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Posts from the Public Space Category

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Eyes on the Street: The Return of “Plaza 33” — Maybe for Good

Here's what happens when you close a street to car traffic in one of the busiest parts of the city. Photo: David Meyer

Here’s what happens when you make a street car-free in one of the busiest parts of the city. Photo: David Meyer

“Plaza 33” is back, transforming the eastern half of 33rd Street between Seventh Avenue and Eighth Avenue into a car-free public space — and it’s set to remain indefinitely.

This is the second iteration of “Plaza 33,” which was installed from July through October last year and is funded and managed by Vornado Realty Trust. Next to Penn Station, the space gets some of the most intense foot traffic in Midtown and was filled with people yesterday evening.

Some parts of "Plaza 33" remain under construction. Photo: David Meyer

Some parts of “Plaza 33” remain under construction. Photo: David Meyer

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Eyes on the Street: Early Spring Means Earlier “Street Seats”

It's only March, but Laughing Man Coffee & Tea has already brought back its "Street Seats" that were outside the establishment from May to November of last year. Photo: Charles Komanoff

It’s only March, but Laughing Man Coffee & Tea has already brought back its “Street Seats” that were outside the establishment from May to November of last year. Photo: Charles Komanoff

Despite this weekend’s snow forecast, for a few days there it felt freakishly like spring. Yet another sign of winter’s demise is the reemergence of DOT’s “Street Seats.”

Charles Komanoff sent Streetsblog this picture of the temporary outdoor seating area being re-installed outside of Laughing Man Coffee and Tea on Duane Street in Tribeca. The corral was previously installed from May to November of last year.

The Street Seats program allows businesses to apply for and sponsor daytime seating areas in adjacent repurposed parking spots outside their storefronts. Last year DOT received 22 applications for Street Seats, of which 13 were approved.

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“Plaza 33” Will Return This Year, But a Ped-Friendly 32nd Street Won’t

“Plaza 33,” the temporary public space that opened up the eastern end of 33rd Street between Seventh Avenue and Eighth Avenue for a few months last year, will be back in August and this time there are no plans to remove it once the weather turns colder.

The other pedestrian improvement by Penn Station that real estate giant Vornado funded last year — the 32nd Street sidewalk extension — will not be back, however. Both projects were managed by Vornado with DOT’s approval.

Last night, representatives from the company showed a joint meeting of the Community Board 5 transportation and parks committees their plan to bring back Plaza 33. The 32nd Street project, which opened up space for people on a cramped walking route between Sixth Avenue and Penn Station, may get revived in the future, but Vornado said complaints about the removal of loading zones have tabled it for now.

The plaza on 33rd Street increases continuous pedestrian space on 7th Avenue by half. Image: Vornado Reality Trust

The plaza on 33rd Street (the green area) is coming back in August. Image: Vornado Reality Trust

While there are no plans to remove the plaza once it returns, DOT wants to observe it year-round before committing to a permanent build-out, which would require a multi-year capital investment.

“Part of what DOT wants to see is ‘How does this work?’” Vornado Senior VP for Development Marc Ricks told committee members. “And although they are not positioning this as a pilot, they are positioning that it’s back and it’s here to stay, the city always reserves the right to say something’s not working.”

DOT may also implement split-phase signals at the intersections of Seventh Avenue with 33rd Street and 31st Street, so pedestrians never have the walk signal at the same time that turning drivers have a green light. That decision is due to traffic concerns more than safety — DOT found that those intersections had more vehicle delay while Plaza 33 was in place.

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Trottenberg Announces Plaza Equity Program at Plaza de Las Americas Reveal

Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, and a cast of uptown players marked the opening of Plaza de Las Americas today. Photo: Brad Aaron

Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, and a cast of uptown players marked the opening of Plaza de Las Americas today. Photos: Brad Aaron

Just eight months after the groundbreaking ceremony, officials held a ribbon-cutting this morning at Plaza de Las Americas, an impressive new public space in Washington Heights. Also today, Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg announced a City Hall initiative to assist plazas in neighborhoods without the resources of a major business improvement district.

Plaza de Las Americas reclaims one block of W. 175th Street, between Broadway and Wadsworth Avenue, with 16,000 square feet of pedestrian space. Bookended to the north and south by the United Palace theater and a grocery store, respectively, the plaza comes equipped with electric and water service for vendors. Other amenities include a public restroom, decorative pavers, benches, trees, and a fountain by artist Ester Partegás.

The block has been the site of a farmers market since 1980, and since 1994 vendors have set up on the street to sell household wares, clothes, and other items. Sponsored by the Washington Heights and Inwood Development Corporation, the proposal to make those uses permanent received $5 million in city funds when it was chosen in the first round of the plaza program in 2008. The project was designed and built by DOT and the Department of Design and Construction.

“After years of planning, today we come together to celebrate the location our community has valued for decades transformed into an even better venue,” said City Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez in prepared remarks. “La Plaza de Las Americas will be a focal point for the communities of Northern Manhattan and assuredly a boon to local business and our very active street vendors.”

Other electeds on hand included Congressman Charles Rangel, State Senator Adriano Espaillat, Assembly Member Guillermo Linares, and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer.

Trottenberg announced the OneNYC Plaza Equity Program, which will allocate $1.4 million from the city budget to provide maintenance and management assistance to 30 “medium and high need” plaza projects, most of them in Queens, Brooklyn, the Bronx, and Upper Manhattan. Trottenberg said projects are eligible to receive up to $80,000, along with other assistance, such as organizing and fundraising help, for up to three years. Plazas that lack resources for upkeep can quickly fall out of favor with the public.

Another tidbit: Rodriguez said he’d like to see Plaza de Las Americas extended to St. Nicholas Avenue, two blocks east, as a “gateway” to Washington Heights and Inwood.

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Eyes on the Street: 33rd Street Plaza Gone… Til Next Year?

As planned, the pedestrian spaces installed near Penn Station are being removed this week. A painted sidewalk extension and seating were added to 32nd Street for the summer, while 33rd Street between Seventh and Eighth avenues was converted to a plaza.

The projects were spearheaded by Vornado Realty Trust, which owns major properties in the area, in coordination with DOT and with an endorsement from Community Board 5. The plan was to gauge interest this summer with an eye toward making the changes permanent.

The spaces were a huge hit, but there were complaints from property owners that the 32nd Street sidewalk extension caused problems with curb access for vehicles.

Though the 32nd Street project may be in trouble, all signs point to the eventual return of Plaza 33. Here’s a Streetfilm to remember it by over the winter:

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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.”

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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”

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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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