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Posts from the Plazas Category

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A Car-Free Plaza Is the Key to DOT’s Safety Plan for Myrtle-Wyckoff

wyckoff_myrtle

Reconfiguring this dangerous intersection with a car-free plaza will simplify vehicle movements and reduce the potential for turning drivers to hit pedestrians. Image: DOT

The dangerous intersection of Myrtle Avenue and Wyckoff Avenue at the Bushwick-Ridgewood border is in line for a major DOT redesign this year. The proposal calls for pedestrianizing the block of Wyckoff between Myrtle and Gates to reduce potential motor vehicle turns at the intersection by 70 percent.

Myrtle-Wyckoff is a major transit hub, where the elevated M Train crosses paths with the underground L, and six bus routes converge at the Ridgewood Bus Terminal on Palmetto Street. Since 2009, three pedestrians have been killed at the six-legged intersection — two by MTA bus drivers. Two years ago, hundreds of people gathered there to remember Ella Bandes, who was struck and killed by a bus driver in 2013, and call for safety improvements.

In 2014, the city eliminated five of the 25 potential turns at the intersection, and last year the MTA rerouted the B26 away from the westbound turn from Wyckoff onto Palmetto. With the car-free plaza, the number of turns would fall even more dramatically — bus drivers would make five turns and drivers of personal vehicles would be limited to three turning movements.

According to DOT, three times as many pedestrians as cars pass through the block of the proposed plaza. Making it car-free would allow pedestrians to travel between the train station and bus terminal without having to cross motorized traffic lanes. The proposal also calls for demarcating the bus-only blocks by the bus terminal with red paint, and for converting Wyckoff to a one-way street south of the intersection.

On Tuesday night, about 60 people came to a public workshop hosted by DOT at International School 77 and weighed in on how they want to use the proposed plaza space.

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Better Rules for Plazas — It’s Not All About Times Square

Before today's hearing, Robert Burck, otherwise known as Times Square's famous "Naked Cowboy," spoke out in favor of legislation proposed by Council Members Corey Johnson and Dan Garodnick (second from right).

Robert Burck, a.k.a. the Naked Cowboy, has become the top spokesperson for clarifying which city agency regulates plazas. Council Member Dan Garodnick and Times Square Alliance President Tim Tompkins are to the right.

The City Council heard testimony today on Intro. 1109-A, which would give DOT authority over designating and regulating pedestrian plazas across the city. DOT has carved out nearly 70 plazas since 2008, but its jurisdiction over those plazas remains ambiguous.

This matters for a few reasons. The reason that gets all the attention is the made-for-tabloids storyline of Times Square and its desnudas and costumed hustlers. The city wants more authority to dictate where people can legally work for tips in Times Square, and investing DOT with that authority makes more sense than handing plazas over to the Parks Department, which would come with a host of drawbacks.

But it also matters for smaller plazas throughout the city, especially ones without a business improvement district to manage the space. The small organizations responsible for running these plazas often struggle to cut through the red tape involved in getting a permit for, say, an amplified performance.

The legislation does not specify new rules for plazas, but rather gives DOT the mandate to develop and implement such rules.

In Times Square, DOT intends to follow many of the recommendations from the Times Square Alliance and local electeds in last year’s “Roadmap for a 21st Century Times Square” report. DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg said DOT will classify zones where commercial activity and vending are permitted, the intent being to keep walking routes and public seating areas clear of performers working for tips.

Speaking outside City Hall with council members and the Naked Cowboy, Times Square Alliance President Tim Tompkins said the legislation doesn’t aim to stop performers, but rather to get a handle on the overly aggressive behavior of some of them. “We want a variety of activities, but we need to also recognize that for years now this has been a consistently growing problem,” he said.

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Fast Changes to City Streets: A 9-Step Guide for Creative Bureaucrats

Marshall Avenue and Monroe Avenue, Memphis, Tenn. Photo: John Paul Shaffer

pfb logo 100x22Michael Andersen blogs for The Green Lane Project, a PeopleForBikes program that helps U.S. cities build better bike lanes to create low-stress streets.

For most of the 20th century, cities answered transportation problems by adding more pavement.

More freeways. More lanes. More parking lots. More things that couldn’t be reversed or revised.

So it made sense, at the time, for the public process around civil engineering projects to focus, above all else, on not making mistakes. Generations of city workers embraced the value of “Do it once and do it right.”

But today’s transportation problems are different, and so are the projects that respond to them. Naturally enough, the process of planning and designing such projects has begun changing, too.

From the experimental lawn chairs scattered across New York’s redesigned Times Square on Memorial Day 2009 to the row of plastic posts on Denver’s Arapahoe Street after a bike lane retrofit last fall, city projects are tackling big problems with solutions that are small, cheap, fast and agile. But until now, no one has created a short, practical guide for cities that want to create a program to do things like these.

Today, we’re publishing that guide.

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“Plaza 33” Will Return This Year, But a Ped-Friendly 32nd Street Won’t

“Plaza 33,” the temporary public space that opened up the eastern end of 33rd Street between Seventh Avenue and Eighth Avenue for a few months last year, will be back in August and this time there are no plans to remove it once the weather turns colder.

The other pedestrian improvement by Penn Station that real estate giant Vornado funded last year — the 32nd Street sidewalk extension — will not be back, however. Both projects were managed by Vornado with DOT’s approval.

Last night, representatives from the company showed a joint meeting of the Community Board 5 transportation and parks committees their plan to bring back Plaza 33. The 32nd Street project, which opened up space for people on a cramped walking route between Sixth Avenue and Penn Station, may get revived in the future, but Vornado said complaints about the removal of loading zones have tabled it for now.

The plaza on 33rd Street increases continuous pedestrian space on 7th Avenue by half. Image: Vornado Reality Trust

The plaza on 33rd Street (the green area) is coming back in August. Image: Vornado Reality Trust

While there are no plans to remove the plaza once it returns, DOT wants to observe it year-round before committing to a permanent build-out, which would require a multi-year capital investment.

“Part of what DOT wants to see is ‘How does this work?’” Vornado Senior VP for Development Marc Ricks told committee members. “And although they are not positioning this as a pilot, they are positioning that it’s back and it’s here to stay, the city always reserves the right to say something’s not working.”

DOT may also implement split-phase signals at the intersections of Seventh Avenue with 33rd Street and 31st Street, so pedestrians never have the walk signal at the same time that turning drivers have a green light. That decision is due to traffic concerns more than safety — DOT found that those intersections had more vehicle delay while Plaza 33 was in place.

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Take a Look at What’s on the Table for Long Island City Streets

"Option 2" for the Pulaski Bridge gateway, right, would provide pedestrians and cyclists more space and safer crossings. Image: DDC/DOT/Parsons

“Option 2” for the Pulaski Bridge gateway, right, would expand pedestrian space and create a two-way bike connection to Vernon Boulevard on 49th Avenue. Image: DDC/DOT/Parsons

Every street in Long Island City is in line for a top-to-bottom reconstruction, and as part of the project DOT and the Department of Design and Construction are proposing several improvements for walking and biking. Here’s the presentation the agencies gave to Queens Community Board 2 earlier this month, showing the preliminary redesigns. The project covers several streets and intersections, and some of the options on the table go a lot farther than others to make walking and biking safer.

With the Queensboro Bridge to the north and the Midtown Tunnel and Pulaski Bridge to the south, Long Island City is plagued by car and truck traffic. The neighborhood’s population is growing rapidly, but its streets still suffer from wide car lanes, excessive speeding, and chaotic intersections that make for a poor walking and biking environment.

DOT and DDC are looking to address these shortcomings at several places. In many cases, the city showed different design options for each location, some clearly preferable to others. Overall, there’s a lot more to like if the city follows through on the more ambitious designs.

At the foot of the Pulaski Bridge, one option would create a much better connection to Vernon Boulevard by adding a two-way bike lane on 49th Avenue. It would also make a short block of 48th Street car-free to create a more continuous walking environment. But another option includes neither of those improvements.

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The Problem With Designing a Public Space in a Sea of Traffic

Forest City Ratner and DOT plan to turn Times Plaza by the Barclays Center into an attractive public space. Photo: Google Maps

The asphalt sidewalk leaves a lot to be desired, but can Times Plaza ever be an attractive public space as long as Flatbush and Atlantic are overrun by traffic? Photo: Google Maps

Designing a successful public space surrounded by wide streets and a sea of traffic may sound like an exercise in futility, but that is what Forest City Ratner and DOT are trying to pull off at Brooklyn’s Times Plaza.

Forest City unveiled its design for Times Plaza — the triangle formed by Fourth Avenue, Atlantic Avenue, and Flatbush Avenue — at a DOT-sponsored public meeting last night. The western side of the triangle was expanded as part of the traffic mitigation for the nearby Barclays Center, but it’s still not a welcoming place to walk to.

Without some assurances that pedestrian conditions around the triangle will improve, local residents and business leaders in attendance questioned the rationale for holding the meeting in the first place.

DOT billed last night as a “public design workshop,” which usually means attendees brainstorm ideas in small groups. Instead, Forest City’s design firm, Stantec, presented its proposal and DOT Brooklyn Borough Commissioner Keith Bray took questions from people — many of whom were concerned about pedestrian safety in and around the plaza.

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Four More Street Redesigns That Are Taking Forever to Build

Part of the first round of DOT's NYC Plaza Program, the Myrtle Avenue Plaza will replace part of a service road with greenery and pedestrian space. Image: Myrtle Avenue Brooklyn Partnership

Part of the first round of DOT’s Plaza Program — which launched in 2008 — the Myrtle Avenue Plaza is still not finished. Image: Myrtle Avenue Brooklyn Partnership

On Monday, we posted a list of seven street redesign projects that remain unfinished years after they went through the city’s public planning process, with the Department of Design and Construction far behind schedule.

DDC gave varying reasons for the delays, citing subsurface infrastructure work that precedes above-ground construction, as well as “changes and updates during the design phase of the project,” and “additional work by our client agency.”

One thing I consistently heard from local businesses and community groups is that DDC leaves them in the dark as it pushes project completion dates further and further into the future. DDC contested that and said it works with client agencies, such as DOT, to provide updates on construction as it advances (or stalls). Every DDC project also has a community liaison who is supposed to work with the project engineer to pass on updates to local businesses and neighbors.

Still, many of the BID directors and residents I spoke to about these projects said their community liaisons often lack information about project timelines.

After we ran the post on Monday, readers asked about other redesign projects that are languishing. Here are updates on four more — some of which DDC is handling better than others:

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Merchants: DDC Taking Forever to Finish Plaza at Bronx Hub [Updated]

Progress has been hard to spot at Roberto Clemente Plaza in Mott Haven, according to BID director Steven Fish. Photo: Steven Fish

Construction at Roberto Clemente Plaza in Mott Haven has seen minimal progress this year. Photo: Steven Fish

In 2008, DOT repurposed street space at the Hub in Mott Haven to greatly expand and improve Roberto Clemente Plaza. The first version of the project was made with low-cost materials — paint, planters, and gravel. Afterward, the city committed to building out the project in concrete. But the agency in charge of delivering capital projects, the Department of Design and Construction, has been working on it for years and still has no definite timetable for completion.

DDC broke ground on the project more than two years ago, with an expected 18-month construction timeline. Today the site is still a jumble of construction equipment and vehicles. Local retailers say the construction zone is an eyesore, providing cover to gangs and drug users and driving people away from surrounding businesses.

“General consensus is that this is a hellhole and there’s no end in sight,” Third Avenue BID Director Steven Fish told Streetsblog. Fish organized a forum in October for local business owners and residents to vent their frustrations with the project delays.

Representatives from DDC attended the forum but could not give a concrete completion date, Fish said. DDC’s online database says construction will wrap by August, 2016, but officials at the forum said it was more likely to last through 2017.

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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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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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