In Unanimous Vote, CB 2 Embraces People-Friendly Astor Place

CB 2 voted unanimously to create this new public plaza at Cooper Square, though they want there not to be seating at night. Image: DDC.
CB 2 voted unanimously to create this new public plaza at Cooper Square, with the proviso that seating be removed at night. Image: DDC

Last night, Manhattan Community Board 2 resoundingly endorsed the city’s plans to transform Astor Place and Cooper Square from asphalt expanses into pedestrian-friendly public spaces. After including some language in its resolution to appease the concerns of certain residents, the roughly 40 community board members in attendance voted unanimously for the plan to transform street space into plazas and expanded sidewalks.

The plan includes a new 8,000 square foot pedestrian plaza at Cooper Square, a plaza replacing one block of Astor Place below the cube sculpture, widened sidewalks, 113 bike racks, 64 new trees, and thousands of square feet of new plantings and environmentally-friendly permeable surfaces.

In the days before last night’s vote, some opposition to the plan had emerged from former CB 2 members active in the NoHo community. At the meeting, Jeanne Wilcke, the president of the Downtown Independent Democrats, requested a delay to “fine tune” the plans, which has been in the works for about a decade, worrying about the traffic effects of narrower streets and the management of the new public spaces.

Another speaker, Marty Tessler, demanded that the plan’s hard-surface open space be replaced with landscaping in order to keep too many people from gathering there. “We are hopeful that we will not be subjected to the street performers and all that,” he added.

Following testimony from six people, the community board voted unanimously for an amended resolution supporting the city’s plan. None of those amendments take away from the overall support for the redesign.

The resolution recommends that the city follow some best practices in building and managing the new public space: avoiding the removal of existing trees where possible, ensuring that the plaza space is actively managed, and double-checking with the fire department to ensure that emergency vehicles will be able to use the narrowed streets. As transportation committee vice-chair Ian Dutton explained, however, the board fully expects that the city has already been doing all those things. “The current DOT administration has been very collaborative,” he said.

In fact, those criteria are already being met. The Grace Church School announced last night that they’d take the responsibility for maintaining the new Village Plaza, which will be in front of their new high school. “We think it’s going to be beautiful,” said the school’s representative. “We’re just delighted with the design.”

The sole request for a substantive change came at the request of Community Board 3. They wanted the seating at the southern end of the project to be removed late at night, a condition which CB 2 agreed to. “They were concerned about noise for the elderly people” in nearby senior housing run by the Jewish Association for Services for the Aged, said transportation committee chair Shirley Secunda. Secunda added that JASA was thrilled about having more open space and safer crossings; late night noise was the only worry.

  • J

    Fantastic news! I can’t wait to see the new plaza.

  • Where’s the Bike Sharing rack going to be?

  • I used to work on Cooper Square, and the danger and just plain awfulness of this intersection was so obvious. It has been a missed opportunity for so long. Yeah!

  • Gary Reilly

    Terrific. We’re often in the neighborhood to visit relatives, and I’m always struck by what a collossal mis-allocation of resources that space represents. Not to mention what a terrible pedestrian experience it is currently.

    Great news!

  • Many thanks to Ian Dutton and the other members of CB2 working with DoT to improve this critical part of the East Side.

    Maybe we can have the Lafayette Ave. upgraded to a parking-protected path as part of this plan? Like the southbound route cyclists got on Union Square West as part of the pedestrian improvements there? At I speak, the last flecks of paint that were the Lafayette Class 2 lane north of Houston are being plowed off, and we’ve certainly got excess capacity and high speeds on that roadway.

  • Wow! Good forbid people should gather in a public space in the city. Where the hell do these people think they live? Nome, Alaska?!?!?

    And those “evil” street performers! God forbid my ears should have to endure the sounds of a jazz saxophone or classically trained violinists. Give me a Motor City serenade of honking car horns any day over that!

    Is this all these people can come with to try and squash this project?!?!

  • That’s GOD forbid!

  • @Andy B from Jersey
    Street performers, jazz saxophone or classically trained violinists are wonderful un a weekend afternoon or evening. Not so much at 3am when Andy B from Jersey is home aleep, and residents who live near these pedestrian spaces are wondering how they’re going to get up in the morning for work, class, or even rehearsal.

    Wonderful that folks were able to come to a workable arrangement, eliminating seating at night, that should further the enjoyment of visitors and residents alike.

  • J

    @bicyclesonly,

    Lafayette is wide enough to EASILY fit a protected bike lane without removing travel lanes or parking lanes. Plus, the really long blocks mean that you would need to remove much less parking per mile of lane, or you could potentially make this a 2-way cycle track that connects with the Broadway lane at union Square. The 2-way idea might be a harder sell to both engineers and politicians, though.

    You’ve got the right idea. Anywhere with an existing buffered bike lane almost by default has enough space for a protected bike lane. Another good candidate is Hudson Street. Exciting!

  • villager

    AndyBoy-glad you discovered God and maybe you can also discover a horn honking city in New jersey where you live-we like to sleep late at nite and early hours even if its in the Village

  • Instead of delaying this impressive plan to address certain concerns, the Community Board took community input and incorporated suggestions into their resolution. There was lots of back and forth, all sides worked hard, but in the end it made for a stronger resolution and no delay in approving the plans. A good point was including that the FDNY review the plans. One assumes they will be included, but never assume! (Many took it for granted a snow emergency was called before the blizzard…) As Lafayette going north is an important emergency vehicle route, and the bike lane is on the same road, coordination in planning helps safety for bike riders and fire vehicles alike. It was important to state the expectation that the Community Board and City agencies work together on a good mix of public and private participation in the management of the open spaces. Hopefully this will result in great uses and no over commercialization of public spaces.

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