Hudson Square BID Puts Pedestrians First Near Entrance to Holland Tunnel

A pedestrian manager hired by the Hudson Square Connection BID helps pedestrians cross traffic headed for the Holland Tunnel. Photo: Hudson Square Connection.

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.

  • Anonymous

    I love when good news is posted.  A lot of good things are happening, but it’s hard t realize it when so much of the reporting is about odd political struggles.

  • Ed Ravin

    NYPD “traffic enforcement agent” is a misnomer, they direct traffic, they issue parking violations, but they do not enforce anything against moving traffic.  Why isn’t the Hudson Connection asking NYPD to summons vehicles that block crosswalks or the middle of an intersection?  That was a rhetorical question, I’m sure they’ve asked and found the answer wanting.  So instead of the NYPD spending tax dollars to create a safe street environment by addressing the offenders, the BID is going to use private money to hire workers to politely ask drivers to… obey the law and not block crosswalks.

  • Lisa Sladkus

    I sincerely commend the Hudson Square BID for proactively making life easier and safer for pedestrians. My family specifically avoids walking in this area because of the traffic…surely a negative for a BID when people avoid street life.  Keep up the good work!

  • Dave

    The real solution is to fix the problem that makes it cheaper for drivers to cross Manhattan streets then to take highways across the Bronx or Staten Island.  And I hear rumblings that City hall may actually be realizing this.
    Toll the East River bridges and put back two-way tolls at all crossings are all easy today with EZ-pass and plate reader technology and will bring relief to Manhattan much more than afew traffic cops. 
    Not popular of course but use the additional funds for the cash-strapped MTA.

  • Anonymous

    I work right at spring and varick and I was so surprised to see this the other day, but I love more every day.  it really makes the area a lot better for pedestrians.  I do wonder if drivers will continue to respect the guards but hopefully!

  • Anonymous

    This intersection needs one of those cameras that photograph people that block the box.

    Blocking the box should entail a mandatory ticket, and trucks and buses that block the box should be fined higher.

    There needs to be an easier way for cops to serve tickets for drivers — why isn’t there an app for that?

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