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Posts from the Plazas Category


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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Times Square Coalition: Keep the Plazas, Regulate Naked People

Image: Times Square Alliance

Image: Times Square Alliance

The Times Square Alliance and a coalition of electeds has a plan to address complaints about Times Square without destroying the hugely successful pedestrian plazas.

The centerpiece of the proposal is to legally redefine the Broadway plazas as a public space with three regulated zones: “civic” zones for public seating areas and programmed events; “flow” zones for pedestrian throughput; and “designated activity” zones for costumed characters, desnudas, and other people hustling for cash.

A second component of the proposal is a study to evaluate vehicular and pedestrian conflicts, safety issues on 42nd Street, and the effect of tour bus traffic. And a third aspect is the creation of a new NYPD Times Square unit, comprised of officers specially trained “on the nuanced forms of intimidation by solicitors [and] the complex legal issues related to enforcement,” which would direct all civil citations to Midtown Community Court, rather than 100 Centre Street. In addition to Times Square, the coalition wants to establish rules intended to keep 42nd Street sidewalks from getting obstructed during peak hours.

The proposal has the backing of Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, local City Council members Dan Garodnick and Corey Johnson, Community Board 5, and a number of business and real estate interests, including Rudin Management Company and the Durst Organization. It will be presented to Mayor de Blasio’s Times Square task force, which was scheduled to hold its first meeting today.

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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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Meet the People Breathing Life Into NYC’s Overlooked Public Spaces

There are two dueling visions of public space in New York City. On one side, tabloid columnists and the police commissioner believe that any problems encountered in Midtown’s public spaces — whether homeless men or hustling desnudas — should be fixed by replacing space for people with good old-fashioned car traffic. On the other side are residents and advocates working hard to improve public space in communities across the city, using shoestring budgets and their own street smarts.

Parkside Plaza, before and after. Photos courtesy In Cho

Parkside Plaza, before and after. Photos courtesy In Cho

The people who want to rip out Manhattan’s public space have gotten a lot of attention in the past month. This story is about the people working to make the rest of New York City’s public spaces better.

Yesterday, ioby (“in our backyards”) — a non-profit founded in 2009 that marries crowdfunding with community organizing — hosted an event highlighting outer-borough public space success stories from Flatbush to Cypress Hills to Astoria. The projects include community gardens, street festivals, streetscape improvements, and plazas. Ioby acts as a fundraising tool, and sometimes a financial sponsor, for local groups who do the hard work of organizing residents and pushing government bureaucracies into action. The result: Public spaces that better serve neighborhood needs.

The projects all transformed spaces that had been underutilized or unattractive. In Prospect-Lefferts Gardens, a wide but barren sidewalk at an intersection outside the Parkside Avenue subway station got tables, chairs, and plantings from the DOT plaza program — but it was up to local residents to fund maintenance. They turned to the Neighborhood Plaza Partnership and ioby to raise funds to support the plaza.

Residents had been trying to attract a farmers market to the corner for years, plaza designer and local resident In Cho said, but market operators feared it wouldn’t succeed in such an unattractive place. Getting the sidewalk furniture helped change perceptions. With the new planters and seating (and another assist from DOT, which repaired a cracked section of the sidewalk that had been ignored for years), a farmers market now sets up shop every Sunday.

Today, the plaza is a neighborhood gathering spot at the southeast corner of Prospect Park. “It’s literally trees, benches, and umbrellas. It’s not much,” Cho said. “What really encouraged everyone was that there was this pride in the place.”

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How City Hall Can Improve NYC’s Public Spaces Instead of Tearing Them Out

While recent comments from Mayor de Blasio and Police Commissioner Bill Bratton about potentially yanking out the Times Square plazas have caused an uproar, a much deeper and more substantial debate over plazas has been simmering for months.

Whether it's Times Square or Corona Plaza, advocates and plaza managers say DOT needs better rules for its plaza program. Photo: NYC DOT/Flickr

Whether it’s Times Square or Corona Plaza, advocates and plaza managers say DOT needs better rules for its plaza program. Photo: NYC DOT/Flickr

Public space advocates and plaza managers say the city’s rules governing who can do what with plaza space are cumbersome and in need of an overhaul. Now, they’re turning to City Hall to fix the problem.

Since the plaza program was launched seven years ago, DOT has required that each space be managed by a local partner. The rule makes sense: Without someone in charge of managing the space, plazas can quickly deteriorate, people will stop spending time there, and public support for them will wither. But the organizations that have signed on to manage plazas say they don’t have enough leeway, under the current model, to do the job well.

There are two types of agreements between the city and plaza managers. One is a maintenance agreement that provides for limited sponsorships, like corporate logos on umbrellas, to help defray the partner organization’s costs. The other is a license agreement, which allows vending, events, and other methods of generating more substantial revenue for the plaza partner.

Most plazas in Manhattan and nearby neighborhoods are managed by a local business improvement district and have both types of agreements. In addition to food concessions, these plazas can generate revenue by hosting large corporate promotional events that require approval from the mayor’s Street Activity Permit Office, or SAPO.

Outside Manhattan, most plazas are sponsored by local merchants associations or neighborhood groups. They typically don’t have the resources to attract corporate sponsorship or concessions, and have signed only a maintenance agreement, not a license agreement, with DOT. That means that for the most part, they don’t host events that generate revenue. But they do put on smaller events like performances or pop-up libraries — and each time they have to navigate a cumbersome process with SAPO.

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Resolved: Manhattan Community Board 10 Rejects Bradhurst Plaza

This plaza isn't happening. Image: DOT

Instead of the plaza you see here, this short stretch of pavement will remain a dangerous cut-through for drivers turning off Frederick Douglass Boulevard. Image: DOT

It was loud. It was messy. And in the end, Manhattan Community Board 10 decided against turning a short section of Macombs Place in Harlem into a car-free public space. Supporters of the proposal spent years trying to get CB 10’s backing but came up a few votes short last night.

DOT won’t proceed with the project without a vote in support from the community board, and last night a resolution backing the plaza failed with 12 in favor, 18 against, and four abstentions. An earlier resolution to hold a town hall meeting on the plaza before revisiting the issue at the community board in October also failed, 13-19, with one abstention.

“We’re being bullied into delay, delay, delay, which means it doesn’t happen,” said CB 10 member Daniel Clark, who voted for the plaza. “We have to make decisions.”

“It’s what, four years this project’s been going on?” CB 10 transportation committee chair Maria Garcia said via telephone this morning. “My job was just to get a vote on it, and that is what I accomplished last night with my team.”

Although Garcia voted for the plaza, she took its defeat in stride. “The point was just for it to be heard in the public forum,” she said. “We have to vote. We have to say yes or no. We can’t just drag everything on for four or five years.” Plaza supporters, while disappointed, also seemed relieved to at least have an answer from the board after years of back-and-forth.

The plaza would have been maintained by Harlem Congregations for Community Improvement, Inc., which did not return a request for comment this morning. DOT says that while a plaza is now off the table, it will consider other safety improvements for the intersection.

As at previous meetings, the loudest voices last night belonged to plaza opponents.

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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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