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Posts from the Public Space Category


DOT Secures Federal Grant to Add More Sidewalk Seating

DOT officials and others with CityBench number 1,500, at MS 22 in the Bronx. Photo: DOT

DOT officials and others with CityBench number 1,500 at MS 22 in the Bronx. Photo: DOT

A federal grant will bring more public benches to NYC sidewalks, DOT announced yesterday.

The CityBench program, a PlanNYC initiative launched in 2011, has brought hundreds of steel benches to streets across the boroughs. DOT marked the installation of the 1,500th bench yesterday, at MS 22 in the Bronx, and said the Federal Transit Authority has awarded the program an additional $1.5 million. The FTA provided 80 percent of the initial $3 million CityBench budget.

CityBench targets commercial districts and areas where seniors and people with impaired mobility lack places to sit. Bench sites can be requested via the DOT web site.

“New York’s CityBench program is a welcome reprieve for many who pound the pavement every day,” said City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito. “The additional funding for this program will benefit many, especially those in my district of East Harlem, which has a prominent and growing senior population.”


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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Giving Up on Public Spaces Is Exactly What NYC Did in “The Bad Old Days”


Time to abandon this dysfunctional space where people can walk and sit comfortably. Photo: Stephen Miller

Normally Streetsblog would just ignore Steve Cuozzo’s rant yesterday about the evils of giving New Yorkers more room to walk and sit. But yanking out public space is a surprisingly credible threat these days, so here goes.

If you missed it, the nut of Cuozzo’s piece is that because he saw some homeless people sitting on benches in the temporary sidewalk expansion on 32nd Street by Penn Station, “the bad old days are back.” This fits neatly into the Post’s campaign to paint #deBlasiosNewYork as a place where decent folk are constantly menaced by aggressive lunatics on the street and you ought to be cowering inside all the time.

It also depends on stupendous ignorance of how the reclamation of public spaces helped New York turn the corner on “the bad old days.”

Cuozzo singles out “the ‘pedestrian’-besotted 34th Street Partnership” — the local Business Improvement District — for backing the 32nd Street sidewalk expansion. The 34th Street Partnership is also responsible for foolishness like restoring Herald Square and maintaining sidewalk benches. It has an interesting intellectual lineage — the organization’s founder, Dan Biederman, is a disciple of the influential urbanist William H. Whyte.

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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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Here They Are — The Sad Benches Where No One Wants to Sit


This lovely “place I don’t want to sit” comes from Drew Ackermann in Gambrills, Maryland. His wife tested it out just for laughs.

Last week, Gracen Johnson over at Strong Towns introduced the phrase “places I don’t want to sit” to describe the lousy, leftover public spaces where someone has plopped down a bench or two as an afterthought. The seating, in these cases, helps crystallize how unsalvageable our public realm becomes when everything else is planned around moving and storing cars. Who would actually want to sit there?

So Strong Towns and Streetsblog encouraged folks to Tweet their own examples at #PlacesIDontWantToSit. You all dug up some hilarious-but-sad places — here are some of the lousiest ones.

This submission comes to us via Kansas City-based Tweeter The Pedestrian Path, who added the helpful white arrow to point out the sitting space:

Screen Shot 2015-08-28 at 9.51.31 AM

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