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Posts from the Union Square Category


Manhattan CB 5 Listens to Reason, Endorses Union Square Plan

union_square_design.jpgPedestrian plazas and bike lanes should calm traffic and tame the dangerous northwest corner of Union Square. Image: NYCDOT
After some vocal complaints spurred compromises to NYCDOT's ambitious original proposal to redesign the streets near Union Square, Manhattan Community Board 5 held strong last night, voting 24-1-1 to move forward with the fundamental safety features of the plan. Rather than cave to the most belligerent core of anti-bike residents and NIMBY businesses, the board actually strengthened its resolve in the face of irrational and uncompromising opposition.

DOT's plan for the area would extend Broadway's protected bike lane down to Union Square, shrink 17th Street to a one lane, one-way street with a contraflow bike lane, and build a traffic calming pedestrian plaza. By eliminating excess capacity along Broadway, the plan will slow down cars and greatly enhance pedestrian and cyclist safety. 

Last night's meeting of the full board took place after three transportation committee meetings on the topic, each of which was marked by outspoken opposition to the redesign. The same familiar faces showed up last night as well. "If the issue is safety," yelled an 18th Street resident who gave her name as Sylvia, "then surely this plan is overblown, chaotic, in fact unrelated." Another 18th Street resident went on about the "policy of deceit and obstructionism from the DOT." 

The members of CB 5 were not swayed. CB member Joe Ferrara had voted against the plan in committee, largely because of resident opposition. After talking with opponents, however, he had a change of heart. "I get the sense that this is a cry for a stop, not necessarily engagement," he explained. Ferrara contrasted the opponents to DOT's representatives, whom he called "extraordinary on the communications front." DOT's effort to compromise without sacrificing safety convinced Ferrara to switch his vote to a yes.

The lopsided vote was also the result of strong institutional support for the redesign. Representatives from the Flatiron/23rd Street Partnership, the Union Square Partnership, NYU and the Union Square Greenmarket all testified in favor of the safety improvements. 

Recalling similar changes on Broadway near Madison Square, Jennifer Brown, the Flatiron Partnership's executive director, told the board that "we were concerned about whether the traffic pattern would work the way they said." Those concerns have melted away. In her organization's most recent survey of its members, she said, the changes to Broadway received a 91 percent approval rating.


DOT Compromises, to a Point, on Union Square Plan

Picture_6.pngThough Broadway will remain a through street, NYCDOT is still building bike lanes and pedestrian plazas at Union Square. Image: NYCDOT.
It took a few tries, but the Department of Transportation finally won the support of Manhattan Community Board 5's Transportation Committee for its Union Square bike-ped plan last night. While a few safety improvements were sacrificed to local objections, the community board rejected calls by a particularly aggressive minority to scrap the centerpieces of the plan, including an extension of Broadway's protected bike lane, a traffic-calming pedestrian plaza, and the conversion of 17th Street into a one-way with a contraflow bike lane.

Last night's meeting marked the third go-round with the committee and came with a slew of revisions to DOT's original plan. Most important, DOT dropped plans to close two blocks of Union Square West for part of each day, choosing instead to auto allow traffic to continue directly from Broadway down to 14th Street, where it would be forced to turn west. Previously, drivers headed south on Broadway would have been required to turn on 18th Street, with cyclists allowed to continue a block further before turning.

Demands by businesses and residents also caused DOT to move the proposed protected bike lane on Broadway between 23rd and 18th Streets from the left side of the street to the right. Cyclists will have to switch from the left to the right of Broadway at Madison Square, but DOT assured the committee that it had a design to make that jump safe and easy.

But these changes, which will reduce pedestrian space and safety compared to the original design, weren't enough for the crowd gathered at last night's meeting. Every member of the public who spoke, with just one exception, was opposed to the plan, even though a show of hands revealed that around 40 percent of the audience supported the redesign. The loudest were residents who lived north of 17th Street, where the plan hadn't been revised by DOT.

Most wanted to toss the whole thing, except for perhaps a signal retiming at the northwest corner of Union Square. They were opposed to bike lanes, dismissive of pedestrian plazas, and livid about the changes to traffic patterns. They simultaneously complained that westbound streets would be impossible to access by car and that eastbound streets would be flooded with displaced traffic; only the precise levels of 2010 traffic, it would seem, are acceptable.


Witness Accounts Wanted in Union Square Cyclist Crash

051910pilar.jpgPilar Ortiz. Photo via Gothamist
On May 13, 36-year-old Pilar Ortiz was hurt in a collision with an MTA express bus while riding her bike on Broadway between 13th and 14th Streets. Corresponding with Gothamist, attorney Ben Rubinowitz says Ortiz remains in the hospital with severe injuries, the details of which are not for the faint of heart.

Pilar suffered extensive, life threatening injuries including fractures of one leg and horrific degloving injuries and fractures to the other leg. A degloving injury is one in which the skin, underlying tissue, muscle, nerves and fascia are peeled away from the body very much the way a glove would be removed from a hand. The injury has been so severe that the surgeons have already conducted 4 surgeries to try and save her leg.

Needless to say, the injuries occurred when she was struck by the bus while she was lawfully on her bicycle. According to the police report the bus driver never saw her and wrote, among other things, that the accident took place because the bus driver failed to yield the right of way while Pilar was crossing the intersection with the signal in her favor. The report also states that the bus driver heard a "crunch and scream."

Rubinowitz is collecting witness accounts of the crash. Here is his contact info:

Gair Gair Conason Steigman Mackauf Bloom & Rubinowitz
80 Pine Street
NY, NY 10005
212 943 1090
Fax 212 425 7513


DOT Unveils Union Square Upgrades to Manhattan CB 5

Picture_6.pngNYCDOT's plans for Union Square would add pedestrian plazas and better bike facilities on Broadway and 17th Street. Image: NYCDOT. For a larger version, click here.

Last night NYCDOT showed plans for a package of safety upgrades and public space improvements for Union Square [PDF] to Manhattan Community Board 5's transportation committee. Under the plan, the north and west sides of the square would see much less traffic and receive more space for pedestrians and new cycle tracks. Several elements of the project are novel for New York, including a contraflow bike lane proposed for Union Square North and two blocks that would be car-free some of the time.

Reader Mike Epstein tells us that the committee reacted positively to the overall plan but chose to put off a vote until DOT returns with another presentation detailing the impact on 18th Street traffic. 

On Broadway from 23rd Street to 18th Street, the plan calls for a parking-protected bike lane and pedestrian refuge islands while removing one driving lane. DOT told CB 5 that because of changes to Broadway at Times and Herald Squares, this stretch of Broadway now carries only about 250 cars per hour at its peak, or one quarter of the road's capacity. Without removing a lane, the extra space promotes unsafe speeds.

Cars driving down Broadway would be diverted east onto 18th Street, a move which prompted some outcries from 18th Street residents worried about more traffic in front of their homes. "The amount they're adding should be one or two cars per minute," said Epstein, who noted that new turning lanes and signal timing should make the impact of that increase negligible. 

Cyclists will be able to continue down Broadway to 17th Street, where they will have the option of turning onto a new contraflow lane along the north side of Union Square. The protected bike lane will then continue along the eastern edge of Union Square until it ends at 15th Street. 

New plazas are slated for Broadway between 17th and 18th and on 17th between Broadway and Park Avenue, and pedestrians would get parts of Union Square West to themselves, at least some of the time. Between 17th and 16th, and 15th and 14th, the street will be closed to traffic part-time. DOT wasn't ready to announce when those two blocks would be pedestrianized or how they'd be programmed, said Epstein. He hypothesized that the need to get trucks in for the Union Square Greenmarket was a key consideration.


Tonight: DOT to Reveal Plans for a Safer Union Square

usgrab2.jpgImage via NY1
Safer street conditions and more space for pedestrians and cyclists could soon be coming to Union Square under a plan to be unveiled by DOT today.

We haven't gotten our hands on the drawings yet, but media reports say that by Labor Day, East 17th Street between Broadway and Park Avenue South, along with part of Broadway north to East 18th Street, are slated to be converted to a pedestrian plaza and car-free thoroughfare.

According to the Times, the pedestrian plaza would run along the north side of Union Square Park between Broadway and Park Avenue South, with a bike lane and pedestrian walkway on the south side. Drivers heading south on Broadway would be directed to make a left at East 18th, while East 17th would become a one-way westbound with a single lane. One lane for auto traffic, as well as street parking, would be maintained on Broadway between East 17th and 18th Streets. DOT is reportedly also looking to reclaim parts of Union Square West for pedestrians.

The area around Union Square is notoriously dangerous. Between 1995 and 2005 there were 95 pedestrian- and cyclist-involved crashes at Broadway and Union Square West alone, according to Transportation Alternatives' CrashStat. Three pedestrians lost their lives during that same period at Fourth Avenue and Union Square East.

DOT is scheduled to present the plan to the Community Board 5 transportation committee tonight at 6:30 at McBurney YMCA, 125 West 14th Street.