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Posts from the "Plazas" Category

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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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“Is It Really The Parking?”: Ozone Park Merchants Spar With Plaza Supporters

A new episode in a long-running conflict has cropped up in Ozone Park: A community group worked with the city to install a pedestrian plaza, but merchants, blaming poor sales on changes to traffic patterns, parking, and plaza upkeep, want the public space removed. A special forum hosted last Thursday by Queens Community Board 10 and DOT gave the two sides a chance to air their views in advance of potential changes. But plaza supporters say the merchants themselves are part of the problem.

A plaza in Ozone Park is nearly a year old. Many nearby merchants, saying it's killing business, want it removed. Image: DOT

A plaza in Ozone Park is nearly a year old. Many nearby merchants, saying it’s killing business, want it removed. Image: DOT

Public space is so scarce in Ozone Park that local children use a nearby municipal parking lot as a playing field. The plaza, installed last fall to carve out some more community space, is backed by the Bangladeshi American Community Development and Youth Services Corporation (BACDYS) as a maintenance partner. Early plans called for it to be installed a couple blocks away in Cypress Hills, Brooklyn, but DOT found the design would be better in Ozone Park. The agency held outreach meetings and secured support from, among others, Council Member Eric Ulrich, community boards in both boroughs, and local businesses.

But many business owners in the area are crying foul, saying the plaza has ruined business. They gathered dozens of signatures and outnumbered plaza supporters at last week’s meeting. ”We need to remove this plaza,” said Ozone Park Discount Variety and Hardware co-owner Hasib Ali, who estimated that three-quarters of his customers arrive by car. “All customers come in to complain about parking.” Ali’s business partner, Ahmad Ubayda, said shop owners will be hiring an attorney to fight the plaza.

“I do not want this plaza in front of my business. It’s killing the very existence of my business,” said Khemraj Sadoo, owner of Ozone Park First Class Laundry. “We need that plaza to move from there. We need two-way traffic once again.”

The plaza design, which pedestrianized a short section of Drew Street to connect a triangle-shaped pedestrian island with a nearby block, also extends up one block of 101st Avenue, from Drew Street to 76th Street. That block was converted from two-way car traffic to one-way westbound traffic. The plaza resulted in a net loss of what DOT Queens Borough Commissioner Dalila Hall described as “maybe one or two spots” for parking.

To ensure the plan wouldn’t have an outsize negative impact on parking, Hall said the agency performed surveys of parking occupancy before and after the plaza was implemented, and added parking meters to Liberty Avenue in an effort to improve turnover and access for customers. Most of the time, those on-street parking spots are empty,” Hall said of 101st Avenue. “You could always find a spot if you drove up.”

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Eyes on the Street: Bliss Plaza Shines Under the 7 Train in Sunnyside

Photos: Clarence Eckerson, Jr.

Photos: Clarence Eckerson Jr.

Two weeks ago, Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer cut the ribbon on Bliss Plaza, a new public space created with a few simple changes to the area under the 7 train viaduct at 46th Street and Queens Boulevard. Clarence sends these photos of the plaza in action this weekend: A nicer sidewalk surface, a few planters, and some moveable tables and chairs were all it took to turn this spot into a people magnet.

The Sunnyside Shines BID worked with DOT’s plaza program to make this intersection a usable public space. It was already car-free but there was no place to sit until the BID came along. After hosting a few successful events at 46th Street and another car-free area beneath the viaduct at 40th Street, the BID knew it was onto something. A second plaza at 40th Street, to be known as Lowery Plaza, is in the works.

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How One-Day Plazas and Bike Lanes Can Change a City Forever

The Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition installed this pop-up lane and intersection treatment at an Open Streets event to show neighbors what a protected bike lane could look like.

The Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition installed this pop-up design at an Open Streets event to show neighbors what a protected bike lane could look like. All photos courtesy of Sam Rockwell.

This post is part of a series featuring stories and research that will be presented at the Pro-Walk/Pro-Bike/Pro-Place conference September 8-11 in Pittsburgh.

Sam Rockwell rides his bike every day from his home in Minneapolis to his office at BlueCross BlueShield in Eagan, 12 miles away, where he spends his days plotting ways to get other people riding their bikes too.

By all accounts, Minnesota is doing a pretty good job on that front. One way Rockwell — and his co-conspirator at BlueCross, Eric Weiss — are looking to make healthy, active transportation even better is by installing temporary “pop-up” infrastructure around the state so people can take new street designs for a test ride.

Despite relatively high levels of biking, Minnesota has somehow neglected to install even a single on-street protected bike lane — though Minneapolis has approved a plan to build 30 miles of them by 2020. Weiss, Rockwell, and the advocates they work with use pop-up installations to help local leaders and residents see how the infrastructure will look.

“We get that, ‘We don’t support it because we don’t know what it is; we’re never going to know what it is because we don’t have any,’” Rockwell said. “There needs to be some way of breaking out of that cycle.”

The pop-up strategy, he argues, is the way. “These are low-cost, quick and easy initiatives,” he said. “And also low-risk, because in the case of the pop-up cycle track, they put it up for one day on a number of different days throughout the summer, and then they just lift it out. It’s non-threatening.”

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William H. Whyte in His Own Words: “The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces”

When I first got started making NYC bike advocacy and car-free streets videos back in the late-1990s on cable TV, I didn’t know who William “Holly” Whyte was or just how much influence his work and research had on New York City. A few years later I met Fred and Ethan Kent at Project for Public Spaces. I got a copy of Whyte’s 1980 classic, The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces, which in its marvelously-written, straightforward style is the one book all burgeoning urbanists should start with.

Recently, I read it again. With all the developments in video technology since his day, I wondered: How might Whyte capture information and present his research in a world which is now more attuned to the importance of public space? What would he appreciate? Are his words still valid?

So I excerpted some of my favorite passages from the book and tried to match it up with modern footage I’ve shot from all over the world while making Streetfilms. I hope he would feel honored and that it helps his research find a new audience.

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Bronx Advocates Push for New Pedestrian Plaza in Soundview

Today, Harrod Place separates a green triangle from a busy park. A local group hopes to convert it to a plaza. Photo: Google Maps

Harrod Place separates an underutilized green triangle (left) from a park. A local group hopes to convert it to a plaza. Photo: Google Maps

Near the intersection of Morrison and Westchester Avenues in Soundview, just a block from the Bronx River Parkway, one block separates a forlorn green triangle from Parque de Los Niños and its well-used benches and baseball diamonds. Now, a local group is hoping to phase in public space upgrades to the area through DOT’s plaza program. The first step received support from Community Board 9 last month.

Last fall, Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice applied to the plaza program, hoping to eventually convert a section of Harrod Place into a plaza linking the commercial area along Westchester Avenue with the park. In May, DOT hosted a workshop at the public library on Morrison Avenue to present concepts and gather feedback.

The plan would start with curb extensions and plaza upgrades. The local group behind the plan hopes for a full plaza eventually. Image: DOT

Improvements would start with curb extensions and public space upgrades. The local group behind the plan hopes to eventually pedestrianize one block of Harrod Place  – the side street in this plan. Image: DOT

DOT came back with a plan to add painted curb extensions, planters, benches, tables and chairs [PDF]. It would remove three parking spaces while DOT says four spaces could be added elsewhere on Harrod by adjusting regulations. YMPJ, advised by the Neighborhood Plaza Partnership, has promised to maintain the space and aims to program it with public art, a farmers market, and exercise groups. The plan gained the support of CB 9 on June 19.

“It’s a pretty underutilized street in many ways,” YMPJ executive director David Shuffler said. His group has spoken with many of the adjacent businesses, which he said do most of their loading through front doors on Westchester Avenue.

While DOT’s proposal doesn’t make Harrod car-free, Shuffler hopes the project can evolve into a fully pedestrianized plaza. “My understanding is that this would be the first phase, and they would be looking for funds for the second phase, which is the complete plaza,” he said. ““We talked to the local businesses, and they said it was okay.”

DOT says its crews have patched potholes and addressed other road conditions in preparation for the first round of changes, which Shuffler hopes to see implemented within a month.

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Shared Space: The Street Design NYC’s Financial District Was Made For

Long studied, little implemented: This 1997 Department of City Planning map identified streets ripe for pedestrianization or plazas. Adding shared streets to the mix could open up more possibilities. Image: DCP

Long studied, little implemented: This 1997 Department of City Planning map identified streets ripe for pedestrianization or plazas. Adding shared streets to the mix could open up more possibilities. Image: DCP

For people in cars, the Financial District is a slow-speed maze. For everyone else, it is one of the city’s most transit-rich destinations. Despite this, most of the street space in the area is devoted to cars.

The Financial District is an ideal candidate for pedestrianization, but while it has seen redesigns on a handful of streets, it has yet to see the large-scale creation of car-free space that has been studied and talked about for ages. Could introducing shared space to the mix help transform some of New York’s oldest streets into truly people-first places?

If not for the the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel, the Financial District would effectively be a large cul-de-sac — there is no reason for through traffic to use its local streets. The evil twins of West Street and the FDR Drive feed cars to the tunnel and ring off the neighborhood from the waterfront. But within the Financial District itself, most of the streets are narrow and have far more pedestrians than cars.

There are a few places in the Financial District where car-free streets have taken hold over the years. Too often, the goal has been not to create an open, accessible city, but to build a fortress against the threat of truck bombs.

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In Harlem, Bradhurst Plaza Supporters Struggle to Change Status Quo

Bradhurst Plaza would turn a dangerous slip lane into a new public space. Image: Harlem CDC [PDF]

Manhattan Community Board 10′s transportation committee ended months of foot-dragging this week by backing a road diet for Morningside Avenue in Harlem. It’s not quite a brand new day at CB 10 though: A community effort to convert a short, irregular block into a public plaza still has an uphill climb at the Harlem board. While there’s a substantial local coalition backing the project, a cadre of outspoken opponents use the existing street as a drop-off zone for their apartment building and don’t want to see any changes.

The intersection of Frederick Douglass Boulevard and Macombs Place near 150th Street is a tricky place to walk. Drivers heading north on Frederick Douglass can veer right, making a high-speed turn onto Macombs Place. Walking across the street is risky: The long, low-visibility intersection doesn’t have a crosswalk and is usually clogged with illegally parked cars. Within one block of the plaza site, there were 30 collisions resulting in five injuries from August 2011 to June 2013, according to NYPD data compiled by plaza advocates.

The effort to bring a plaza to the space is led by Harlem Congregations for Community Improvement, HERBan Farmers’ Market, the Bradhurst Merchants Association, and Harlem Community Development Corporation, a unit of Empire State Development.

They have gathered nearly 300 signatures for the plaza and secured support for their application to DOT’s plaza program from, among others, Bethany Baptist Church, the Polo Grounds Towers Resident Association, Council Member Inez Dickens, former Council Member Robert Jackson, WE ACT for Environmental Justice, Transportation Alternatives, and Harlem Hospital Center [PDF].

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Eyes on the Street: Jackson Heights Triangle Turns Into a Plaza

Manuel de Dios Unanue Triangle at Roosevelt Avenue and 83rd Street has received a seating upgrade. Photo: Clarence Eckerson Jr.

Manuel de Dios Unanue Triangle at Roosevelt Avenue and 83rd Street has received a seating upgrade. Photo: Clarence Eckerson Jr.

Sometimes, it’s the little things that make a big difference. Manuel de Dios Unanue Triangle provides a speck of green along Roosevelt Avenue in the packed Jackson Heights neighborhood, but for years, there was nowhere to sit.

Even the brick wall surrounding the trees was topped with two spike strips to discourage people from resting for more than a minute. While the spikes remain, the space now has the foldable chairs and tables familiar from other plazas across the city — and on this beautiful spring day, they are well-used.

The changes are part of Viva La Primavera, a series of public classes and free concerts at the triangle on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays this May. The initiative is a project of the proposed Jackson Heights-Corona Business Improvement District, the 82nd Street Partnership, the Department of Parks and Recreation, Partnership for Parks, Neighborhood Plaza Partnership, the Queens Chamber of Commerce, Council Member Julissa Ferreras, and sponsor Affinity Health Plan.

Before, the only place to sit was lined with spikes to discourage people from spending time in the space. Photo: Clarence Eckerson Jr.

Before, the only place to sit was lined with spikes to discourage people from spending time in the space. Photo: Clarence Eckerson Jr.

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Plaza Upgrades Planned Beneath Train Viaduct on Queens Blvd in Sunnyside

Roberto Buscarsi plays during Make Music New York at 40th Street and Queens Boulevard. The parking in the background will remain, but space beneath the elevated 7 train in Sunnyside is set for some plaza improvements. Photo courtesy Sunnyside Shines BID

Roberto Buscarsi plays during Make Music New York at 40th Street and Queens Boulevard. The parking in the background will remain, but space beneath the elevated 7 train in Sunnyside is set for some plaza improvements. Photo courtesy Sunnyside Shines BID

The parking-flanked space in the middle of Queens Boulevard in Sunnyside, beneath the vaulted elevated train viaduct at 40th and 46th Streets, today looks more forgotten than fun. The Sunnyside Shines BID is hoping to change that, and their plan to upgrade the pedestrian space was recently accepted by NYC DOT’s pedestrian plaza program.

While these two plazas will not reclaim any space from motor vehicles, they will turn the area from a drab concrete zone into a more inviting place to sit. The spaces are already busy with pedestrians walking to the subway and across Queens Boulevard, which Tri-State Transportation Campaign ranks as the borough’s third most-dangerous street for pedestrians.

“They’re already plaza-like. They’re closed off to car traffic,” Sunnyside Shines BID executive director Rachel Thieme said of the spaces. “Through the plaza program, we are going to get things like planters and benches.” The location at 40th Street will be called Lowery Plaza, and the space at 46th Street will be called Bliss Plaza, Thieme said, referencing historic street names in the neighborhood.

The BID has already hosted some events in the pedestrian zones, including concerts as part of Make Music New York. “No one’s ever utilized these spaces before in any kind of active way, that we’re aware of,” Thieme said. “People really responded well to that concept.”

Sunnyside Shines applied to the plaza program last year, gathering 13 letters of support from elected officials, business owners, and community groups. The BID received word from DOT a couple of weeks ago that both applications had been accepted.

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