Every afternoon, all four lanes of Varick Street are packed solid with traffic heading to the Holland Tunnel. Drivers block crosswalks and cross-streets as they press forward, hoping the traffic would continue to move ahead and guessing wrong. On Friday afternoons, you can hear the honking from Streetsblog HQ, ten blocks over and twelve stories up.
The unpleasant and unsafe conditions created at the mouth of the tunnel are a top priority for the Hudson Square Connection, the business improvement district in charge of the area between Houston and Canal and Sixth Avenue and Greenwich Street. The BID’s latest focus is on keeping crosswalks clear for pedestrians in this gridlocked part of the city.
“Unlike other business improvements districts which were created to address security or sanitation issues, in this neighborhood our businesses want something done about the traffic,” said BID president Ellen Baer in a statement. “We need to even the playing field so that pedestrians can safely get from one place to another in the district.”
Already, the BID has worked with the Department of Transportation to install yield to pedestrian signs, move stop lines for vehicles back from crosswalks, and create exclusive pedestrian phases into the signal timing at area intersections.
In its most recent effort to make the area more friendly for pedestrians, the BID is hiring pedestrian managers to keep intersections on Varick clear. NYPD traffic enforcement agents are already stationed on Varick below Spring Street, said Baer, but the gridlock extends all the way north to Houston. The pedestrian managers will keep drivers from blocking crosswalks or intersections along the rest of Varick.
Said Baer, “Our priority here, with our pedestrian traffic managers, is to assure the convenience and safety of pedestrians.” Compare that to how an NYPD officer near the Lincoln Tunnel described his job: “My objective is the cars, not the people.”
The BID is also working toward a comprehensive reimagining of the area’s streetscape, said Baer, which should be unveiled towards the beginning of next year. “This area, which was originally the printing district years ago, was an area that worked well for printers,” she said. “Now you have a more dense population here.”
Baer wouldn’t reveal what might be in the plan while it’s still under development, but a few clues are available on the BID’s website. Signe Nielsen, a principal at the landscape architecture firm leading the streetscape redesign work, suggested in an interview that “Other ideas include street closings or shared streets that can become seasonal or weekend places that can offer different opportunities for interaction and engagement.” One flyer for a public meeting on the plan brought up the idea of “reclaiming/rebalancing road space” as a topic for discussion. This definitely seems like a plan and a neighborhood worth keeping an eye on.