Eyes on the Street: Union Square’s Public Space Makeover Underway

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Reader Holly Hudson sends this picture of the north side of Union Square earlier today. Orange construction barrels are lined up here and around the corner on Broadway, as crews get ready to add new pedestrian spaces and extend Broadway’s protected bike lane, which will run against the flow of traffic on this particular block.

These public space improvements and safety upgrades received a 24-1-1 community board vote in favor from Manhattan Community Board 5 in July. Union Square is the fourth major public space along the Broadway diagonal — along with Madison Square, Times Square, and Herald Square — where NYCDOT has reclaimed space from traffic and devoted it to pedestrians and cyclists.

What Union Square North will look like when this project is complete. Rendering: NYCDOT
What Union Square North will look like, looking east, when this project is complete. Rendering: NYCDOT
  • These great projects have been going on for a few years now, and clearly are no longer trials.

    At which point will the pedestrian space mean a new curb, and not just painted asphalt?

    For those in wheelchairs, it’s unfortunate that the pedestrian space is on two different levels.

  • BicyclesOnly

    I agree with installing curbs to consolidate, unify and make more permanent the new pedestrian spaces. When asked to do so at public meetings, DoT officials usually say that moving or installing curbs is difficult and expensive because of effects on drainage. I don’t know anything about the drainage issue, but I’ve never heard this rationale rebutted or even questioned. (Though that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s an acceptable excuse for not installing curbs).

  • kaja

    I saw a new green-stripe bike lane going in on Mulberry today, and wondered the same thing, about the curbs — these curbside bike lanes should be part of the sidewalk, and the street itself shrunk.

    I do expect it’ll happen, but probably not until the streets’ substrates are redesigned entirely.

  • J

    From what I’ve gathered, the drainage issue is one of priorities and design. First, if it costs a ton to relocate sewers to move the curb, it simply isn’t going to be done if similar results can be created at a much cheaper price. However, I’ve heard that the city is looking for ways to extend curbs without relocating sewers. This means trying to create drains either in the middle of the sidewalk, or between a bike path and sidewalk. Neither option is easy, but if a solution is found, it would go a long way to making these improvements permanent. There are other issues regarding bike lanes at or near sidewalk level. Namely, more people would walk in them, they would be much harder to keep clean and clear of snow.

    Also, very few of these improvements have been deemed temporary or trial, and it seems that there is every intention of building them out at some future date. For now they serve their purpose and designate the spaces to be built out later.

  • Mike

    Mulberry? Are you sure? Where? That street isn’t even on the bike master plan.

  • All this talk of drains makes me thing you all would be interested on this post, about new tree boxes in DC.

    I have not seen something like it in NYC.

    http://greatergreaterwashington.org/post.cgi?id=6971

    As for the NYC issue, I dont understand how hard it can be. No need to relocate the drain hole, just make a little tunnel to the new curb.

  • I think the lanes could have a different pavement type but be at the same grade as the sidewalk.

    I really do think that cyclists are going to have to get used to the idea that bike lanes, even protected ones, are never going to be some kind of bike highway, free of pedestrians and other obstacles. If you want to race the cars, do it on the street. If you want to get to work without smelling like you ran a marathon, use the bike lane.

  • I will defend the status quo of streetbed bike lanes. After all the effort that has gone into bike advocacy, a massive project to transform bike lanes into sidewalk extensions, to better attract the usual class of dawdling pedestrian tourists, refrigerator-magnet and halal-meat vendors, and honor boxes chock full of birdcage-liner-quality newspapers, seems like going in exactly the wrong direction.

    And Dan, what’s with the sudden privileging of the odor free over the redolent? It sounds like something out of Mayor Giuliani’s handbook, making it illegal for smelly people to use city facilities. I agree that narrow bike lanes off to the side of the street aren’t very attractive for going fast, but I would prefer to leave that up to the individual rather than delegating the decision to the same species of bureaucrats who post “15 MPH speed limit” signs on the Central Park loop.

  • Kaja

    > Mulberry? Are you sure? Where?

    Yeah, I was sorta surprised. At Spring, continuing south out of sight. Four or five feet on the right side of the road, chalked off, same style as on Prince. (I shoulda got a picture.)

    Mulberry was always really wide, and bike lanes are a great way to reduce the space visibly allocated for cars. Maybe that’s their motivation.

  • Mike

    Still seems really odd. I wonder if it’s a detour route for Lafayette St during construction, or something along those lines. Hard to imagine why else they’d do it, especially without community notification.

  • Danny G

    Guessing Lafayette below Spring needs a northbound pair…

  • JW

    wow that seemed quick from proposal to implementation, then again i guess thats much of the beauty of these pedestrian plazas.

    i cant wait to hear where the next project will be!!!

    kind of a different scope than the ped plazas but hopefully soon they’ll put the park back in park avenue and make the median back into a linear park.

  • Interesting, I saw the spraypaint on Mulberry about a week ago, and as with every time I see spraypaint on the streets that is identifiably from DOT, my mind started racing with explanations. I was really, really hoping for sidewalk extensions. Given the usage patterns on Mulberry St, this would be the most effective treatment and allocation of space, short of closing it off to auto traffic altogether. But I knew I was being overly optimistic, as I have yet to see DOT redesign a narrow street to include sidewalk extensions to the point that the carriageway is wide enough only to permit one vehicle to pass, i.e. no parking or double-parking, as we see in many European cities.

    Does anyone get the feeling that some of these bike lanes on low-traffic, narrow streets, such as we have seen popping up in the LES recently, are striped for PR purposes alone? I.e. so that DOT can come back and say, “So what if Delancey St remains a deadly traffic sewer? Just look at this beautiful green bike lane on Rivington St!”

    Or I suppose it can be thought of as an entirely different kind of PR: “Yes, there are bike lanes everywhere, right alongside the subway stations and streets provisioned for motor vehicle use. It’s not weird, or alternative, or rogue. Just get out there and ride.”

    But I suppose that things are going so well with the DOT’s efforts to accomodate cycling that it would be counterproductive, at best, for the advocacy community to look down on certain bike lines in the name of a more “shared space” arrangement. After all, regardless of which one considers to be the preferred alternative in a perfect world, a bike lane can be painted overnight, whereas working to reform a strongly-rooted motoring culture to the point that shared space becomes a viable option is a whole different story.

  • ChrisCo

    I can’t wait for this to be done. It looks great.

  • ChrisCo

    …though I’m not sure I agree with the moving the curbs comment on bike paths. I think they’re better down at the level of the roads. It makes crossing streets or riding into the streets easier, and isn’t as inviting to pedestrians – who should be staying in the sidewalk.

  • As an avid cyclist and NYC resident I am in love with what the Bloomberg administration has done to improve the quality of life for all NYers when it comes to public projects like this. From my perspective, the removal of traffic lanes has improved traffic flow in these 4 major areas, contradicting initial speculation. I agree that bike lanes should be at grade with the road, attempting to keep a more visual separation from the pedestrian areas, although as any biker knows – better to ride with the traffic than dodge all the pedestrians who walk in the bike lanes.

    I guess my next question is: What about 14th st? I feel like everyday I see ambulances at the intersection of Park/4th Av/14th St.

  • Woody

    No bike lane on Mulberry Street. Sorry to tell you that the striping there is for the booths that will line the street during the San Gennaro Festival.

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