Car-Free Washington Place? Not in My Driveway, Say Residents

ped_wash_place.jpg
A rendering in section of NYU’s proposal for a pedestrian-only Washington Place, between Washington Square Park and Broadway.

Earlier this week, Community Board 2 in Greenwich Village held a public meeting to get feedback on NYU’s proposal to pedestrianize Washington Place, part of a larger plan to improve public space in the school’s core campus. Nearby residents aren’t happy with the number of cars that park in the area now, but (surprise!) they don’t want to do what’s necessary to improve things, either. A tipster sends along this recap:

Tuesday night’s CB2 meeting on pedestrianizing Washington Place turned
nasty. There were about a dozen or so residents speaking decidedly
against restricting car access, including a couple folks who infused a
lot of hostility to the entire discussion. Even though residents
complained that it was being used as an NYU parking lot, they also loved
the fact that you can always make great time speeding down this
incredibly wide street.

Even the idea of taking away parking to plant trees seemed controversial
to this crowd; they preferred the space to be taken from pedestrians.
They were very hostile to the NYU presenters, and belligerent to the
half dozen or more folks who thought more space for pedestrians was a
good idea.

I hope this was simply a case of them hating the messenger (NYU) but not
necessarily the idea of giving more space to pedestrians. Still, there
were a lot of motorheads in the room. There was, however, a good showing
on the pro-pedestrian side: George Haikalis, Barry Benepe, T.A. and a
few others were there to fly the flag. Still, it’s disappointing to
think that this is the community that closed the leg of Fifth Avenue
that used to run through Washington Square Park many years ago. Seems
like the Jane Jacobs legacy was lost on this crowd.

The full plan, called NYU Plans 2031, consists of an array of measures intended build the school’s central campus within its existing footprint, while simultaneously improving the public environment. A full, up-to-date explanation, with renderings, is available in this PDF.

"NYU realizes that the pedestrian experience in their core area is not very pleasant," says Ian Dutton, vice-chair of CB2’s transportation committee, who spoke favorably of the pedestrianization plan. He notes that most of the cars on this stretch of Washington Place are usually circling for parking, and that if full-on pedestrianization doesn’t happen, NYU will most likely take other measures to improve the streetscape, like a greening program and adding street amenities.

Image courtesy of NYU

  • Jacob

    Why not just widen the sidewalks bit by bit? Slowly make it more less convenient to drive on the road until no one cares that you make it a pedestrian way. Drastic measure beget drastic reaction. Incremental change is much less likely to ruffle so many feathers. This leads to slow but real change, rather than overreaching, galvanizing opposition, and ultimately arriving at an impasse.

  • Soho Resident

    I live in Soho and I’m in favor of congestion pricing etc. However I think the suggestion of closing Prince Street to cars like Washington Place has to be one of the dumbest ideas I have ever heard. There are many reasons this is a bad idea including: (1) the street vendor situation is already completely out of control and would obviously be dramatically worse if the street was closed, (2) closing one street puts a tremendous amount of pressure on the other streets that aren’t closed, (3) deliveries couldn’t be made during that time, (4) old and disabled people won’t be able to walk out their front door into a taxi or car and (5) although successful in Europe, these types of closures have a long history of killing retail stores along these types of blocks.

    We should be addressing the obvious traffic problems in our neighborhoods like cars blocking the box and illegally parked cars.

  • Ian D

    re: #2

    Hi Sean. *wave*

  • mike

    #2: Traffic is not like water.

  • Mark

    Response 2, point 5: Funny thing, I’ve visited most major cities in Europe and your “long history of killing retail stores” is completely fictional. Car-free and car-light streets have thriving retail in Europe. They are usually full of people and many of them are shopping.

    Drivers who want unrestricted access to every street in a city have many options to choose from in America. For my own part, I’d rather live like a European.

  • Larry Littlefield

    (Tuesday night’s CB2 meeting on pedestrianizing Washington Place turned nasty…a couple folks who infused a lot of hostility to the entire discussion…very hostile…belligerent…I hope this was simply a case of them hating the messenger (NYU) but not necessarily the idea of giving more space to pedestrians).

    It wasn’t the message or the messenger — it is the type of people who show up at public hearings and sit on community boards. Public hearings are not very useful, and those who speak at them are not representative of the broader community. There has got to be a better way.

  • Dave G.

    Re: Soho Resident’s comments (#2). For those of you who are not familiar with the DOT’s proposal for Prince Street: The plan is to make Prince Street car-free on Sundays during the summer. It is not a permanent pedestrianization like NYU is proposing for Washington Place.

  • Soho Resident

    #3 I’m not Sean although he is my hero. BTW, I love how Ben Fried is snotty in the article about what the residents think. Why should the residents even have a voice? Why shouldn’t the people who write on this blog who don’t even live downtown get to make all the decisions?

  • Marc Devitis

    Back in 1992, NYU proposed pedestrianizing Washington Place after out of control motorist Stella Maychick killed five and injured 26 people enjoying a sunny day in Washington Square Park. Many parents of the victims attended the community board meeting when the idea was presented. Someone screamed at the parent of a dead NYU student that he should have “Taught his kid how to walk.” This precipitated a fist-fight — hopefully the mourning parent beat the shit out of the guy. There maybe valid reasons not to pedestrianize Washington Place, but the hard core opponents are some of the most truly benighted fools in this city.

  • anonymous

    It does seem like public hearings and such are representative not of the majority opinion, but of the loudest, most vocal minority group, which is usually opposed to the actual majority opinion.

    As for the actual street in question, I think pedestrianizing just the one block of Washington Place nearest the park would probably work, and make things rather safer for people walking in the area. Pedestrianizing Prince St is also a good idea, there are huge numbers of pedestrians there at time. In fact, if that’s done, the street vendors can be moved off the sidewalk and into the street, where they’re not in peoples’ way.

  • anonymous (same as anon#10)

    Soho resident: I happen to live downtown, and closer to Washington Place than you, if your name is anything to go by. So in my opinion, as a resident of the area and someone who walks by there regularly, pedestrianizing the street, or at least reducing the space available to cars there, is a wonderful idea. I think the roadway width comes from the needs of the factories that used to be there for loading space, and is no longer appropriate to the uses that are there now.

  • Soho Resident

    So #9 anyone who now thinks this is a bad idea is a child killer? Please. Really weak guys. As to #10, what a great idea it could be one huge open air crap market for tourists. That’s a great idea for helping the people who live there. Thanks!

  • Larry Littlefield

    Hey Soho Resident, are you an artist certified as such by the government?

    Sorry, background in zoning, couldn’t resist.

  • Spud Spudly

    I don’t think Marc said you’re a child killer, just one of the most truly benighted fools in the city — despite the fact that he acknowledges that there may be valid reasons to not close Washington to traffic.

    I went to school on that street and yes, it is much wider than necessary and yes, it does lack enough access for pedestrians considering the heavy foot traffic in the area. I think the best thing would be to widen the sidewalks until the street was just one normal sized lane simliar to Mercer running south through there.

  • LL wins discussion over.

  • Soho Resident

    Obviously #11 you don’t care enough to show up at the community meeting so I doubt you really live around NYU. I’ll be showing up with a team of other people however to oppose the Prince Street shut-down. It’s going to be UGLY since this would destroy the neighborhood. BTW guys I agree with almost everything I see on this board but this isn’t a good idea and may piss people who you want on your side.

  • mike

    Soho Resident– I’m afraid I’m not understanding how opening up the street to people will “destroy the neighborhood”. I thought things like “neighborhoods” and “communities” were made from people, not vehicles.

  • Dave G.

    Soho Resident: Would you care to explain to us how closing a portion of Prince Street to cars for 7 hours a week during the summer (1% of the total number of hours in a year, by the way) will “destroy the neighborhood”?

  • Paul

    So close the street on sundays and don’t allow street vendors. Sounds like a simple plan to me. Aren’t there enough streets open to cars in the city already? Good grief. Find a fucking compromise.

    I lived on a street in Prague for a year that was closed to cars, but it was a vendor market with fruits and vegetables mostly during the week and tourist junk on the weekends. I was always packed, but it still beats a street full of cars any day. No mimes though.

  • Dave H.

    Is this a town/gown thing that is being transformed into driver/ped? That’s something that’s more than familar elsewhere. Check out the comments section here:

    http://www.newhavenindependent.org/archives/2008/03/cop_keeps_the_p.php

    (there is a story like this with a comments section like this once a week).

  • Dave

    I believe that the problem with both the pedestrianization of Washington Place and the closing of Prince Street in the summer is the attitude of the locals that the streets are there for free parking for them.

    We need to change the use of the streets from free parking lots into alternative uses. I am too young to remember but I believe that until the late 40’s it was illegal to park overnight on any Manhattan street. Imagine that.

    We are now in a place where the city wrongly gives away th curb space for free to anyone so by taking away this space the locals feel that they are being imposed upon.

    Impose Congestion Pricing, Residential Parking Permits and drastically reduce the amount of curbide parking in favor of loading zones, bike parking; anything but free car storage.

    By making free curbside parking so readily available city-wide we create the resistance to taking it away anywhere, even for the overwhelming good of the city in general.

  • Timmy

    #21 you clearly point out why folks like you have no idea what you are talking about. If you knew anything about Prince Street (which you clearly have never visited) you would know that it IS NOT LEGAL TO PARK DURING THE DAY EXCEPT ON WEEKENDS on Prince or anywhere else in Soho. Therefore if you live in Soho and have a car (which almost no one does) you must use a garage. Folks like you are dangerous because you don’t have the facts.

    No one from Soho is suggesting that the closure of Prince Street is a bad thing because of the elimination of parking. The only people who park on Prince during the weekend are people from outside the area. We are complaining about all the other problems it will bring.

  • Dave

    Timmy:
    I absolutely have the facts; I wonder how many Soho residents like to park on the street at night during the week and all day the weekend; reverse commuters maybe or people who only pay for daytime parking during the week. Probably register their cars at the weekend house so permit parking should stop that.
    So why don’t you get better facts and a better attitude as well.

  • Zella

    It seems to me in both locations, Prince St and Waverly Place, that an important, and hereto undefined component is what activities the City will sanction in lieu of traffic. Is this a trojan horse that will open the floodgates for more applications from vendors, streetfairs, filming permits that have terrorized Prince St and Mulberry St. and inconvenienced the residents around Washington Square for years? In spite of the supposed benefit to the City for adding to its tourist attractiveness, the revenue is never passed thru to the community — for better sanitation coverage, traffic enforcement, vendor enforcement.

    SHOULD our communities wish to consider vehicular restrictions on streets, it should be accompanied by a covenant, signed by the City, that these areas are also off-limits for such permits and any additional income producing schemes. It is better for the residents, better for the businesses that already reside in these locations and might, actually provide the “quieting” effect that the City espouses in the first place.

  • The street is a helpful access to mercer street before 3rd street, where traffic can bottle up from congestion at houston. it is also the last street to access university place, before having to go around in circles. if you want to close washington street to cars, close it west of the park, not east of it, otherwise you’ll make me one confounded person.

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