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Posts from the Plazas Category

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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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Eyes on the Street: SUVs Planted in 14th Street Pedestrian Plaza

Photos: Brad Aaron

Photos: Brad Aaron and Google Maps

“The Vanishing Game” is a Range Rover ad posing as a book. What a fitting title for this takeover of the pedestrian plaza at 14th Street and Ninth Avenue, a sizable area of which disappeared over the weekend under a couple of luxury SUVs.

True to the ad-as-book fakery, these things were tilted on jacks and parked on a patch of faux grass. What this was supposed to approximate I’m not sure, other than maybe fixing a flat on a putting green.

As we reported when the plaza on the north side of 14th Street was appropriated by a cosmetics company a couple of years back, corporations can apply to use public spaces through the Street Activities Permit Office. This display took up enough of the plaza that I had to cross the street to get a wide shot of it. Have to wonder if anyone with the city paused to consider that street space reclaimed for pedestrians would be sacrificed for SUV parking, if only temporarily.

No, probably not.

Now you see it...

Now you see it…

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DCP Sketches Out Waterfront Transit and Safer Streets for Western Queens

DCP is recommending expanded pedestrian space and redesigned streets at complex intersections like the one of Vernon Boulevard, Main Avenue, and 8th Street.

DCP is recommending expanded pedestrian space and redesigned streets at complex intersections like the crossing of Vernon Boulevard, Main Avenue, and 8th Street.

A new transitway from LaGuardia Airport to Downtown Brooklyn is the most ambitious recommendation in a draft report [PDF] from the Department of City Planning on transportation in Western Queens, which also includes a raft of smaller changes that would make the streets of Astoria and Long Island City safer and more livable.

While the transitway is the report’s leading recommendation, DCP doesn’t go into much detail other than recommending future study of curbside bus lanes or center-running light rail that would hug the East River between Downtown Brooklyn and the Grand Central Parkway before jumping onto the highway to LaGuardia Airport. The report is more specific about changes to existing transit service, recommending a realignment of bus service and bringing back express subway service to Astoria.

The report is mostly devoted to the potential for traffic calming, recommending curb extensions and crosswalks for both Crescent Street and 21st Street, which has been a priority of Transportation Alternatives. At the complex multi-leg intersection of 21st Street and Astoria Boulevard, the authors recommend curb extensions and pedestrian islands, and the intersection of Astoria Boulevard, Main Avenue, and Vernon Boulevard would also get a major redesign with large sidewalk extensions and plazas.

“None of the streets there carry a lot of traffic, but the traffic movements there are just insane,” said Steve Scofield, a TA volunteer who attended a meeting DCP hosted on Monday to present its draft findings. “Clarifying that [intersection] could help everybody.”

In a bit of a surprise, the report suggests installing a pedestrian plaza at Newtown and 30th Avenues in Astoria, a plan that Community Board 1 rejected two years ago in favor of curb extensions. Scofield said one CB 1 member at Monday’s meeting was not happy to see the plaza concept revived by DCP.

The plan also recommends pedestrian-activated flashing traffic signals on Vernon Boulevard, where crosswalks are currently up to 2,000 feet apart. At the southern end of Vernon Boulevard near Jackson Avenue, DCP suggests expanding the existing “greenstreet” to add more pedestrian space and crosswalks. A second option for that location would create a large plaza and protected bike lane.

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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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