Mime Threat Overshadows Car-Free Prince Street Proposal

If you read the comments on the previous post, then you know something interesting is in the works for Prince Street. Next Tuesday, Community Board 2’s Transportation Committee will consider a proposal to turn a six-block stretch of Prince Street, from Lafayette to West Broadway, into a car-free zone on Sundays from 11am to 6pm. The pilot project would likely run from Memorial to Labor Day. The idea for this long-sought reallocation of street space emerged from discussions between DOT and the SoHo Partnership, the neighborhood’s innovative welfare-to-work program.

Not surprisingly, an opposition movement has already sprung into action. Faithful Streetsblog readers will recall the SoHo Alliance as the neighborhood group that seems to specialize in fighting street vendors, new bike lanes, sidewalk widenings and, generally, any livable street improvement that threatens to diminish long-time SoHo residents’ access to on-street parking.

A tipster reports that the Alliance is papering the neighborhood with flyers arguing against the pilot project. Here’s a sample bullet point from the flyer, which can be found in its entirety, below:

The current do-wop group will attract other noisy street performers to entertain the increased crowds of tourists. Food vendors will likely spring up. Will Jugglers and mimes be far behind?

Though the specter of mime-filled streets truly is terrifying (and quite politically savvy — I mean, who’s going to speak up for the mimes?) does a bad case of coulrophobia outweigh the potential benefits of car-free Sundays?

As it is, Prince Street is jam-packed with pedestrians and vendors on the weekend yet the majority of the public right-of-way is hogged up by a horn-honking, exhaust-spewing, barely-moving armada of SUV’s and luxury sedans. When London pedestrianized some of its most popular shopping streets, it led to a bonanza for local businesses, a PR coup for the city’s sustainability agenda and a generally nicer, more pleasant public realm for residents and tourists to enjoy.

If you want to help make a car-free Prince Street a reality, then speak up at Community Board 2’s Transportation Committee meeting next Tuesday, March 11 at 7:30pm. The meeting will be at the NYU Silver Building, 32 Waverly Place, room 713. You can be sure the other guys will be there.

The Soho Alliance flyer can be found after the jump…

soho_mauling030.jpg

  • car free nation

    I live in Brooklyn and work in Soho. I’d be happy to have my street or 5th avenue in Brooklyn car free allthe time.

    I also think a car free Prince would be a great thing.

  • jmc

    I walked Prince St today. No, I’m not a resident of SoHo, I’m a resident of the Bronx. I also happened to notice that most of the cars parked had NJ/PA/out of state plates. The traffic was loud, smelly, and obnoxious. People were blocking the box like mad. A car-free Sunday would have been more peaceful for me as a pedestrian and for residents as well. I don’t know what the goals of the SoHo alliance are but they seem to be NIMBYism and insulting anyone who doesn’t live in SoHo.

  • Born & Raised NYC

    But shouldn’t the needs and desires of the business’ and residents of the community carry significant weight in the arguement?

  • Larry Littlefield

    It seems that the usual rules apply — my car increases my quality of life but reduces everyone else’s, everyone else’s car reduces my quality of life but reduces theirs. So everyone wants restrictions on other people’s cars, not their own.

    Perhaps, in the next administration, a series of neighborhood referenda could be help on two hypocrisy free alternatives.

    If the residents choose to have “people oriented” transportation they need to pay a permit for on-street parking, with the money staying in the community for street improvements.

    But they’d get more measures to discourage through traffic, such as bike boulevards, pedestrianized streets, etc. More bike racks. And traffic lights would be timed for 20 miles per hour or less in all but the most important arterials, with signs next to the signal announcing that fact. In addition, limitations on off-street parking would be imposed, but share vehicle use (ie. Zipcar, rentals) would be encouraged. Finally, perhaps the state legislature could be convinced to allow red light cameras in these areas only.

    In the “auto-oriented” option, parking would be free everywhere, parking requirements high, and curb cuts liberally allowed. Perhaps parking meters could be removed from commercial streets. So “your car” is not impeded.

    On the other hand, other’s people’s cars would not be impeded either. traffic signals would be timed to maximize motor vehicle throughput, with 35 mph timing and short cycles for pedestrians. There would be no new bike facilities, save those needed to go through the community from one end to the other.

    So Soho could get what it wanted, but so could other communities.

  • Ed

    It’s amazing how replacing reving engines, screeching brakes and honking horns with the footfalls of pedestrians and the murmuring of conversations echoing between the buildings can be construed as “hell”.

    This pilot project to open the streets to pedestrians would be for just seven hours, for just fourteen Sundays in the summer. I’m suprised that residents wouldn’t be willing to just TRY it.

  • Spud Spudly

    I think a Prince Street pedestrian mall is a great idea and I bet it would increase property values, not decrease them. I would also like for the city to close the street in front of my house. Please DOT, shut Columbus Avenue to traffic every weekend in the summer. I’m not a big fan of the traveling sausage & pepper festivals, but the best Sundays of the year are the ones when the street fair comes around.

  • Ugh

    Can you losers please stay out and stop dictating what goes on in my neighborhood? Go run another neighborhood.

    If a car-free streets get you off, maybe you should try it in another neighborhood outside of Manhattan and kumbaya-kumbaya over the orgasmic smell of car-free streets and discuss over a cup coffee about how much fewer cars on the streets have changed and uplifted your pathetic life’s, but please not in my neighborhood.

    I should be permitted to pull my car (Yes, a gas-guzzling Supercharged V8 Mercedes-Benz) out from my garage and have deliveries delivered to my apartment on time without a bunch of bridge-and-tunnel hippies preaching and telling me how I should live “car free” and green!

    Do any of you have jobs? How about getting the fuck out of this city, Amsterdam perhaps?

  • Last Laugh

    Ha ha — “Ugh” you are the successor to a Manhattan whose neighborhoods are now all tourist destinations. You can’t live in a Times Square or a Mall and persist in the fantasy that it should behave like a “neighborhood.” You people ruined your nest. Now live in it!

  • Me

    Maybe I’ve lived here for too long, but it does seem odd to me that people would move to a city; then work to change it into a psudo-rural area.

  • That would be interesting, people crowding the streets of a rural area. All the rural roads I’ve seen are traveled by cars, and the occasional tractor.

  • Spud Spudly

    OMG, I’m agreeing with Doc.

  • It’s because we’re both such reefer smoking hippies.

  • SoHo (and I know how to spell it) Resident also

    Some ramblings…I am torn on the subject because I hate cars in Manhattan (have never owned one) but in the long run have to agree that the Prince Street closing is a bad idea.

    1. This is not traffic mitigation or reduction but just traffic transfer…to other nearby streets. What we need out of DOT are strategies to reduce traffic entirely.

    2. What will happen to Broome Street, which is already severely congested by cars moving West on weekends when cars from Broadway to Sixth Ave are forced to bypass Prince before they can turn West? My solution if the Mall goes through: do not allow right turns onto Broome from those Streets…force vehicles to go to Canal, which is not as residential a street.

    2. Perhaps parking should not be permitted on Prince (or any of SoHo) on weekends as an alternative. I have little sympathy for residents who want to park there for free, but lots of sympathy to those who want to be able to take a cab (such as the sick or elderly) or take a delivery on a day convenient to them.

    3. what happens to the bicycle lane? If bicyclists are still allowed when it is a pedestrian walkway, then there will be injuries. Sorry, but many bicyclists I see in SoHo are not considerate or careful.

    4. Certain businesses may benefit from the street being closed to traffic, but not all, including:

    – The artists who live and work on Prince will be disadvantaged should they need to transport large canvasses or sculptures on Sunday.

    – This mall could draw potential customers away from similar businesses in the area that are not on Prince.

    – It was only when Trees not Trucks and other traffic alternatives advocacy groups stopped through trucks from Broome Street that the vacancy rate on stores reduced on that street. If more cars and trucks are forced onto it, they will create a “boundary” effect that could well result in economic hardship on Broome.

    5. Lots of residents of SoHo have lived here for 35 or more years… they moved here when it wasn’t a hip place but a place where they could live and manufacture their art at the same time. In fact, it was quiet. By and large, the only people living in SoHo lofts legally are artists who are certified as such by the Department of Cultural Affairs, and non-artists who were grandfathered in in the 1980s. Don’t blame long time residents for dirtying their pond…we could not get the City to enforce the laws so the cost of lofts went up.
    7. The Mulberry Street Mall, also in CB#2, was also an experiment. Once established, despite complaints from residents and elected officials, it was IN. Believe me, there are traffic problems in the surrounding areas. DOT’s response: just avoid that area; live with the honking.

    SoHo Resident too.

  • JK

    SoHO people why are you so afraid of change? Sean and SoHo folks, why not support a month or more of car-free weekends and see what happens? Your neighborhood sidewalks are so miserably crowded and unpleasant that most longtime New Yorkers I know avoid SoHo on weekends. So, what are you defending so ferociously? Let people walk in the street on weekends. Big deal. Nobody is proposing “closing” the street or holding an endless San Gennaro. You are being given an opportunity to make your neighborhood a nicer place to live. You have so little to lose from this mild experiment and everything to gain. And yes, I would support weekend pedestrianization of Broadway or the side street I live on. Come on folks give it a try!

  • JustTheFacts Johnson

    The meeting last night was pretty embarrassing. All of the SoHo Alliance supporters were shouting down the speakers, talking out of turn, and generally behaving in a cockamamie manner. Despite any concerns they may have had, their behavior made them look childish.

    I overheard someone say that the only people that were for the plan were a bunch of freaks and people from Brooklyn. All I can say to that is that the people against it seemed to be a bunch of cranky rich people who want to pretend that their neighborhood hasn’t already changed, as all neighborhoods in NYC eventually do. The most vocal people mentioned that they owned several buildings in the area, while the others tried to paint themselves as a bunch of scrappy artists.

    I live on Perry, just off of Bleecker, which is getting a ridiculous amount of tourists ever since Marc Jacobs, Magnolia Cupcake and an apartment from Sex In the City are within a block. Yes, it’s annoying – but I would love it if they closed off Bleecker – because the most annoying sound I hear in my apartment all day is the honking of horns and the low hum of trucks unloading all of the time.

    If the DOT seems serious about keeping the sausage on a stick people away, I don’t see what the problem is. I would gladly trade a few more pedestrians for all the cars we currently have.

  • correction

    Hey “Ugh” :

    i think you meant “lives” not “life’s”.

    clearly you bought your V8 benzo with money from a patronage job via George W. Bush

    — Brooklyn Hippie.

  • Dave G.

    64: SoHO people why are you so afraid of change?… Your neighborhood sidewalks are so miserably crowded and unpleasant that most longtime New Yorkers I know avoid SoHo on weekends… You are being given an opportunity to make your neighborhood a nicer place to live.

    It was clear from last night’s meeting that many of the people against the car-free Prince proposal want fewer pedestrians in the neighborhood, not more. In a sense, they concede that a car-free Prince would be more appealing to outsiders. It’s just not what they want.

    It makes me sad that a neighborhood would prioritize cars over people in order to make their neighborhood less appealing, but it seems the opponents of this proposal have done just that.

  • Dave

    I think many of you may have blinders on and don’t see how this issue relates to the traffic problem in Manhattan and the city in general.

    1. A lot of traffic in Soho is headed to the free Holland Tunnel outbound. Unless you figure out a way to stop toll-shopping (and I think two-way tolls on all crossings is the only solution) then you will always have a lot of traffic on Canal and Broome headed to the tunnel. Traffic backs up throughout Soho because of this.

    2. A lot of traffic in Soho is there looking to park on the street, for free. I recall a survery that stated that 40-45% of traffic in Soho on the weeknds was looking for parking. Reduce the amount of parking permanently or install Muni-meters for the weeknds that charge a high enough amount to make parking in a garage (at $25 or so) a viable alternative.

    3. A pedestrian Prince St will absolutely raise the quality of the retail tenants and a compromise can be worked out to allow deliveries during certain hours and access for homeowners to their front doors.

    I fault the program for being too limited in scope…why just certain hours on certain days? Go for a compromise plan like I mention in 3 and have it be permanent. The only people parking on the street during the week are probably our friends the placard-wielders and delivery vehicles.

  • JustTheFacts Johnson

    Also, to Ugh…

    Yes, I have a job. I’ve worked in SoHo for 10 years, and I’m typing from work right now. I live a fifteen minute walk away, so I don’t use a bridge, a tunnel, or even a subway to get here.

    Telling us to try it in a neighborhood outside Manhattan is pretty funny. If anything belongs in Manhattan, it’s pedestrians. Manhattan simply would not function if everyone drove everywhere. It would function fine if everyone walked or biked everywhere. Maybe you are the one who needs to move out of Manhattan. Places like Long Island and Los Angeles are already designed around cars. Maybe you would feel more at home there.

    Since the streets are public space that we all pay for, I don’t see how the rights of the richest New Yorkers to drive their Mercedes at all hours are more important than the rights of the majority of New Yorkers who use public transportation and feet to get around.

    Trying to portray everyone who doesn’t drive as an extremist is pretty funny when it is drivers in Manhattan who are the vocal minority.

  • SoHo (and I know how to spell it) Resident also

    Dave has it right! Making a 1-day pedestrian mall in SoHo will remove traffic from one street once a week….and make it worse on other nearby streets. Those in favor of it may be thinking that one step at a time helps….but that is simply not true in the case of malls. Since the sheer # of cars in SoHo will remain the same all this will do is cause (a) more cars going West to end up on Broome Street, which is largely Joint live-work quarters for Artists on floors above the first story and, since Broome is already congested with cars and buses going to the tunnel, creating worse traffic tie ups, and worse air and noise and air pollution than we have now, and (b) cars driven by people who want to shop in SoHo circling more and more, longer and longer on non-Prince streets looking for parking because there are very very few parking lots or garages in the area (even less every day). [Note: I am of the mind that if you build them, they will come, I am not advocating more garages!.] Lastly, the “just an experiment” arguement doesn’t cut it, as this community knows from the ” experimental” Mulberry Street Mall.

    And stop this “rich people” crap. You sound like McCain, trying to remove legitimacy by calling names.

  • Making a 1-day pedestrian mall in SoHo will remove traffic from one street once a week….and make it worse on other nearby streets.

    Not likely, SoHo Resident.

    Taking Prince Street offline will almost certainly result in a net reduction of cars traveling through SoHo. It will most likely reduce total vehicular traffic on each of the side streets crossing the car-free section of Prince. You can find extensive research on this topic here:

    http://www.contextsensitivesolutions.org/content/reading/disappearing-traffic/

    Reallocating roadspace from general traffic, to improve conditions for pedestrians or cyclists or buses or on-street light rail or other high-occupancy vehicles, is often predicted to cause major traffic problems on neighbouring streets. This paper reports on two phases of research, resulting in the examination of over 70 case studies of roadspace reallocation from eleven countries, and the collation of opinions from over 200 transport professionals worldwide. The findings suggest that predictions of traffic problems are often unnecessarily alarmist, and that, given appropriate local circumstances, significant reductions in overall traffic levels can occur, with people making a far wider range of behavioural responses than has traditionally been assumed.

  • SoHo (and I know how to spell it) Resident also

    Hi Aaron,

    I will read the research and let you know if you’ve persuaded me. My own practical experience, living not far from Mulberry, and hearing complaints from residents of Little Italy (including the Realtor-named NoLita), is that traffic problems did arise, are still there, and that the DOT did not even help out with signage. Maybe it is a question of what the “major” traffic problems referenced in your quote are to perceived to be. Also, note that there is a reference to “appropriate local circumstances” that “could” result in overall reductions in traffic level. Do those circumstances exist in SoHo? Sounds a bit hedgy to me.

    Also, reallocating to pedestrians will not be the case, unless there is some control of on-street vending at the same time.

    I guess I would like to see this work to the benefit of all, but think that in the long run the people who will lose out are the artists who have been long-time residents on Prince.

    SoHo Resident

  • Ian D

    OK, I’ve stayed quiet on this topic so far. Just one thing, though, SoHo Resident, one statement that I made was that this is the neighborhood that loves to brag about repelling the Lower Manhattan Expressway and getting the cars out of Washington Square Park. And that’s where the progress stopped.

    But my point is that collective wisdom said that you couldn’t close Fifth Ave. through WSP because the surrounding streets would be flooded with the overflow. And today? Those streets are quieter than they were then. The traffic didn’t shift – it just no longer came.

    The difference is that Mulberry St. is marketed as a destination to draw in people. That’s not the idea behind a pedestrianized Prince. We’re just giving the space back to the people who are already there. If that turns out to be a draw, then clearly we have evidence that there is a need for more such zones throughout the city.

  • Ian D

    By the way, I’ve been strolling around Oslo’s pedestrian streets today. Sorry if you’re stuck somewhere that doesn’t recognise that value of such an environment – like back home in SoHo. 🙂

  • SoHo (and I know how to spell it) Resident also

    Hi Ian,

    Glad you joined the discussion. I hope you are right and I am wrong. However, I am not sanguine that WSP and Prince are similar enough, nor even that the traffic “disappeared” from WSP and did not reappear anywhere else. It seems to me that while traffic on Fifth near WSP isn’t too bad, Broadway and Mercer, not that far away and handling Southbound traffic, aren’t too well off.

    Lucky you…Oslo … must be nice. I am curious how residential vs commercial the buildings on those pedestrian streets in Oslo are. Do you see more tourists or people who live in the neighborhood?

    While I am at it, one thing I failed to write was that the City should start providing #1 bus service south of the Village on weekends and evenings. Is any group actively advocating for that? Bet it would cut down on private vehicles and taxis. I should think the permanent and ephemeral populations are numerous enough to warrant this by now.

    SoHo Resident

  • SoHofan

    I have worked in SoHo for 15 years, and I love it very much. I realized in recent years, there are so many street vendors are not really artists, they sell those wholesale goods all the time. That really changed the image of SoHo, it is very sad. I hope the SoHo community should pay attention to this first, otherwise SoHo is going to be another Canal St. If there are real artists vendors to sell their own handmade crafts, the pedestrian mall is a good idea.

  • TM

    Absolutely go forward with this. I would be happy to have my street in the East Village a permanent pedestrian street (or split into two lanes, one for pedestrians and the other for streetcars.

    We should do anything possible to push forward pedestrian zones in New York. This creates a much more pleasant and civilized urban experience. Imagine – one could actually sit in an outdoor cafe without breathing in exhaust fumes and having to shout over car horns.

    (Speaking car horns, there really needs to be a city-wide ban on car horn usage except in emergencies)

  • Orestes

    Please make Saint Mark’s Place pedestrian-only!!!

    (But really, let’s do away with the last of the faux-punk shops. It’s OVER.)

  • Orestes

    Which reminds me…
    Once upon a time there was a dream of bringing back streetcar/trolley service to 8th Street/Saint Mark’s…

    Is it only a dream?

    http://www.villagetrolley.org/

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