DOT Details Prince Street “Open Sundays” Project


On weekends, 200 vehicles and 4,500 pedestrians per hour make their way down Prince Street, yet
the vast majority of the street’s public space is given over to motor vehicle traffic and parking.

Community Board 2’s Traffic & Transportation Committee heard specifics last night on a DOT pilot project that would open a segment of Prince Street to pedestrians 14 days a year. And as expected, the committee and DOT heard from residents who want the pedestrian-heavy thoroughfare to continue to accommodate cars 24/7/365.

The city proposes to close Prince to cars from Lafayette to W. Broadway on Sundays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. The project would last from Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day weekend.

According to surveys cited by DOT:

  • Eighty-five percent of people travel to Prince Street by subway, on foot, by bike or on a bus.
  • Eighty percent of pedestrians interviewed on a Saturday "experience the street as being crowded."
  • Expanding pedestrian space would attract people to come to Prince Street more often, where they would spend "about five times as much money" in neighborhood shops and restaurants.
  • On a typical weekend, 200 vehicles travel Prince Street in an hour, compared to 4,500 pedestrians.

While some members of the public spoke in favor, they were easily outnumbered by opponents. "There was a lot of screaming about an out of control street vendor problem that the City seems unwilling or unable to address," one Community Board member said.

For an idea of the tenor of the debate, one supporter of the plan who pointed out that pedestrian streets work in London and other cities was rebutted with cries of "This is New York City!"


…And this is Paris. Does this look like a horrible street to live on?

A key complaint of opponents is that the city doesn’t do enough to enforce rules against sidewalk vending, prompting fears that Prince Street "Open Sundays" would become, in essence, noisy street fairs crowded with kiosks. But one attendee picked up on another strain of contention:

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.

Still, the committee ultimately adopted a resolution that, according to committee member Ian Dutton, acknowledges the merits of DOT’s plan but says it is unacceptable because it was
proposed and developed without enough community input. While we have yet to see the actual wording, Dutton says the resolution proposes "forming a
neighborhood stakeholders group to come up with a more comprehensive plan that the community can accept."

The resolution leaves open the possibility that the project is still alive, perhaps with community activists like Sean Sweeney of the SoHo Alliance — currently, a vocal opponent — working with the city to make it more palatable to all.

Graphics: NYC DOT

  • Hilary

    The residents don’t share the interests of the retailers. Where were the co-op owners who rely on revenue from their first floor tenants?

  • Stacy

    It sounds more like a plan DOT is pushing on retailers as well as residents. Neither J Crew nor Apple is going to likely to see much difference if this plan doesn’t go through. And it’s not like co-ops got a percentage of their first floor tenants revenues.

  • Dave

    A percentage lease is quite typical in retail so you can’t necessarily discount that Stacy.
    And if the stores do well the real estate market will know it, and lease rates will increase on renewal or review.
    But I bet most retail space in Soho is not part of the resiential co-ops above.

  • Xue

    “Neither J Crew nor Apple is going to likely to see much difference if this plan doesn’t go through.”
    If the plan attracts more pedestrians and/or encourages existing pedestrians to linger longer and, assumably, spend more, then why wouldn’t they?

  • Larry Littlefield

    (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.)

    Right. I don’t believe those making these proposals had knowledge of the type of people who live and are politically active there. Would you make a proposal to make it more attractive for people from elsewhere, including those too poor to own cars, to visit Darien CT? Breezy Point?

    Yes, in some ways the denizens of Soho are very different people, but in some ways they are the same. The response was absolutely predictable.

    In fact, I was surprised Soho of all places was chosen to start these sorts of improvements. It would have been last on my list. Yes, there were always be opponents, but they can make a lot more people happy elsehwere. Just about anywhere elsewhere.

    How about this: we’ll make Broadway for peds and bikes only from 7th Avenue to the Battery (and 7th Avenue from Broadway to Central Park). And then in the rest of Soho, we’ll put in angle parking and narrow the sidewalk (no street trees in the way, none legal anyway)to make it miserable for anyone not just driving to and fro. And we’ll remove all the bike lanes from Soho too. Deal?

  • Jason A

    I take issue with the outright dismissal of “street vendors.”

    I like the street vendors and I live here – I’m not a tourist. As bank branches and Jamba Juice franchises gobble up more and more NY Real Estate, I find street vendors to be one of Manhattan’s last outposts of the weird, cheap and freaky.

    While I guess there are a bunch that peddle “tourist crap” (to use a term from another posting…) that so many find objectionable, I think there’s real possibility and promise in promoting street merchants as an antidote to Manhattan’s over-heated gentrification.

    What’s more, street vending is (obviously) an honest small business opportunity for low income New Yorkers.

    I think we should be reclaiming more street space for street vendors. It’s a win-win for a city that struggles with an increasingly feudal trajectory…

  • Felix

    All this fuss was about 14 days a year? What a bunch of whiners.

  • James Goldberg

    The street vendors have to be regulated in some form or another but, frankly, pedestrianizing Prince Street is a potential SOLUTION to these SoHo old-timers’ street vendor problem.

    One of the main reasons why the vendors are so annoying currently is because they take up all of the space on SoHo’s narrow sidewalks.

    Transform all of Prince street into a sidewalk and the vendors are no longer all that big of a deal.

    The fact of the matter is that it’s not the vendors who are hogging up Prince Street. It’s a very small number of cars.

    I’m no huge fan of the vendors either but these SoHo residents just sound awful. I truly hope DOT does not allow them to dictate what happens here.

  • Bobby Dei

    I think what most SoHo residents are terrified of is a repeat of what has happened to Mulberry Street. Living along Mulberry Street and Hester Street is a nightmare, especially during the summer months.

    It was not the idea of closing the street to vehicular traffic per se that was so objectionable. It was the lack of any mention of restrictive covenants in the plan, the current lack of control and enforcement on the street, and the total lack of any real area-wide traffic impact survey.

    What exactly would fill the vacuum left behind by the absence of cars? This would have to be seriously thought out first. The idea of pedestrian-zoned streets has merit. No one disputed that at the meeting. The void will be filled by vendors of all sort and will cause further deterioration in the already poor quality of life found in SoHo.

    This plan was poorly thought out, hastily drafted and very poorly introduced IMO.

    If the city would just get the illegal/counterfeit bags out of Chinatown, get the vendors off of the sidewalk in SoHo, get the restaurants under control in Little Italy then the DOT might have the support of the residents.

    I’d also like to point out the the DOT *refused* to answer the simple question of whether this idea was born inside the DOT of if it was prompted by some outside individuals or groups. They flat out refused to answer the question, which to me sounds like an admission by DOT that some business interests (probably in the Tourist-Crap industry) prompted them to present this. Maybe I’m paranoid.

  • If the Soho residents are afraid of the Mulberry Street noise coming to Prince Street, the answer is more car-free streets, not less. Make Bleecker car-free too. There aren’t enough hooligans and tube sock salespeople to fill up both streets, are there?

  • Car Free Nation

    A car-free Sunday would have to be good for commercial rents. The most prominent car-free commercial street in Brooklyn, Fulton Mall, has some of the highest retail rents in the city. A recent transaction closed at $175/sq foot, despite the fact that the visitors to Fulton Mall are certainly of lower income than visitors to Soho. And Fulton Mall is “plagued” by street vendors as well.

    If Prince Street goes pedestrian, even for one day a week, the stores will see a huge increase in foot traffic. I’m sure some Soho residents do not want to imagine even more tourists and shoppers descending on their privileged blocks, but for the retail tenants and building owners, it’s going to be a good thing.

  • Born & Raised NYC

    So shady DOT.
    Keep New York City a CITY. Not some urban version of the Seaside Heights’ boardwalk. Ewww.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “I’m sure some Soho residents do not want to imagine even more tourists and shoppers descending on their privileged blocks, but for the retail tenants and building owners, it’s going to be a good thing.”

    Well, there you have it. Is this part of the central business district, or is it a “low density residential neighborhood” and a highly exclusive one at that? Unfortunately, if you are going to do ANYTHING in Soho on an aboveboard basis, you get caught up in that battle, which is not a battle advocates of alternative transportation need to get sucked into, particularly since it is as much ago ego and image as anything else.

    Heck, when working on the screwed up use regulations at DCP, I was told we had to take Soho out of any fix to avoid opposition, but that might cause opposition that way for ignoring Soho. I was worried about the issues in Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx and Staten Island, but I ended up having to spend some time surveying Soho on multiple occasions. And I had to walk out of the area to buy lunch, because I couldn’t afford (or rather would never consider buying at) the prices there.

    If things are going to change in Soho they will change they way they always have — illegally. Just about everything there not was done illegally, then grandfathered in when it was deemed appropriate long after the fact. Everything is illegal and nothing is enforced, except against specific targets. It is the worst of New York City regulatory culture on steroids.

    A battle between the affluent illegal residents and the affluent illegal businesses might be amusing, but it isn’t what this very good idea needs.

  • Hilary

    Larry is right. The low-density, desolate ambience of SOHO was the last gasp of its industrial era. As home to light industry — and even subsequently artists and galleries — the neighborhood contributed to the city’s economy. Today, as a hyper-low-density residential area, it is New Canaan in the midst of lower Manhattan.

  • Eric

    Maybe if we could replace all the New Yorkers on SoHo streets with Parisians, everything would be nice and everyone would be happy. Just look at that photo of Paris.

    And with the Euro currently buying $1.55, and our economy in a downward spiral, such a scenario may not be far off.

  • jmc

    #9

    “The void will be filled by vendors of all sort and will cause further deterioration in the already poor quality of life found in SoHo.”

    This poor quality of life is reflected in the bargain basement rents.

    You know, SoHo is a blight on the landscape with all its peddlers selling materials of low quality that only someone from NJ would buy. The hooligan problem is out of control. Industry has fled this area due to these problems, and has been replaced by international cloth cartels. Squatters of all sorts have settled into the abandoned warehouses. It has become a very low density residential area. There aren’t even any trees!

    Therefore, SoHo is really the perfect place to site the new Lower Manhattan Expressway. LOMEX will allow people from NJ to zoom straight across the island to brooklyn, relieving any traffic. We’ll push the peddlers into the river as we zoom across Manhattan in our futuristic automobiles!

    Displaced residents can be relocated to a quiet, leafy area where they will not have to be worried about tourists and peddlers crowding their sidewalks, as there will not be sidewalks. We can recreate the square footage of their apartments in Cary, North Carolina. I’m sure most of them would be happy to move. We’ll even throw in a free car!

  • Peter

    I skimmed the other comments and didn’t see any mention of this issue:

    Bleecker and Prince have been striped as East/West bike lanes in the past year or so. They provide one of the few easy and safe routes across lower Manhattan for bicycles.

    If they close Prince to cars, even if they still allow bicycles through, the street will probably be clogged with pedestrians making riding through there a royal pain. The pedestrians will think since there are no cars, they don’t have to look as they cross the street. Traffic on the crossing streets will get worse, which is exactly where the bicyclists will get pushed to since they won’t be able to get through Prince easily. All this happening on a Sunday when there are typically more people out on bicycles.

    I’m not a resident of SOHO and generally whole-heartedly support reducing cars in Manhattan, but this plan doesn’t seem terribly well thought out. It’s nice to compare it to a picture of an idyllic Paris street, but that Paris street looks like it’s closed to cars all the time, not just one afternoon a week in the summer.

    I hate to say it but the residents are probably right – the practical result would be to make Prince look like a street fair every Sunday.

    If they want to start closing streets permanently to cars, putting a bike lane down the middle and expanding the sidewalks, that I could get behind.

    Instead of plans like this one, the DOT should be spending more time putting separated bike lanes, like the 9th Avenue one, down other streets that really need it and which would actually help bicyclists get places safely, like up 8th Avenue, 6th, etc etc.

  • Mark

    I agree with the Soho residents — peddlers have to go. To get rid of them, you have to understand how they got there in the first place. First an industrial area was illegally converted to artist housing. Then the artists attracted more upscale loft tenants. The combined presence of trendy art galleries and upscale residents attracted high-end retailers. All of that in turn attracted pedestrians from outside the nabe. And finally, the pedestrian traffic attracted the peddlers. To reverse this unwholesome process you have to go all the way back to the beginning, evict the residential tenants, and convert the buildings back to industrial use. With the onset of peak oil, the cost of shipping foreign goods, and the weakness of the dollar, we’re going to need more local manufacturing anyway.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “To reverse this unwholesome process you have to go all the way back to the beginning, evict the residential tenants, and convert the buildings back to industrial use.”

    I believe many of the buildings of Soho were originally retail with offices and some light manufacturing (for sale below) on upper floors. They converted to light industrial without retail and foot traffic when the stores and offices moved north.

    Orignially, the area might have been farms.

  • Streetsman

    I have to agree with #7. To the folks who said:

    -“Neither J Crew nor Apple is likely to see much difference”
    -“[The plan lacked] any real area-wide traffic impact survey”
    -“The void would be filled by vendors”
    -“This plan was poorly thought out, hastily drafted…”
    -“The street will probably be clogged with pedestrians making [biking] through there a royal pain”
    -“Traffic on crossing streets will get worse”

    You have to remember, this was introduced as a PILOT project – an 8-hour experiment on just 14 Sundays to see how it would work. Then there’s supposed to be a period of review to evaluate continuation of the experiment.

    If you’re not willing to TRY something, than how can you expect to get innovative solutions? You really think the entire neighborhood will descend into gridlock and chaos and bicycles mowing down pedestrians? And if that happened, you really think the program would be continued beyond the experiment? And you really expect DOT to do a comprehensive environmental impact study for a pilot project? Get real. If Soho doesn’t want to at least try this, then they will probably just have to settle for the conditions they are stuck with. I for one would LOVE it if DOT was TRYING new things in my crappy neighborhood.

  • “And I had to walk out of the area to buy lunch, because I couldn’t afford (or rather would never consider buying at) the prices there.”

    The greek food cart on Houston btw Broadway and Crosby is good and cheap, if the natives haven’t heaved it into the East River by now.

    One thing I haven’t seen anyone mention in this overheated multi-post discussion: the only really significant cluster of internet businesses on the east coast runs through Soho and over to Tribeca (sorry, camel case sucks). And otherwise multitudes of people in fashionable industries work in the area, trying to squeeze around that corner at the Prince St subway stop every day. Well a Sunday closing wouldn’t do much for them, but my point is that there are plenty of legitimate, productive New Yorkers in Soho’s story; it’s not just the very specially zoned residents and the tourists they hate.

    Prince actually was the first street in the city I thought should be pedestrianized, mostly because of that insane corner at Broadway and obvious retail potential, but after this blog bomb I’m inclined to agree that it’s a waste of livable streets advocacy. The increased retail sales (and sales taxes) can be left in unconverted euros while the city proves the concept somewhere else. I suspect that many of the antis will be moving their studios to more drivable communities in Florida before long, anyway.

  • Ian Turner

    Originally, the area was an uninhabited part of Vaalbara.

  • jmc

    “If the city would just get the illegal/counterfeit bags out of Chinatown, get the vendors off of the sidewalk in SoHo, get the restaurants under control in Little Italy then the DOT might have the support of the residents.”

    The restaurants in Little Italy are OUT OF CONTROL and must be shut down. Last week I was walking by La Grotta Azzurra and a demented chef threw a pot of tomato sauce at me!

    Restaurants are just so terrible. I mean, you have food being brought in, making lots of noise. You have people walking there to go work, also making noise and casting shadows. Then, the worst part is that people come FROM OUTSIDE THE NEIGHBORHOOD to go eat! Ugh! Then they talk and drop silverware, which really makes a loud, clanging noise.

    NIMBYism would be hilarious if it wasn’t so destructive to the public process.

  • juggling doo-wop street vendor

    I seriously don’t get how the residents think that they don’t already live in a district that has a commercial emphasis.

    I also think it’s funny that they think that their blocks located between Broadway and 6th Avenue are ever going to be some kind of hidden oasis from urban life, where they can park their cars in front of their buildings at all times etc. Ask anyone else in the 5 boros what they think of when they think of SoHo, and they will say, “shopping”.

    The point is that SoHo already has a ridiculous amount of pedestrian traffic. Ignoring it won’t make it go away. Neighborhoods change in New York very quickly. Soho had a good run as an industrial area, then an area for artists, and now as the shopping mecca that it already is. Pretending that it hasn’t changed isn’t going to stop time. It just makes it more of a pain for the majority of the people who use the area (excepting the wealthy auto owners, who can’t be bothered to walk around the corner with their groceries like the rest of New York).

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