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Posts from the "Plazas" Category

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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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Can Snow Inspire Better Streets? It Already Has.

Before

In Philadelphia, a snowy neckdown at Baltimore and 48th Street in 2011 inspired permanent upgrades to the pedestrian environment at the intersection. Photo courtesy of Prema Bupta

Sneckdowns are having a big moment. In case you’ve missed the viral blog posts and major press coverage, sneckowns (a contraction of “snowy neckdowns” popularized by Streetfilms’ Clarence Eckerson Jr. and Streetsblog founding editor Aaron Naparstek) are leftover snow piles on city streets that show space that could easily be reclaimed for pedestrians.

As a visual tool, sneckdowns can be powerful. At least one city has already used snow formations as the inspiration for better streets.

After a winter storm in Philadelphia in 2011, snow piles became the basis for a major pedestrian upgrade at Baltimore and 48th Street in the University City District, according to Prema Gupta, the district’s director of planning.

Gupta said her organization, inspired by New York City’s example, was already looking around for potential spaces for pedestrian plazas when a staffer produced the above photo. ”That very quickly made the case that there’s right-sizing to do here,” she said. At the time, no one had heard the word “sneckdown.”

“For us it was just a really compelling way of showing there was way too much street and not nearly enough place for people,” she said.

Based on the snow patterns, the city produced a plan to expand pedestrian space at the intersection:

The plans

The final design was implemented this summer:

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Jan Gehl Joins Advocates to Talk Public Plazas in Low-Income Neighborhoods

Ask a New Yorker about the city’s plazas, and they’re likely to first think of Times Square. While the city’s marquee pedestrian space gets most of the attention, there are dozens of neighborhood-scale plazas across the city, with dozens more in the works in communities requesting them from DOT. Not all local groups have the financial might of Midtown Manhattan behind them, but there is still a need to maintain and support these spaces. Without city funds or donations, it can be hard to keep a good thing going — or to get it off the ground in the first place.

Jan Gehl speaks at an event today about plazas in low-income neighborhoods. Photo: Stephen Miller

Jan Gehl speaks at an event today about plazas in low-income neighborhoods. Photo: Stephen Miller

That’s where the Neighborhood Plaza Partnership (NPP) comes in. This group, a project of the Horticultural Society of New York, works with community groups that have signed on to be a plaza steward. Mostly, this involves pledging to keeping the space clean and organizing events in the plaza. But small merchants associations or non-profits often need a helping hand.

Last November, NPP received an $800,000 donation from the JPMorgan Chase Foundation to fund the upkeep of plazas in low-income communities. That money is helping support up to eight plazas this year, NPP’s Laura Hansen said. Today, her group and Transportation Alternatives hosted a panel discussion on the importance of plazas to low-income communities, featuring Danish architect and livable streets luminary Jan Gehl.

Plazas are a central component of healthy neighborhoods and cities, Gehl said. “Every good neighborhood should have a heart,” he said. “Public life and lively cities is very important for social inclusion and for democracy.” (Gehl’s point isn’t just theoretical: Last June, Queens Community Board 3 became the city’s first community board to meet in a public plaza.)

Although the plaza program was started by DOT, today’s event focused not on city government but on how different communities use and support their plazas. In addition to finding and sustaining funding, panelists said that local groups have to find a way to create events and programming that’s relevant to the city’s diverse population while maintaining an engaged group of volunteers.

“We have to take seriously how a plaza looks different in Brownsville or in the Bronx than it does in Times Square or Park Slope,” Council Member Brad Lander said during  introductory remarks, which also connected plazas to Mayor de Blasio’s traffic safety goals. “They’re essential for moving forward street safety and the Vision Zero idea.”

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Watch NYC Reclaim Its Streets With the Swipe of a Finger

Image: A/N Blog

Images: A/N Blog

If you didn’t spend at least some of your Friday ogling this post on the Architect’s Newspaper Blog, you’ve been missing out. A/N Blog overlaid before and after shots of 25 Bloomberg-era NYC street transformations, allowing readers to “slide” between views.

“With little more than paint, planters, and a few well-placed boulders, Bloomberg and former Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan‘s street interventions have been some of the most evident changes around the city,” writes Branden Klayko. “Whether it’s at Brooklyn’s Grand Army Plaza or at Snøhetta’s redesigned Times Square, these road diets shaved off excess space previously turned over to cars and returned it to the pedestrian realm in dramatic fashion.”

A/N Blog used DOT photos to highlight street reclamations in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx. Slide on over and feast your eyes.

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Ped Plazas in Low-Income Neighborhoods Get $800,000 Boost From Chase

Elected officials announce an $800,000 donation from the JPMorgan Chase Foundation to help maintain plazas in low-income areas. Photo: Clarence Eckerson Jr.

Public officials announce an $800,000 donation from the JPMorgan Chase Foundation to help maintain plazas in low-income areas. Photo: Clarence Eckerson Jr.

Under cloudy skies this morning at Corona Plaza, elected officials and community members gathered to announce an $800,000 contribution from the JPMorgan Chase Foundation to help fund the upkeep of pedestrian plazas in low-income communities. The funds are going to the Neighborhood Plaza Partnership (NPP), a program of the Horticultural Society of New York that works with merchant associations and non-profits to maintain plazas in neighborhoods including Corona, Jackson Heights, East New York, and Ridgewood.

The city’s pedestrian plaza program depends on local partners to maintain the spaces. Without someone to tend to the plazas, they could quickly fall into disrepair — and no one wants a neglected plaza in their neighborhood. In less affluent communities, though, it can be tough to muster the resources to keep these public spaces in good condition.

“The model was created, really, for big BIDs in Manhattan, and it’s a very different game in a neighborhood like this,” said NPP’s Laura Hansen. Her group is working with the Association for Community Employment Programs for the Homeless (ACE NY) to create transitional jobs for former convicts, who will clean and maintain the plazas. The funds from Chase allow NPP to offer those services at a discounted rate to local partners that have signed up with DOT to take care of plazas. Hansen said she hopes to have up to 20 of the city’s 59 plazas participating in the maintenance program within two years.

“The idea here is to make sure that every neighborhood has the same opportunity,” said DOT Assistant Commissioner for Planning and Sustainability Andy Wiley-Schwartz. ”The program was always designed to be citywide, and to work in every neighborhood.”

Even if they don’t benefit directly from Chase’s donation, said Hansen, smaller plaza caretakers can reap benefits from working together. For example, NPP could help a handful of plazas close to each other pool funds for maintenance or security. It could also serve as a venue for sharing knowledge about programming, fundraising, and sponsorships. ”It’s basically the same maintenance issues at every plaza,” Hansen said. “It’s about not reinventing the wheel.”

Students from P.S. 16 at The Uni reading room in Corona Plaza this morning. Photo: The Uni

Students from P.S. 16 at a reading room set up by the Uni Project in Corona Plaza this morning. Photo: The Uni Project

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Eyes on the Street: Reading in Ozone Park’s New Plaza

Ozone Park children read at The Uni portable library during the November 2 grand opening. Photo: DOT/The Unit

The Uni set up a portable library for the November 2 grand opening of the Ozone Park plaza. Photo: DOT/The Uni

The intersection of Liberty Avenue and 101st Avenue sits on the border of Cypress Hills, Brooklyn, and Ozone Park, Queens. A few blocks from the A train and surrounded by small businesses, it’s a natural hub for the neighborhood, but the road configuration gave over large areas of the angled intersection to cars. Last year, the Bangladeshi American Community Development and Youth Services Corp. (BACDYS) applied to DOT’s plaza program, and last month, the finishing touches were put on the new plaza space.

BACDYS, the maintenance partner for the plaza, hosted a grand opening celebration on November 2, featuring portable library set up by The Uni Project, which brings books to sidewalks and public plazas across the city.

Ozone Park's new plaza stretches along Liberty Avenue. Photo: DOT

Ozone Park’s new plaza stretches along Liberty Avenue. Image: DOT

During the planning process, DOT had discussed a few design concepts with the community, including a plaza on the south side of the intersection along Liberty Avenue. The final result creates a plaza that stretches along 101st Avenue, which was converted from two-way to one-way traffic flow, and on Drew Street between 101st and Liberty Avenues.

The plan was refined during public workshops in May and August, and received support from Council Member Eric Ulrich, U.S. Representatives Nydia Velasquez and Ed Towns, Brooklyn Community Board 5, Queens CB 9, and a number of adjacent businesses.

Ulrich’s office tells Streetsblog that a few business owners were upset with the loss of 11 parking spaces. Two weeks ago, Ulrich held a meeting with merchants and DOT to discuss potential changes to the plaza, including a reduction in its size to restore a few of the parking spaces that were removed.

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DOT Cuts Community-Endorsed Harlem Pedestrian Space for Double Parking

DOT crews at work yesterday morning, erasing part of the pedestrian space on Mount Morris Park West. Photo: Stephen Miller

DOT crews yesterday morning, erasing part of the pedestrian space on Mount Morris Park West. Photo: Stephen Miller

A big new pedestrian space next to a busy Harlem park, installed last summer as part of a community board-backed traffic calming plan, is being scaled down by the agency that created it. Why the change? DOT says it’s responding to complaints that the original design created too much space for pedestrians, and not enough for double-parked drivers.

For years, Mount Morris Park West offered a wide, four-block straightaway with sharp curves at either end. Drivers heading south on Fifth Avenue often raced around the turns, creating dangerous conditions for Harlem residents walking to and from Marcus Garvey Park. Occasionally, drivers speeding at the southern turn left the roadway and crashed into homes along West 120th Street.

Beginning last year, the Mount Morris Park West Community Improvement Association worked with DOT to develop a traffic calming plan for streets around the park. The proposal, which significantly increased pedestrian space, tightened curves and trimmed travel lanes from two to one, was unanimously supported by CB 11 in February [PDF]. After DOT made the changes in August, a group of angry residents at the board’s September transportation committee meeting demanded the city bring back the old, more dangerous roadway [PDF].

“We want the city to pull this thing up. We want these things gone,” resident Chet Whye told the Daily News. While the design isn’t gone, the more-space-for-cars crowd will be glad to hear that DOT, which had already adjusted the street’s traffic light timing to ease backups, is now shaving away sidewalk space.

“This updated design is in response to concerns expressed by some neighborhood residents that the roadway space is too narrow, and the painted sidewalk is too large,” DOT Manhattan Borough Commissioner Margaret Forgione wrote in an October 31 letter to Community Board 11 [PDF]. DOT will narrow the painted sidewalk by five feet to widen parking lanes and add painted buffers on either side of the street. “The wider profile will provide a larger area for motorists who wish to double-park,” Forgione wrote, “while still allowing room for unimpeded traffic movement.”

DOT is adding a stop light at Fifth Avenue and 124th Street, which currently has a flashing red signal and stop sign. It will also study traffic signals at 121st and 123rd Streets on Mount Morris Park West. More changes could be on the way: Forgione said that eliminating plaza space is “laying the groundwork for potential future modifications.”

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De Blasio: “Transportation Determines Opportunity, Livability, Biz Climate”

On WNYC this morning, Brian Lehrer posed the best transportation question of the 2013 mayoral campaign, asking Bill de Blasio, “Have you thought about transportation as one of your tools to fight inequality?”

Here’s what the mayoral frontrunner said:

Transportation determines opportunity, livability, business climate. For many people, the absence of affordable transportation, in outer-borough locations especially, constrains their opportunities.

An encouraging response, but left unsaid by the candidate is that the means of “affordable transportation” are trains, buses, biking, and walking. Most New Yorkers don’t have cars, and many households simply can’t afford the thousands of dollars in annual costs that come attached to car ownership. De Blasio’s policy platform does include ambitious goals to speed up bus service, but on the air he didn’t specifically mention transit as a tool to reduce inequality.

Lehrer moved on to Tuesday’s mayoral debate, saying he was surprised to hear de Blasio self-identify as a motorist when responding to a question about pedestrian plazas. When he asked if de Blasio thought Bloomberg’s policies were “too anti-car,” the candidate responded:

No, I would not say that. A lot of what the mayor’s done is right in this area. Sometimes I think he did it in a way that was less consultative with communities than it could have been.

The core of it I agree with fully. We have to focus on pedestrian safety, we have to focus on bicycle safety. The “Vision Zero” approach which I subscribe to, literally the goal is to have zero fatalities amongst pedestrians and bicyclists. And we have a lot of the tools we need to fundamentally change our approach to safety.I do believe in the bike lanes we have and in expanding them further. I do believe in the traffic calming measures. Pedestrians plazas are part of that.

But on the Times Square and Herald Square plazas specifically, de Blasio was less clear:

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“Vision Zero,” or Zero Vision? De Blasio Says “Jury’s Out” on Midtown Plazas

Bill de Blasio, who adopted an aggressive street safety platform during the Democratic mayoral primary, reverted back to a livable streets skeptic at last night’s mayoral debate. The mayoral frontrunner claimed “the jury’s out” on the city’s popular Midtown pedestrian plazas, which among other benefits have led to dramatic reductions in pedestrian injuries. Republican candidate Joe Lhota was non-committal too, but given the de Blasio campaign’s stated commitment to eliminating traffic deaths, his response was especially jarring.

At the 51-minute mark, moderator Maurice Dubois asked the candidates a question dripping with windshield perspective: ”Would you take out the tables and chairs from Times Square and Herald Square and reopen Broadway?” De Blasio responded:

I have profoundly mixed feelings on this issue. I’m a motorist myself, and I was often frustrated. And then I’ve also seen on the other hand that it does seem to have a positive impact on the tourist industry. So for me, the jury’s out on that particular question. I think it’s worth assessing what the impact has been on traffic, what the impact has been on surrounding businesses. I would keep an open mind.

“He may be the judge but the jury has spoken,” Transportation Alternatives Executive Director Paul Steely White told Streetsblog this morning. Since the plazas were installed in 2009, they’ve been the subject of numerous polls, traffic studies, and business reports from the city, independent pollsters, and business groups. Given the evidence, de Blasio’s assertion that there needs to be even more review defies credulity.

“The position de Blasio articulated last night is completely inconsistent with Vision Zero,” White added, referring to the candidate’s campaign plank to eliminate traffic deaths within 10 years. “Putting pedestrians first is clearly saving lives and boosting business, and nowhere is that more apparent than in Times Square.”

Two months after the Times Square plazas were first installed, a Quinnipiac poll showed that 58 percent of New Yorkers supported them, with only 35 percent opposed. A Times poll this year showed that 72 percent of New Yorkers, including strong majorities in every demographic, support the citywide plaza program.

Before the plazas were made permanent in 2010, surveys from the Times Square Alliance business improvement district found that the majority of property owners and retail managers supported the program. In 2009, 70 percent of Times Square residents and workers supported the plazas; in 2012, the percentage jumped to 80 percent, the Alliance said. After pedestrianization, Times Square has consistently ranked as one of the most desirable retail destinations on earth.

Citing the plaza’s popularity and safety gains, including dramatic reductions in the number of pedestrians walking in the roadbed and a 35 percent drop in injuries, the Alliance said there’s no reason why the city should halt construction on a permanent plaza. “The current capital project to build a world-class plaza in Times Square — already well underway — makes sense to continue,” the group said in a statement.

The sentiment is similar on 34th Street, where the local BID is looking to come to an agreement with the city that would give it more control over maintaining and programming the plazas. “The pedestrian plazas are a huge success, and must stay,” Dan Biederman, head of the 34th Street Partnership, said in a statement. “They have created great new urban life, raised real estate values, and cut pedestrian injuries.”

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Council Member Danny Dromm Talks Jackson Heights Plazas With NY1


As part of his excellent series visiting all 51 city council districts, NY1′s Errol Louis joined Council Member Danny Dromm for a walk around Jackson Heights earlier this month.

Louis began the segment by telling viewers about the neighborhood from the back seat of a car rolling down Roosevelt Avenue, but Dromm, an honoree at Thursday’s Streets Ball, got him walking around before long. Dromm took Louis to two popular spaces reclaimed from cars in his district: the 78th Street play street, which links together a school and a park, and Diversity Plaza, a busy plaza surrounded by immigrant-owned businesses.

Sukhi NY, the group started by local business owners to help take care of the space, has already organized popular events in the plaza for over a year, and has even more events planned. Tonight at 8:30 p.m., the group is organizing an Eid celebration in the plaza, featuring music, poetry, and snacks.

On Saturday, the Jackson Heights Beautification Group is organizing a cleanup on the plaza from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday evening, the Queens World Film Festival will be screening short films in Diversity Plaza, starting at 6:30 p.m.

Dromm isn’t the only council member showing off livable streets to NY1 viewers: In August, Council Member Julissa Ferreras talked pedestrian medians and plazas during her tour with Louis. Who will be next?