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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.

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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.

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33rd Street at Penn Station Will Go Car-Free This Summer

33rd Street west of Seventh Avenue will become a temporary pedestrian plaza this summer. The project could be made permanent in the future. Photo: Google Maps

33rd Street west of Seventh Avenue and east of the Madison Square Garden loading docks will become a temporary pedestrian plaza this summer. The project could be made permanent in the future. Photo: Google Maps

Real estate giant Vornado Realty Trust last night unveiled plans to open up space for people on a couple of busy blocks near Penn Station. The proposed car-free zones include a new pedestrian plaza on 33rd Street west of Seventh Avenue. Phase one will consist of a three-month trial this summer and fall, and the changes could be made permanent afterward.

Vornado is proposing to make part of 33rd Street off-limits to through traffic, creating a pedestrian plaza from Seventh Avenue to the Madison Square Garden loading docks about halfway down the block toward Eighth Avenue. Vornado executives told CB 5 the space could be used for seating or events, reports Bloomberg.

The company is also proposing more limited extensions of pedestrian space on 32nd Street between Seventh Avenue and Sixth Avenue. The street will get a sidewalk extension along the entire north side of the block, as well as plantings on the south side of the block near Seventh Avenue, with traffic trimmed to one lane. The pedestrian areas will connect with plazas at Herald Square.

The proposal received a unanimous endorsement at a joint meeting of the Community Board 5 parks and transportation committees last night, reports Transportation Alternatives senior organizer Tom DeVito. It now advances to the full board on June 11.

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Plaza de Las Americas Reclaims Space for People in Washington Heights

The plaza will add pedestrian space and create a permanent home for vendors and a farmers market. Image: DOT/DDC

The plaza will add pedestrian space and create a permanent home for vendors and a farmers market. Image: DOT/DDC

The city broke ground this morning on a new plaza in Washington Heights set to open early next year. The project will transform an extra-wide asphalt block into a permanent public space hosting vendors and a farmers market.

Officials break ground on a new pedestrian plaza on 175th Street in Washington Heights this morning. Photo: DOT/Flickr

Officials break ground on a new plaza on 175th Street in Washington Heights this morning. Photo: DOT/Flickr

Plaza de Las Americas is located on 175th Street between Broadway and Wadsworth Avenue. The project, which was selected in the first round of the plaza program in 2008, is sponsored by the Washington Heights and Inwood Development Corporation. Construction is funded by $5 million from the city’s budget.

The 14,000 square foot space, between a supermarket and a historic theater, has been used by a farmers market since 1980 and a vendors market since 1994. The new plaza will give vendors access to electricity and water for the first time. The plaza will also feature trees, lighting, benches, tables, chairs, and a fountain by artist Ester Partegás, according to a DOT press release. The paving materials and patterns aim to evoke the plazas of Latin America and the Caribbean.

The project will also likely have traffic safety benefits: Since 2009, four motor vehicle occupants, five pedestrians, and one cyclist have been injured at Broadway and 175th, according to DOT data. The city has identified Broadway as a Vision Zero priority corridor.

“La Plaza de Las Americas will not only give our street vendors a beautiful, tree-lined venue to sell,” Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez said in the release, “but also our neighborhood a new focal point.”

Today, 175th Street is an extra-wide asphalt expanse. Photo: Google Maps

Today, 175th Street is an extra-wide asphalt crossing. Photo: Google Maps

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Diversity Plaza Wishes You a Happy Valentine’s Day

In preparation for Valentine’s Day, the Neighborhood Plaza Partnership set up a camera in Jackson Heights’ Diversity Plaza to learn how to say “I love you” in some of the 138 languages spoken in Queens.

Diversity Plaza lives up to its name.  In the video you’ll hear Farsi, Bangla, Hungarian, Italian, Urdu, Basaa, and Tibetan.

Located in the heart of a busy Jackson Heights retail district just one block from a major bus and subway hub, the plaza has been adopted by local business owners, including some who opposed it at first. In the last two years it has hosted an Eid-ul-Fitr celebration during Ramadan and even an outdoor meeting of Community Board 3.

The Neighborhood Plaza Partnership provides technical and financial assistance to organizations that maintain plazas in low-income communities.

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City May Turn Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel Ramp Into Pedestrian Space

Elizabeth H. Berger Plaza and Trinity Plaza, currently separated by a Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel ramp, may be merged into a large pedestrian plaza. Image: Google Maps

Elizabeth H. Berger Plaza and Trinity Plaza, currently separated by a Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel ramp, may be merged into a large pedestrian plaza. Image: Google Maps

A nice-sized pedestrian space is shaping up in the Financial District, thanks to the Downtown Alliance, City Council Member Margaret Chin, and Community Board 1.

Elizabeth H. Berger Plaza is separated from Trinity Plaza by a redundant exit ramp for the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel. The Broadsheet Daily reports that the Alliance wants the city to close the ramp so the plazas can be merged into an 18,000-square foot space.

Berger Plaza is bordered by Edgar Street, Greenwich Street, Trinity Place, and the tunnel ramp. Broadsheet Daily describes Trinity Plaza, to the immediate south on the other side of the ramp, as “a forlorn, irregularly shaped expanse of concrete that is bordered by Trinity Place on the east, but largely cut off from the surrounding community on all other sides by fencing and guard rails for the tunnel.”

Former City Council member Jessica Lappin, who is now Downtown Alliance president, said DOT has completed its studies and a Parks Department design is pending approval from Commissioner Mitchell Silver. Community Board 1 asked the city to fund the project, and Chin allocated the capital funds.

“As the Financial District’s residential population continues to grow,” Chin told Broadsheet Daily, “we must make it a priority to improve and increase public open space within the neighborhood.”

Lappin says the Alliance hopes to bring the proposal to CB 1 soon after Silver reviews it.

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Hudson Square Plaza Revamp Leaves Shared Space Street for Another Day

The plaza on the left is getting refurbished, but a shared space plan for this street was tabled in part because it's used as a display space for a motorcycle dealership. Photo: Google Maps

The plaza on the left is getting refurbished, but a shared space plan for the street was tabled because, among other reasons, it’s used as a display space for a motorcycle dealership. Photo: Google Maps

A plan to convert a two-block street on the border of Soho and Hudson Square into shared space is going to sit on the shelf — for now.

The Parks Department and the Hudson Square Connection Business Improvement District are splitting the cost of a $6 million plan to overhaul a triangular park along Sixth Avenue between Spring and Broome Streets. Conceptual plans for the space from 2012 showed Little Sixth Avenue, a two-block street on the west side of the park, being converted to a pedestrian-priority street that would slow drivers by blurring the line between street and sidewalk. But that was dropped from the project over concerns about utility work, costs, and loss of on-street parking.

“We’re not precluding it, but we don’t have the budget to include it,” said Signe Nielsen of landscape architecture firm Mathews Nielsen, which is designing the revamped plaza and worked on the previous conceptual plan. “We’re totally in favor of it. It was an initiative that we actually recommended in our master plan study, but we’re aware that DOT requires a lot of backup before they will allow such a thing to go through.”

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The Search Is on for Healthy Food Vendors to Serve This South Bronx Plaza

Food vendors could be coming to The Hub, now that it is being rebuilt after reclamation from automobiles in 2008. Image: Garrison Architects

New food options could be coming to Roberto Clemente Plaza at the Bronx Hub. Image: Garrison Architects

In the Meatpacking District, people can grab a seat and buy healthy prepared food from a vendor in a bustling plaza. But New Yorkers who live in less affluent neighborhoods tend not to have the same options — at least not yet. A new effort aims to bring several vendors to a plaza under construction in the South Bronx.

Each of DOT’s public plazas has a local partner in charge of maintenance, tasked with keeping the space clean and putting out tables and chairs each day. While well-funded business improvement districts back plazas in the city’s central neighborhoods, plazas in low-income communities rely on a more diverse mix of supporters, from community development corporations to merchant associations.

Many of the city’s high-profile plazas also include food kiosks or other concessions to help fund maintenance. There are 11 active plaza concessions agreements, according to DOT, but those arrangements are tougher to set up in communities with fewer resources.

Retail offerings near these plazas are often limited. Many residents who commute into Manhattan also do much of their personal spending near work, sapping local retail strips of customers. Plaza supporters in the South Bronx hope they can reverse that pattern, boosting local shopping options and funding plaza maintenance by bringing in vendors.

The idea will be tested at The Hub, a major bus and subway juncture in the South Bronx. While nearby vacancy rates are low, the retail scene — dominated by wireless phone stores, fast food, and discount department stores — could be serving a wider spectrum of the neighborhood’s needs.

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New Year, Same Old Community Board 10

Despite its successes, Select Bus Service on 125th Street still faces an uphill battle at Community Board 10.

Despite serving an area of the city where the vast majority of people don’t own cars, Manhattan Community Board 10 has delayed, watered down, or otherwise worked to foil several major projects to improve transit and street safety in the past few years. After obstructing 125th Street Select Bus Service and refusing to support traffic calming proposals for Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard, last year CB 10 finally voted for a road diet on Morningside Avenue (after months of cajoling by neighborhood residents). Was it the beginning of a new era for this notoriously change-averse community board?

Judging from a CB 10 transportation committee Tuesday night, the board is only taking baby steps at best. The committee heard a presentation on the dramatic improvements for bus riders on 125th Street, a message that was all but drowned out by shouts from opponents who never warmed to the project. Later in the meeting, CB 10’s rancor was on full display as it continued to stall a plaza and farmers market that has been awaiting support for years.

Barbara Askins, president of the 125th Street Business Improvement District (and not a member of the community board), remains unconvinced that better bus service is good for the neighborhood, even though SBS has not affected car speeds and the plan added 200 parking spaces along 124th and 126th Streets, as well as nine morning loading zones on 125th Street. “People are avoiding 125th Street,” she said. “That’s why you’re moving faster, because people don’t come to 125th Street anymore. How that’s affecting business, we don’t know, but we’re looking into that. We want to find a way to make it work.”

Council Member Mark Levine, who represents West Harlem, came to the meeting to voice his support for SBS and extending the bus lanes to his district. “The bottom line is that this is an overwhelmingly mass transit community… We’re bus riders, we’re subway riders, we’re walkers,” he said. “I’ve been inundated with questions from people saying Council Member Levine, why can’t we have a faster ride on all of 125th Street?”

While many people in the room were pleased that buses are moving faster, a regular cast of characters showed up to cast aspersions on Select Bus Service. Julius Tajiddin, who has agitated against street safety overhauls in the neighborhood, noted that there are no fare machines for riders going from the penultimate SBS stop at 116th Street to the end of the route at 106th Street. MTA staff said this is standard procedure, since it isn’t worth spending thousands of dollars on fare machines at the end of SBS routes when few riders make those end-of-line trips, but Tajiddin said it was discriminatory to have fare machines along lower-income sections of the route but not in wealthier neighborhoods.

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