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Posts from the "Public Space" Category

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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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Eyes on the Street: Bliss Plaza Shines Under the 7 Train in Sunnyside

Photos: Clarence Eckerson, Jr.

Photos: Clarence Eckerson Jr.

Two weeks ago, Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer cut the ribbon on Bliss Plaza, a new public space created with a few simple changes to the area under the 7 train viaduct at 46th Street and Queens Boulevard. Clarence sends these photos of the plaza in action this weekend: A nicer sidewalk surface, a few planters, and some moveable tables and chairs were all it took to turn this spot into a people magnet.

The Sunnyside Shines BID worked with DOT’s plaza program to make this intersection a usable public space. It was already car-free but there was no place to sit until the BID came along. After hosting a few successful events at 46th Street and another car-free area beneath the viaduct at 40th Street, the BID knew it was onto something. A second plaza at 40th Street, to be known as Lowery Plaza, is in the works.

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Streetsblog USA No Comments

How One-Day Plazas and Bike Lanes Can Change a City Forever

The Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition installed this pop-up lane and intersection treatment at an Open Streets event to show neighbors what a protected bike lane could look like.

The Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition installed this pop-up design at an Open Streets event to show neighbors what a protected bike lane could look like. All photos courtesy of Sam Rockwell.

This post is part of a series featuring stories and research that will be presented at the Pro-Walk/Pro-Bike/Pro-Place conference September 8-11 in Pittsburgh.

Sam Rockwell rides his bike every day from his home in Minneapolis to his office at BlueCross BlueShield in Eagan, 12 miles away, where he spends his days plotting ways to get other people riding their bikes too.

By all accounts, Minnesota is doing a pretty good job on that front. One way Rockwell — and his co-conspirator at BlueCross, Eric Weiss — are looking to make healthy, active transportation even better is by installing temporary “pop-up” infrastructure around the state so people can take new street designs for a test ride.

Despite relatively high levels of biking, Minnesota has somehow neglected to install even a single on-street protected bike lane — though Minneapolis has approved a plan to build 30 miles of them by 2020. Weiss, Rockwell, and the advocates they work with use pop-up installations to help local leaders and residents see how the infrastructure will look.

“We get that, ‘We don’t support it because we don’t know what it is; we’re never going to know what it is because we don’t have any,’” Rockwell said. “There needs to be some way of breaking out of that cycle.”

The pop-up strategy, he argues, is the way. “These are low-cost, quick and easy initiatives,” he said. “And also low-risk, because in the case of the pop-up cycle track, they put it up for one day on a number of different days throughout the summer, and then they just lift it out. It’s non-threatening.”

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StreetFilms No Comments

William H. Whyte in His Own Words: “The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces”

When I first got started making NYC bike advocacy and car-free streets videos back in the late-1990s on cable TV, I didn’t know who William “Holly” Whyte was or just how much influence his work and research had on New York City. A few years later I met Fred and Ethan Kent at Project for Public Spaces. I got a copy of Whyte’s 1980 classic, The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces, which in its marvelously-written, straightforward style is the one book all burgeoning urbanists should start with.

Recently, I read it again. With all the developments in video technology since his day, I wondered: How might Whyte capture information and present his research in a world which is now more attuned to the importance of public space? What would he appreciate? Are his words still valid?

So I excerpted some of my favorite passages from the book and tried to match it up with modern footage I’ve shot from all over the world while making Streetfilms. I hope he would feel honored and that it helps his research find a new audience.

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How a Non-Profit Housing Developer Brought Safer Streets to the South Bronx

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The sidewalk between the subway stairs and stanchions at this Southern Boulevard street corner used to be a traffic lane. Photo: Stephen Miller

When the Women’s Housing and Economic Development Corporation, known as WHEDco, was founded in 1992, the dark days of arson and abandonment in the South Bronx were still fresh in people’s minds. The organization set out to build new housing in a devastated neighborhood — and decided to take a broader view of community development by also looking at employment, nutrition, crime, and education. When WHEDco’s latest development, Intervale Green, opened in Crotona East in 2009, its residents identified another major need: safer streets.

Intervale Green has 128 apartments for low-income residents, including 39 for families leaving the city’s homeless shelters. WHEDco surveyed 450 nearby residents soon after Intervale Green opened to get a better sense of the neighborhood’s needs.

Kerry McLean, WHEDco’s director of community development, said traffic safety and crime came up as major concerns. Residents saw the elevated train above Southern Boulevard as a blight, with peeling paint and not enough lights at night. Cars were speeding, and residents did not feel safe walking home from the train.

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The same street corner before the changes, when bus riders waited on the asphalt. Photo: Google Maps

In 2009, WHEDco organized a meeting with residents, Community Board 3, the 42nd Precinct, and DOT to see what could be done. “Much to our amazement, they came,” McLean said. “Community members actually felt like there was somebody who was listening to them who could make change.”

“We had all our meetings in the Intervale Green building, so we worked with them on this,” said DOT Bronx Borough Commissioner Constance Moran. ”They helped us scope out the islands, and the trees, and the benches, and all of that.”

“People were surprised because it was one of the first times in a long time they felt that their voices were going to be heard,” McLean said. “The Department of Transportation was not looking at streetscape issues in this neighborhood at all before we engaged them.”

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In Harlem, Bradhurst Plaza Supporters Struggle to Change Status Quo

Bradhurst Plaza would turn a dangerous slip lane into a new public space. Image: Harlem CDC [PDF]

Manhattan Community Board 10′s transportation committee ended months of foot-dragging this week by backing a road diet for Morningside Avenue in Harlem. It’s not quite a brand new day at CB 10 though: A community effort to convert a short, irregular block into a public plaza still has an uphill climb at the Harlem board. While there’s a substantial local coalition backing the project, a cadre of outspoken opponents use the existing street as a drop-off zone for their apartment building and don’t want to see any changes.

The intersection of Frederick Douglass Boulevard and Macombs Place near 150th Street is a tricky place to walk. Drivers heading north on Frederick Douglass can veer right, making a high-speed turn onto Macombs Place. Walking across the street is risky: The long, low-visibility intersection doesn’t have a crosswalk and is usually clogged with illegally parked cars. Within one block of the plaza site, there were 30 collisions resulting in five injuries from August 2011 to June 2013, according to NYPD data compiled by plaza advocates.

The effort to bring a plaza to the space is led by Harlem Congregations for Community Improvement, HERBan Farmers’ Market, the Bradhurst Merchants Association, and Harlem Community Development Corporation, a unit of Empire State Development.

They have gathered nearly 300 signatures for the plaza and secured support for their application to DOT’s plaza program from, among others, Bethany Baptist Church, the Polo Grounds Towers Resident Association, Council Member Inez Dickens, former Council Member Robert Jackson, WE ACT for Environmental Justice, Transportation Alternatives, and Harlem Hospital Center [PDF].

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Eyes on the Street: Jackson Heights Triangle Turns Into a Plaza

Manuel de Dios Unanue Triangle at Roosevelt Avenue and 83rd Street has received a seating upgrade. Photo: Clarence Eckerson Jr.

Manuel de Dios Unanue Triangle at Roosevelt Avenue and 83rd Street has received a seating upgrade. Photo: Clarence Eckerson Jr.

Sometimes, it’s the little things that make a big difference. Manuel de Dios Unanue Triangle provides a speck of green along Roosevelt Avenue in the packed Jackson Heights neighborhood, but for years, there was nowhere to sit.

Even the brick wall surrounding the trees was topped with two spike strips to discourage people from resting for more than a minute. While the spikes remain, the space now has the foldable chairs and tables familiar from other plazas across the city — and on this beautiful spring day, they are well-used.

The changes are part of Viva La Primavera, a series of public classes and free concerts at the triangle on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays this May. The initiative is a project of the proposed Jackson Heights-Corona Business Improvement District, the 82nd Street Partnership, the Department of Parks and Recreation, Partnership for Parks, Neighborhood Plaza Partnership, the Queens Chamber of Commerce, Council Member Julissa Ferreras, and sponsor Affinity Health Plan.

Before, the only place to sit was lined with spikes to discourage people from spending time in the space. Photo: Clarence Eckerson Jr.

Before, the only place to sit was lined with spikes to discourage people from spending time in the space. Photo: Clarence Eckerson Jr.

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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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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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StreetFilms 35 Comments

A Montreal Intersection Morphs Into a Wonderful Neighborhood Space

On a Bixi bike excursion to get some ice cream in Montreal, my wife and I stumbled upon the intersection of Fairmount Avenue and Rue Clark, recently upgraded with colorful new street furniture, traffic calming treatments, and a two-way protected bike lane. The space is teeming with street life. When you arrive at this lovely place your first instinct is to stop, sit down, and enjoy.

This intersection is a prime example of how a neighborhood street should cater to people. All local streets should strive to make pedestrians feel welcome, slow traffic speeds with physical infrastructure, and provide art and greenery wherever possible.

Since we were only there for a short time and could dig up only scant information online, I don’t have much backstory to share about how this space was created. If anyone can provide more info in the comments, please fill us in.