Eyes on the Street: The Gateway Center Pedestrian Maul

gateway1.jpg

When it opened its doors this spring, the Gateway Center mall was plugged as a boon to the South Bronx. So invested was the Bloomberg administration — along with city taxpayers, thanks to subsidies granted by the NYC Economic Development Corporation — that the mayor himself participated in the grand opening of the center’s Home Depot store.

In modeling the sprawling complex on the typical suburban big box slum, developer Related Companies seems to have made a tactical error. From a Times piece featuring Related honcho Glenn Goldstein:

Mr. Goldstein said that Related originally expected about 40 percent of
the mall’s customers to arrive by public transportation, but so far a
majority of customers had been traveling this way. Livery cab service
is available for shoppers who make bulky purchases, and some stores,
like Best Buy and Home Depot, provide delivery for a fee.

Who would have thought that a shopping center served by subway lines and city buses would attract so many transit-riding customers? Not Goldstein and company, whose 2,800 parking spots are proving to this point to be a lot of wasted space (likely in part because parking isn’t free). Unfortunately, Related went all in with its auto-driven design by making entrance points unwelcoming to shoppers arriving on foot, as shown in these Streetsblog photo pool contributions from Jacob-uptown. Imagine how many more people would walk here if they had actually made this a walkable environment.

Today, in a Times feature story on the Bloomberg administration’s development policies, former planning commissioner Ron Shiffman said the mayor has “failed to steer” the city’s most recent building boom. The real estate cycle may be cratering now, but eventually it will swing back up. When it does, will New York be ready to steer investment toward walkable development that matches the sustainability and transportation goals of PlaNYC? Or will we get swamped by even more Gateway Centers?

More pics, with commentary from the photographer, after the jump.

4053871037_9b8460f59e.jpg"The walkway is pitiful. Barely wide enough for two people standing still, much less walking past each other. It’s sad how much space is dedicated to the horribly underused car entrance and how little space is given to pedestrians."

4054614812_def58b1c85.jpg"Ped route to the big box stores through the parking garage."

4053874479_97fea66a1a.jpg"The awful mall actually has some nice wide sidewalks, perfect for vendors, street performers and all sorts of activity. Too bad they’re under a highway."
  • James

    I’ve been shopping here, and it really is a piss poor site design. The featureless and windowless wall surfaces are also really creepy to walk around and provide no points of interest to break up the monotony of making your way around the structure by foot. I hope EDC’s planners kicked and screamed about the horrible layout before being inevitably overriden by the powers that be. And did the Community Board for that area even see the site plan at all? Is what was originally proposed even worse that what ended up being built. For the record, the Yankees-E. 153rd St Metro North station is also immediately next door to the plaza, providing another public transit access point. You may want to update the piece to reflect this.

  • Marty Barfowitz

    One of the reasons why Bloomberg needs four more years is to try to make sure that history doesn’t define his Administration by monuments like this. This crapola is a major part of his legacy. Amanda Burden too. This stuff is also her failure. She should be fired.

  • Marty: Amanda was the only member of the commission to vote against this thing. It was approved in 1998, before she was put in charge.

    I couldn’t disagree more about Ms Burden, I think she’s done wonderful work and I’m glad she’s young enough to hold on to her post for a while longer.

    http://www.observer.com/2009/real-estate/burdened-jean-novel-tower-expected-feel-planning-commish’s-200-foot-chomp

  • vnm

    Wow. I’ve got lots of comments on this mall, which I shop at a lot because it is within walking distance.

    1) James, unfortunately, this is an example of “transit-adjacent development,” as opposed to “transit-oriented development.” Streetsblog could do an entire post on this fact alone. The mall places a blank wall and its truck shipping bay right next to the entrance to the Metro-North station. There are no signs at the station or the mall pointing to the other. To get from the rear of the station to the rear of the mall, you have to walk through at least one door through a chain link fence and through a parking lot/truck bay. Absolutely no thought was given to the fact that a train station was within a few hundred feet of a major retail outlet. I imagine some retail employees would take the train if they live in the northwest Bronx or Westchester County, but I can’t imagine any shoppers using this alternative because of the way it has been presented. Hopefully, some of this will be remedied if and when they build “Phase II” of this mall project, which is a hotel on the site of the parking lot.

    2) The photographer must have visited on a weekday. If you go there during the peak times on weekend you will see many more people jostling for space in that walkway.

    3) Re parking, the city needs to install parking meters on the streets just outside the entrance. Right now everyone parks for free on E. 151st Street and Gerard Avenue and walks across the street to avoid the parking fee of $2.40 per hour. Generally, the city installs parking meters in retail districts. This area is now a retail district and should be treated accordingly.

    4) Re Burden’s legacy: Compare the analysis offered to the Architect’s Newspaper in April:

    Though community groups criticized the project for displacing two-dozen wholesale produce merchants, the architects strove to knit what could have been another blank box into the neighborhood. The mass is broken into urban blocks, with two pedestrian passageways leading toward the river, and incorporates a historic market structure. “[City Planning Director] Amanda Burden was adamant about the pedestrian nature of this development,” Cranford explained. “We worked closely to really anchor the pedestrian experience.”

  • Butch

    Amanda actually lead the approval on this one. it was approved about 3-4 years ago. the orginal plans presented to the community by the Design team had much better ped connections to the project. I guess Related killed them based on their quote in the article that they thought everyone would come by car. Bad thought….
    if not cheesed out by the developer, it did break a mega block and provide a wide connection to the new park on the river and a rebuilt street adjoining it. without the project, the park would be behind derelict truck terminals and a prison.

  • All right, now I’m confused about who approved what when and how. (Is it possible she voted against it before she voted for it?)

  • Hilary Kitasei

    Too bad they didn’t study the example of Target in Kingsbridge, in the Bronx. A few years ago, when I was researching it, it was the big box chain’s highest-grossing urban store — yet its parking lot (mandated by zoning) was often empty. Surprise surprise, customers were coming on foot, on bus and on subway. In that case, the parking lot occupied the prime real estate on the Harlem River, enjoying great views of the Henry Hudson Bridge and Palisades. Hopefully one day Target will unleash its highest value as a riverfront cafe..

  • Wow, that’s positively Ratneresque, and he actually had nothing to do with it!

    As for Amanda Burden, y’all have got to be kidding. If she got canned tomorrow, it wouldn’t be soon enough. Here’s what inspired her to rezone 125th Street:

    The idea that the street needed development hit her, she said, when she attended a recent Roberta Flack concert at the Apollo with a friend who works on the street.

    After the concert ended, Ms. Burden said, she asked her friend where they should eat. “Downtown,” the friend replied.

    And you can bet they weren’t heading downtown on the subway.

  • tacony palmyra

    Eric, I live in Central Harlem. There aren’t that many non-fast food sit-down restaurants within a reasonable walk of the Apollo, and even fewer that would be still open when a concert is over. Things close early up here. 125th Street is basically a ghost town at night. It’s a regional shopping mall during the day, but not a restaurant haven. Her comment is completely valid, the few notable tourist trap soul food joints notwithstanding. And I don’t know what makes you think she wouldn’t be taking the subway downtown; it’s very convenient from there. Harlem lacks bars and sit-down restaurants. It has fewer per capita than the rest of Manhattan. When the sun sets, Harlemites head downtown for those things.

  • Reminds me of a recent similar big box complex in DC. Parking was REQUIRED and the city even paid to build it. Thats right, the city had to pay for the parking. It sits empty most of the time. If I recall, it was two underground levels, and one is always, always closed.

    People arrive by metro. What a surprise.

  • Stephen Miller

    Jass: The DC development you’re thinking of is DC USA, and the over-parking issue there has been covered well by Greater Greater Washington:

    http://greatergreaterwashington.org/blogposts.cgi?filter=tag&label=DC+USA

    Despite its flaws (retail-only uses, over-parking, bland architecture) at least DC USA is pedestrian friendly. The Gateway Center’s pedestrian provisions look downright hostile.

  • Hilary,

    That’s actually an awesome idea of dealing with River Plaza. The amazing view really is wasted on the parking lot! You could do a lot more with that space overlooking the water.

    At least River Plaza is oriented to the street more than this thing. If they were mandated to provide parking they did it in the most tasteful way possible.

  • Jen

    If I remember correctly, the Metro North station wasn’t added to the plan until later, in connection with the new Yankee Stadium.

    The preservation program at Columbia did a great study of this area with a design charette when it was still the Bronx Terminal Market, prior to the Related development project. It was a great design that made use of existing structures and kept the site pedestrian oriented, which just makes it that much sadder for me to see what has actually happened here. It could’ve been a really creative project and instead it’s poorly conceived and generic.

  • Anon

    This is partly the problem of the City handing a huge parcel over to a single well-connected developer, and then not sufficiently controlling the results. Any mistakes the developer makes will be on a grand scale.

  • Afredo Garcia

    # of parking spots at the mall was determined by zoning requirements…

  • NattyB

    @ Jess & Stephen,

    Gateway does remind me a bit of DC USA.

    In DC USA, the retailers was legally bound to set aside the parking.

    Though, there’s a huge difference between DC USA and Gateway:

    DC USA is a resounding success and is well integrated into the neighborhood and the Metro. That said, the underground parking is an abject total waste, and even though that parking lot is a money loser and is at only like 25% capacity, it stills causes massive traffic jams at 14th and Park.

    I wonder, and I just throw this out there as a consideration, but, I wonder to what extent the Class and Socioeconomic status had to do with Gateway’s f-ed up development.

  • Jason A

    Awful, awful urbanism. It’s sad to see premium space in nyc squandered like this. This development is so imperial and belittling. Who shops here, Darth Vader?

  • Do city officials think this kind of anti-urbanism will prevent city residents with cars from driving to big-box retailers in the suburbs? If so, they’re wrong. One of the things they’re trying to avoid is the city sales tax.

  • Yeah, I’d really like to see an honest interview with development honchos, wherein they’re given time to explain in florid detail how they see these as good ideas.

  • Who shops here, Darth Vader?

    Do they have penne alla arrabiata?

  • Marty Barfowitz

    Development honchos largely view the city as a giant spreadsheet. This unit of development inputs a number of people and outputs some amount of economic activity. Case closed. The honchos aren’t sweating pedestrian access. And the developer is basically just trying to get it done as cheaply as possible and has minimal incentive to build a structure that’ll last longer than 30 years. The person who is supposed to be protecting us from crap like this and sweating the details on stuff like pedestrian access and not just viewing projects in Microsoft Exel is AMANDA BURDEN.

  • @tacony,

    Right, youor I would be taking the subway; Amanda Burden doesn’t strike me as a straphanger, especially given city planning’s failure to address ridiculous minimum parking requirements.

  • The person who is supposed to be protecting us from crap like this and sweating the details on stuff like pedestrian access and not just viewing projects in Microsoft Exel is AMANDA BURDEN.

    She certainly has some responsibility, but ultimately it’s up to the Mayor to give Burden – or someone – the mission to ensure that these EDC-sponsored projects meet some minimum standard of livability, and the backing so that development people like Lieber and Pinsky will listen to her.

    Bloomberg clearly hasn’t done this, which means that he thinks of development projects in spreadsheet terms. This would be enough to get me to vote against him on Tuesday, except that all evidence suggests Thompson would be worse on this issue.

  • vnm

    Just to add information and clarify my earlier description of the lack of pedestrian connection between the mall and the adjacent new Metro-North station.

    The shortest walk is 750 feet. It involves walking through:

    A) What was a 296-space parking lot formerly known as Yankee Stadium Parking Lot 13D but is now part of the Gateway Center Mall footprint and is the site of a planned 250-room hotel that would have 225 parking spaces.
    B) The unloading bay for 18-wheelers bound for Target and Home Depot.
    C) Two chain link fences with functional gates on either side of the parking lot.

    I made this uninviting walk today because besides being an entrance for the train station, the walkway serves as an overpass connecting the mall to the nearby community. The chain link fence closest to the station was locked. I climbed over the fence easily enough because I didn’t have any bags with me. However, two people behind me were carrying a bunch of stuff, and they turned around to walk back through the parking lot. After I got through the station I saw a woman pulling a shopping cart toward the walkway and figured she was in for a frustrating experience.

    Cars are big and highly visible, and impossible to forget when you’re planning for a big box mall. They advocate for themselves. Pedestrians are small and they don’t make a lot of noise. I think that explains how a five-story garage with 2,332 mostly unused parking spaces hulks in the middle of this retail project, while a very useful pedestrian connection is actively thwarted.

  • Cars are big and highly visible, and impossible to forget when you’re planning for a big box mall. They advocate for themselves. Pedestrians are small and they don’t make a lot of noise. I think that explains how a five-story garage with 2,332 mostly unused parking spaces hulks in the middle of this retail project, while a very useful pedestrian connection is actively thwarted.

    Thanks for the useful information about the walk, Vnm, but I disagree with you about the reason. I think it’s because to the developers and to the Bronx elites, drivers are “us,” and pedestrians don’t matter.

  • This reminds me of that awful suburban mall in downtown Jersey City. Seems like planners know better but developers have the upper hand. So sad.

  • J. Mork

    Rhywun — yeah I rented a car there once from a place on the west side of the mall (in the parking garage). Getting there on foot from the PATH was a mega pain. No signs or maps anywhere.

  • This article, and its photos, are great. And hilarious!
    Is that “protected” walkway even ADA compatible? I believe that means that two wheelchairs can pass each other and one wheelchair is given 3.5-4 feet of space. Eek!

    There should be a tram service between the street and the elevator in the parking lot to ferry people into the “maul” entrance. That way the pedestrians can navigate more safely through the parking garage.

    Wow, what an assault on those with two feet.

  • Ryan

    No one ever takes photos of the park across the street or the somewhat nice pedestrian street in the other part of the development.

    Another interesting aspect of the photos is that they are all chock full of pedestrians. If it so bad, why are all these people here? As to who shops there, well the people in the photos do and from what I hear a lot of others too. They do walk there from the dense surrounding neighborhood. Darth Vader may live nearby, I don’t know.

    Does anyone remember the wretched, filthy market that was there before? The market that was the subject of a law suit the City lost? No one walked there. It was unsafe and dirty.

    To attract the businesses that are there the developer had to provide more parking than is required by zoning. In fact they had to get special permission to build the parking. One could find the approvals for the project on the City’s website, if one were inclined to do research.

  • J. Mork

    They are there because they feel it’s the best choice available. But that doesn’t automatically mean it’s a good choice, or that car-based development is good for an urban area.