Eyes on the Street: New Pedestrian Spaces Pop in Financial District

Photos: Clarence Eckerson Jr.

Clarence snapped these photos of painted sidewalk expansions on Water Street, where DOT and the Downtown Alliance are working to revitalize street life in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. The top photo shows one end of the newly car-free Coentis Slip, between Water and Pearl Street.

A couple of weeks ago the City Council cleared the way for privately owned public spaces (POPS) on Water Street to host public events (markets, concerts, etc.) and amenities (like plazas) without requiring the approval of the City Planning Commission chair. The zoning text amendment will be in effect until January 1, 2014, after which the results will be evaluated by property owners, people who use the spaces, and Community Board 1.

Painted curb extension at Water and Broad.
  • tyler

    I’m only being a little snarky…. but won’t the pedestrians now just be standing even *further* in the road while they wait?

  • Kevin Love

    This is great! So many great cities have car-free downtowns. I believe that the city is for people, not cars. Every bit of space that can be liberated makes New York a better city for its people.

  • tyler

    (by the way, I’m the one who feels like he has a disease because no one will wait with me on the curb… )

  • anon

    I’ve been a supporter for years of these types of projects – but why do they have to make them SO UGLY!

  • Isn’t King Bloomberg have money just to extend the sidewalk instead painting ugly colors?

  • Anonymous

    I like this a lot! Now lets get a few tables and chairs in there and boom we’ve got a kick ass public space.

  • J

    Umm… so that’s not really how cities work.

    I’m not a fan of the colors either, but sidewalk extensions take time and money, and to raise money you either raise taxes, win grants, or divert money from another program.

  • Anonymous

    Actually, the colors don’t look bad in person. More importantly, they really stand out.

    I work on Water St, and it is clear that the traffic on the street has certainly slowed down, yet it doesnt seem to have caused any delays. People are crossing the street more safely (reducing the width of the streets at crosswalks makes it far easier).

    And the place looks much nicer, and it is far easier to walk on the sidewalks now, since they fit a lot more people.

  • Anonymous

    No, they don’t. (If they did, they’d get run over). They usually stay within the paint.

    The reason peds use to stand outside the roads in these areas because these roads had extra space, which wouldn’t be driven upon. DOT has simply made that extra space “official” by painting them, which means that cars avoid it further, and the road thinning means they also don’t zoom by as fast as they used to.

  • Tyler

    addicted — I get the theory and I support this, thus the ‘snark’ warning.

    however, don’t go crazy with your explanation. the “extra space” may be true for this location and similar locations…. but it’s hardly the only “reason” pedestrians seem to spend their time in the street, rather than on the curb.

    Standing in the bike lane. Standing in the roadway (where cars actually go). Standing on the middle line as if it were a “refuge.”

    These are all pretty standard. With heavy, flowing traffic zooming by, I am one of the few pedestrians actually on the curb… the rest are “crowding” the road.

    This is some sort of weird psychological compulsion in this town — not excusing any behavior of other street users by saying this — it’s just unsafe and weird and I see parents “training” their children to approach the road in the same way… every day.

  • Tyler

    You also need a whole hello of a lot of other approvals, environmental impact studies, etc. etc. (depending on how involved) and, umm, political will of those who approve and fund. Paint and plastic bollards are cheap, dummies can’t make the “emergency vehicles can’t save my grandma” argument, and the DOT can do it within their current authority and budget.

  • Tyler

    And lighten up “down” voters… this wasn’t a All Hail Cars! Down with Pedestrians! comment. Jeesh.

  • Miles Bader

    Soooo…. why not actually extend the sidewalk instead?

    Is it just a lack of funds, or are there other reasons (“so the next mayor can easily revert the changes…” ><)?

  • Daphna

    Below is a link to the Water Street plan. The plan also includes changes to Front Street, Gouverneur Lane, and Coenties Slip. The presentation is long, 25 pages, but you can see all the detail if you want. http://www.nyc.gov/html/dot/downloads/pdf/2013-03-19-water-street-enhancements-briefing.pdf

  • Anonymous

    I disagree. Standing in the bike lane is a completely different psychological compulsion. Most NYC (and other american city) pedestrians don’t expect bikes to exist.

    Anyways, talking about these specific changes, in my experience in the last week (these changes are right outside the building I work at, and have been around for about a week, although the Coenties slip paint was probably added late last week), I rarely see pedestrians stand beyond the paint.

  • Anonymous

    I think your answer lies in:

    “The zoning text amendment will be in effect until January 1, 2014, after which the results will be evaluated by property owners, people who use the spaces, and Community Board 1.”

  • Joe R.

    There’s a great reason for standing away from the curb when crossing or preparing to cross-parked vehicles, especially tall ones, obscure your view of the street. I don’t know about you, but I refuse to cross any street unless I can see what’s coming. Maybe NYC pedestrian behavior would be different if we did what alot of other cities did-namely prohibit parking within about 75 feet of the crosswalk. Of course, that might mean only about 4 or 5 parking spaces on each block of typical Manhattan avenues instead of maybe 12, but safety would be enhanced.

  • Tyler

    I think the paint is probably a pretty strong psychological message — like playing “don’t fall in the lava” with couch cushions. The colored paint creates a “zone” (but like you said, the green paint in bike lanes or the white lines create this same “zone” — having experienced my handlebar clipped many many many times by a pedestrian incursion.)

  • Andrew

    Drainage is also a big issue, as I understand it.

  • Daphna

    This plan is good but it could have re-allocated some road space better. On Water Street for 2 blocks from Broad Street to Whitehall Street the reclaimed lane from the road was given to pedestrians. However, for 3 blocks on Water Street, from Old Slip to Board Street, the road was reduced by a lane but that space was not re-allocated, rather the prior travel lane is now marked with a painted buffer between the parked cars and travel lane. So Water Street was put on a road diet for those 3 blocks, but the street space was not re-allocated for another use. The zebra-stripe lane that motorists are no longer supposed to drive in stands as a convenient double-parking area. I would have liked to see the sidewalk widened with the painted pedestrian areas for the whole 5 blocks of Water Street from Old Slip to Whitehall Street where it was reduced by one travel lane, instead of just doing that for 2 blocks.

  • Daphna

    New Jersey prohibits parking within 25 feet of a crosswalk. I would be happy in NYC if parking were just prohibited 15 feet from each crosswalk. This would essentially remove one parking spot and would provide some daylighting and much improved visibility.

  • Joe R.

    That’s a great point. Most sewer gratings are on corners. They would have to be moved if the sidewalk were to be extended.

  • Joe R.

    Same here. Although 50 or 75 feet would be ideal, I’d be happy with even 15 feet. Anything is better than nothing. There are some corners where if a large vehicle is blocking the view I feel like a person with a blindfold being led in front of a firing squad when I’m starting to cross. Or maybe a more apt analogy might be someone caught in a war zone. I need to stick my head out slightly, hoping a bike or turning car isn’t a foot away from the parked vehicle when I do that, and then if it’s clear start crossing.

  • Joe R.

    So long as I have good lines of sight of approaching traffic, I’ll be more than happy to join you waiting on the curb.

  • Bronxite

    Screw the colors, I just wish they would roll out more of these improvements sooner. They should even experiment more aggressively by simply using cones to cordon off areas and study the effects, replacing with paint/bollards after the analysis.

  • Daphna

    Most painted pedestrian areas are tan. Some are pine green or brick red. Times Square was blue because the winner of the design contest for Times Square had an ocean theme design. I do wonder what led to the choice of bright orange but experimentation and trying new colors might lead to something good – and if not – it is easily enough changed.

    I find that pedestrians in NYC appreciate any new street space that is re-appropriated to them. They use new painted islands, sidewalk extensions, curb bulb out or pedestrianized streets and plazas as soon as they are created. No sooner is the paint dry then those spaces are filled with people. Certainly a funny color is not going to deter anyone from making use of these new pedestrian spaces.

  • The pics show NO sewer grates. Perfect to extend the sidewalk.

  • How many times did they repaint Times Square?

  • ausserirdischesindgesund

    Will they move street furniture like the newspaper vending machine(?) or the wastebasket onto the red part?

  • moocow

    Nah, when Manhattan goes car free, those sidewalks will be in the way.

  • Sewage work alone can cost millions for a simple sidewalk extension

  • Anonymous

    A very good idea, but I doubt it would ever be instituted at all crosswalks.

    In order to get buy-in from motorists, it should be noted that daylighting on two-way streets can help traffic flow by allowing through traffic to drive around cars waiting to make a left.

    Unfortunately, DOT expressly does not daylight intersections controlled by a traffic light, because “people are supposed to wait for the light, not walk when it’s clear.” But that’s not the reality in NYC.

  • Joe R.

    Even if an intersection has a traffic light, it should be daylighted. DOT is basically asking people to blindly depend upon a traffic light for their safety. I refuse to cross a street if I can’t see what’s coming, traffic light or not. If I can’t see at the corner because the view is blocked by tall parked vehicles, I’ll cross in the middle.

    It’s a shame we can’t get motorists to buy into daylighting. We could sell the concept by removing traffic signals at many of the newly daylighted intersections. If you can see what’s in the cross street from 1/2 a block down, the traffic signals are no longer necessary.

  • Yeah, car free in your wet dream.

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