foot traffic to Times Square since the plazas arrived. Even if injuries haven’t declined — and all indications are that they have — with all the added people walking in Times Square now, the average person is clearly safer from traffic.

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It’s de Blasio and Bratton vs. the World on Times Square Plazas

Let’s start with some basic facts: Most people like Times Square better now that it has more room for people. Gone are the days when the sidewalks were so meager that you had no choice but to walk in traffic. After Broadway went car-free through Times Square in 2009, pedestrian injuries plummeted 40 percent. Retail rents soared. And yet, going against just about everyone else who has something to say about it, Mayor Bill de Blasio is entertaining the idea of eliminating the plazas.

The mayor and his police commissioner aren't sold on this whole "streets for people, not cars" thing. Photo: Mayor's Office/Flickr

The mayor and his police commissioner aren’t sold on this whole “streets for people, not cars” thing. Photo: Mayor’s Office/Flickr

Police Commissioner Bill Bratton started things off when he said he’d like to remove the plazas to curb topless women and people in cartoon costumes hustling for tips in Times Square. “I’d prefer to just dig the whole darn thing up and put it back the way it was, where Broadway is Broadway and not a dead-end street,” Bratton told 1010 WINS.

Asked about Bratton’s comments, de Blasio didn’t reject the idea. “Commisssioner Bratton and I have talked about that option… That’s a very big endeavor, and like every other option comes with pros and cons,” he said. “So we’re going to look at what those pros and cons would be. You could argue that those plazas have had some very positive impacts. You could also argue they come with a lot of problems.”

Tearing out the plazas would, among other things, run directly counter to de Blasio’s Vision Zero street safety goals. After the plazas were installed, pedestrian injuries fell 40 percent at Times Square, and injuries to car drivers and passengers dropped 63 percent along Broadway in Midtown, according to a 2010 DOT report [PDF]. The incidence of people walking in the roadway at Times Square fell 80 percent.

“People forget just how disastrous it was. There was clearly no room to walk and people were just forced into the street,” Transportation Alternatives Executive Director Paul Steely White said by phone. “Times Square rivaled Queens Boulevard as the most dangerous location in the city.”

“To suggest that cars and trucks be reintroduced into the most pedestrian-rich intersection in North America is just unbelievable,” White added. “It betrays just a fundamental misunderstanding of traffic safety, and I think it’s very worrisome for the future of Vision Zero that relatively minor challenges having to do with hustlers and hucksters in Times Square is enough to go back to the bad old days when Times Square was deadly.”

The reaction to Bratton and de Blasio’s trial balloon from politicians and leaders in the local business community was fast and furious:

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Tony Avella Goes Berserk Over Community-Backed Flushing Plaza

State Senator Tony Avella held a press conference this week to denounce a pedestrian plaza proposed for the Murray Hill section of Flushing. He’s afraid it will lead to unbearable traffic congestion. Too bad he’s conjuring nightmare scenarios about something that’s not even in his district: State Senator Toby Stavisky, who actually represents the plaza site and the blocks surrounding it, backs the plan. So do local council members.

State Senator Tony Avella thinks making a fast left turn off Northern Boulevard is more important than adding plaza space. Image: NY1

State Senator Tony Avella thinks making a fast left turn off Northern Boulevard is more important than adding plaza space. Image: NY1

The plaza was first proposed by the Korean American Association in Queens (KAAQ), which would maintain the plaza space. According to the Queens Courier, the group approached DOT last year about converting a block of Roosevelt Avenue, which is one-way between Northern Boulevard and 155th Street, into a pedestrian space.

The plaza would connect with Leonard Square, a small triangle park bounded by the three streets, and would be next to a branch of the Queens Library. To showcase the potential for a permanent plaza, KAAQ worked with DOT to host two one-day demonstration plazas, on April 18 and August 7. Up to 200 people attended the April event, DOT said.

Local homeowners associations then complained that they hadn’t been notified and didn’t like the plaza idea. The groups claimed it would cause congestion, be unsafe, and would even be too unpleasant in summer and winter weather.

“From mid-November to April it’s winter and it’s cold and on days like today it’s too hot,” Station Road Civic Association vice president Chrissy Voskerichian told the Queens Chronicle. “You’re not going to have people out here.”

Avella amplified the opposition with this week’s press conference. Instead of making an angled left turn from Northern directly onto Roosevelt, westbound drivers would turn onto 155th Street after the plaza is completed. That was too much for Avella to bear.

“My first reaction was, ‘What idiot came up with this?’” Avella said, reported the Queens Chronicle. “You close this street off, you then require people to go farther down Northern Boulevard and make a left off the oncoming traffic on Northern Boulevard. You can sit there for several lights before you can ever make that left.”

“Toby Stavisky should be ashamed of herself. Absolutely ashamed of herself for supporting something that’s going to add significant traffic congestion,” Avella said. “That’s asinine. Absolutely asinine.”

There were no reports of traffic congestion from the one-day demonstration plaza, which Stavisky’s office says lasted until 6 p.m. during a Friday rush hour.

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Eyes on the Street: 33rd Street Plaza Comes to Life

The view at Penn Plaza. Photo: Stephen Miller

The view at Penn Plaza. Photo: Stephen Miller

There is now a plaza at Penn Plaza.

The finishing touches were added to a temporary pedestrian space occupying the full breadth of 33rd Street just west of Seventh Avenue earlier this week. The plaza stretches a little less than halfway to Eighth Avenue, replacing what used to be westbound traffic lanes with planters, sculptures, a terraced seating area, and a painted surface to grab the attention of passing commuters.

The plaza was funded by Vornado Realty Trust, which owns a number of large properties nearby, including Penn Plaza, the Hotel Pennsylvania, and the Manhattan Mall. Vornado received the backing of DOT and Community Board 5 for its plan earlier this year,

The space was busy during yesterday’s evening rush hour. “I’m a New Yorker. I like to have a place to sit,” said Eva, who commutes by Long Island Rail Road from Flushing Estates and refused to give her last time. “In this area here, you don’t have a park, you don’t have a place to come sit down at lunchtime,” she said. “It’s nice.”

Rush hour outside Penn Station. Photo: Stephen Miller

Rush hour outside Penn Station. Photo: Stephen Miller

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Fort Worth Turned Two Parking Lots Into Sundance Square Plaza

While in Dallas for the CNU23 conference this May, I wanted to explore. It was my second time there in less than a year, and I wanted to see if Fort Worth was much different than the tough-to-be-a-pedestrian conditions I was experiencing in Dallas. I spoke to some folks at Project for Public Spaces (PPS) who convinced me that I needed to go see Sundance Square Plaza, which PPS President Fred Kent has called one of the best squares in the world.

I was glad I went. Sundance Square Plaza is a bold, beautiful space filled with energy. As PPS wrote soon after the plaza opened in 2013:

Where once there were two parking lots on either side of Main Street in the center of downtown Fort Worth, there is now the much-loved and much-used Sundance Square. The Square has become an integral part of the downtown Fort Worth experience, hosting events both large and small, and taking on an increasing role in the life of the city.

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DOT Drops Sheepshead Bay Plaza Plan After Oppo from Deutsch, CB 15

The plan would have added pedestrian space, straightened out a bus route, and created a taxi stand. The local council member and community board aren't interested. Image: DOT

The plan would have added pedestrian space, straightened out a bus route, and created a taxi stand. The local council member and community board turned it down. Click to enlarge. Image: DOT [PDF]

More space for people near the Sheepshead Bay subway station? Council Member Chaim Deutsch and Community Board 15 aren’t interested.

A proposal from DOT to add pedestrian space near the Sheepshead Bay express stop [PDF] was panned last month by Deutsch and the CB 15 transportation committee (that would be these guys). The project now appears to have been dropped by the agency.

Sheepshead Bay Road snakes across the neighborhood grid. It’s busy with shoppers and people heading to the subway, as well as illegally parked livery vehicles waiting for passengers getting off the train.

There were seven severe injuries in the area from 2009 to 2013, according to DOT, including five pedestrians and two cyclists. A pedestrian was killed on Avenue Z beneath the train overpass in 2008. But Deutsch and CB 15 rejected DOT’s proposal to shorten crossing distances and eliminate potential conflicts between pedestrians and motorists.

Under the plan, a “slip lane” from E. 17th Street to Sheepshead Bay Road would be converted to a pedestrian plaza, as would E. 15th Street between Sheepshead Bay Road and Avenue Z.

The B36 bus route would stay on Avenue Z instead of detouring to the subway station entrance on Sheepshead Bay Road. Bus riders would walk along the E. 15th Street plaza to get between the subway and the relocated bus stop. An extra-wide crosswalk and painted curb extension would link the E. 15th Street plaza to the station entrance, and a taxi stand would be added west of the subway station.

New pedestrian islands and crosswalks were also in store for two triangle-shaped intersections on Sheepshead Bay Road.

Deutsch and community board members panned the proposal last month, concerned that a pedestrian plaza would become a gathering place for the homeless, especially if no one is in charge of maintaining the space. Deutsch also opposed having people walk a block to transfer between the subway and the B36.

“I wasn’t happy with it, and I didn’t think [community board members] were going to be happy with it,” Deutsch said. “If they come up with something that the community is able to agree on, then I would be happy with that.”

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For First Time, NYC Will Fund Plaza Maintenance in Low-Income Areas

Since it launched nearly eight years ago, DOT’s public plaza program has relied on a public-private model: The city funds plaza installation and construction, while local partners pick up the tab for maintenance and operations. This works well in some parts of town but is a more difficult proposition in low-income communities. Now, for the first time, the city budget will fund plaza maintenance in neighborhoods that could use additional help.

new_lots

Spaces like New Lots Triangle could get a boost from new city funding for plaza maintenance in low-income communities. Photo: Noah Kazis

The de Blasio administration’s latest executive budget [PDF] includes $5.6 million over four years for plaza maintenance as part of its OneNYC environmental and equity plan.

“Previously, the plaza program, there’d been no city money put in. We just called on all the community partners to come up with the funding,” said Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg. “Some neighborhoods, it’s easier to do that than others. It’s an equity measure, making sure these kinds of programs can be in every part of the city.”

The city funds are intended to supplement, rather than replace, local partners, though exact details of how DOT will distribute the funds have yet to be worked out. “This is money that’s supposed to continue to leverage other sources and work with community groups,” Trottenberg said. “We just got this money a little while ago, so we’re now putting together a plan about what we think makes sense and how we want to spend it.”

Plaza advocates welcomed the new funding. “It’s so good because the agency and the mayor are acknowledging that plazas are part of their equity agenda,” said Laura Hansen, managing director of the Neighborhood Plaza Partnership. NPP, a program of the Horticultural Society of New York, relies on donations to assist the work of plaza partners in low-income areas.

There are currently 49 plazas across the city, with 22 more underway, according to the mayor’s budget.