A New York City Streets Renaissance
Together with Transportation Alternatives and The Open Planning Project, PPS is spearheading the recently launched New York City Streets Renaissance Campaign. The campaign involves a growing coalition of community groups, elected officials, business leaders, and concerned citizens from across the five boroughs who are working together to bring long-overdue, common sense improvements to our neighborhood streets. Here are some of the initial opportunities the Streets Renaissance will be working on.
When East Tremont was a walkable avenue with destination retail such as Woolworth’s, Westchester Square was the commercial and community hub of Pelham Bay. A plaza in disrepair hopes to again be the center of the community. Today the square has lost many shops, and those that continue to operate are not a significant draw for the neighborhood. PPS and the Streets Renaissance Campaign will work with City Council Member James Vacca from the 13th District to re-design the central square, improving sight lines, adding pedestrian amenities, and transforming the under-utilized space into a great destination.
Lehman High School
Sitting literally on top of the sunken Hutchinson Expressway and abutted by the overly-wide lanes of East Tremont Avenue, students at Lehman High School have no hope of avoiding exposure to speeding cars and their fumes. But students shouldn’t have to fear for their lives when leaving school to cross the street. Council Member Vacca has asked Transportation Alternatives to conduct an initial traffic assessment and propose ways to calm traffic and ensure the safety of students.
Until early 2006, Vanderbilt Avenue was as wide as a highway from Atlantic Avenue to Grand Army Plaza. At the same time, there were more pedestrians and cyclists on Vanderbilt than ever before. At the urging of the Prospect Heights Parents Association, the Prospect Heights Development Council, and Transportation Alternatives, the Brooklyn Department of Transportation reclaimed a travel lane in each direction on the avenue, adding a striped median between Sterling Place and Dean Street. If the trial striping is successful after one year of study, the DOT has suggested it will partner with the Parks Department to transform the central median into a lush mall. This landscaped median will not only enhance a currently barren streetscape, but could start a trend for “Green Streets” throughout the city.
In Williamsburg, Bedford Avenue is crowded with bicycles and easily accessible by subway. Several groups have asked what it would look like as a completely pedestrian street. Transportation Alternatives and the Car-free Bedford campaign teamed up to host the city’s first Parking Spot Squat, where community residents fed a parking meter on Bedford Avenue and parked bikes, chairs, and a table to play chess and enjoy each other’s company. Given the success of the event, other Adopt-A-Spot park-ins have sprouted up in other neighborhoods around town. The ideal next step for Bedford Avenue would include transforming the roadway into an all-access, “pedestrian priority” street, where all users are granted equal access to the roadway, and private car use and truck use are minimized.
Finn Square is actually a pair of triangular traffic islands. Currently it functions as a funnel for downtown traffic, but it can become a defining public space for Tribeca. Currently, four lanes of traffic merge into two at the tip of the square, causing aggressive driving all around. The Streets Renaissance is working to unlock its potential to serve as a comfortable and engaging community gathering space.
This unused square surrounded by restaurants can become a major amenity for shoppers and residents. Soho is New York’s most popular shopping, but the area has few public spaces and resting spots. Petrosino Square could emerge as one of the city’s most intensively used small squares by reclaiming two unnecessary lanes of traffic on Lafayette Street for pedestrian use.
The Meatpacking District is changing rapidly, as its success as a destination brings new challenges and opportunities. Responding to the concerns of local business owners and residents, PPS conducted in-depth analysis of how people and cars currently use the district. The study found that intense traffic degrades the safety and public enjoyment of the historic district’s wide streets and distinctive Belgian pavers.
Through a series of community meetings and workshops, citizens developed a bold vision and identified a number of flexible improvements, activities and events that would balance the use of their public right of way. As this powerful vision for Gansevoort Plaza gains momentum, technical studies are underway to assess feasibility and hone design recommendations.
Hell’s Kitchen and 9th Avenue
PPS is working with the Hell’s Kitchen Neighborhood Association and several other community organizations to tackle the stifling congestion that threatens the quality of life in this growing neighborhood. For years, 9th Avenue has been referred to as the West Side’s “main street” in official planning reports and rhetoric, yet anyone familiar with the area knows little has been done to mitigate the burden of traffic caused by both the Port Authority Bus Terminal and the Lincoln tunnel. By establishing a community vision and criteria for success, this project will be instrumental in improving the social and physical environment of the West Side.
In collaboration with City Council Member Hiram Monserrat, community stakeholders and the Hunter College Department of Urban Affairs and Planning have developed a community-based plan to transform Corona Plaza into Plaza de las Americas, demapping a road and greatly increasing public space. The purpose of the project is to stimulate a participatory planning process in which different sectors of the Corona community can participate in the redesign, renewal and maintenance of Corona Plaza. With over half a million dollars earmarked by Mr. Monserrat in the City Council budget, the community hopes to begin implementation soon.
For several years the Greater Jamaica Development Corporation (GJDC) has tried to resolve Jamaica’s parking mess. Years ago, the GJDC purchased several decrepit parking lots in the neighborhood, raised private money and received funding from the city, and added parking attendants, renovated the buildings, and established an LLC to manage them. The parking lots have been priced at a rate that approximates on-street prices, with the hopes that the many long-term parkers (particularly court workers and police) would be induced to free up the meters they occupy on Jamaica Avenue. The GJDC has recently spoken to Transportation Alternatives about establishing what might be New York’s first rational on-street parking program. If the GJDC has its say, on-street rates would fluctuate to achieve an appropriate level of turnover, and the additional revenues generated would go back into street improvement.