“Plaza 33” Will Return This Year, But a Ped-Friendly 32nd Street Won’t

“Plaza 33,” the temporary public space that opened up the eastern end of 33rd Street between Seventh Avenue and Eighth Avenue for a few months last year, will be back in August and this time there are no plans to remove it once the weather turns colder.

The other pedestrian improvement by Penn Station that real estate giant Vornado funded last year — the 32nd Street sidewalk extension — will not be back, however. Both projects were managed by Vornado with DOT’s approval.

Last night, representatives from the company showed a joint meeting of the Community Board 5 transportation and parks committees their plan to bring back Plaza 33. The 32nd Street project, which opened up space for people on a cramped walking route between Sixth Avenue and Penn Station, may get revived in the future, but Vornado said complaints about the removal of loading zones have tabled it for now.

The plaza on 33rd Street increases continuous pedestrian space on 7th Avenue by half. Image: Vornado Reality Trust
The plaza on 33rd Street (the green area) is coming back in August. Image: Vornado Reality Trust

While there are no plans to remove the plaza once it returns, DOT wants to observe it year-round before committing to a permanent build-out, which would require a multi-year capital investment.

“Part of what DOT wants to see is ‘How does this work?’” Vornado Senior VP for Development Marc Ricks told committee members. “And although they are not positioning this as a pilot, they are positioning that it’s back and it’s here to stay, the city always reserves the right to say something’s not working.”

DOT may also implement split-phase signals at the intersections of Seventh Avenue with 33rd Street and 31st Street, so pedestrians never have the walk signal at the same time that turning drivers have a green light. That decision is due to traffic concerns more than safety — DOT found that those intersections had more vehicle delay while Plaza 33 was in place.

Many of the committee’s questions focused on how and whether the space would be used for commercial purposes, and who would be responsible for determining what events will occur on the space. Their final resolution “strongly encourages” the city’s Street Activity Permit Office to only allow commercial events promoted by either the 34th Street Partnership BID or neighborhood residents.

The 32nd Street sidewalk extension opened up much-needed space for people between Sixth Avenue and Penn Station, but it won’t be back this year. Photo: Stephen Miller

Partly because of concerns about how the space would be used, the committee requested that Vornado return in one year to reevaluate the project and determine whether it should continue permanently.

The full community board will vote on the proposal on March 10. The plaza design will be finalized in April in collaboration with a CB 5 working group, and the space will open to the public in August.

  • I’m curious how Cuomo’s proposed Penn Station modifications would play into the plaza project in this space. I believe his proposal called for building some sort of pedestrian entrance and atrium beneath 33rd st on this corner.

  • Geck

    32nd between 6th and 7th street should simple be a Woonerf type space. Pedestrians should have the right of way in the street. Vehicles would be permitted for deliveries but required to yield to pedestrians in the street.

  • Daphna

    If the pedestrians who can not fit on the crowded 32nd Street sidewalk would complain, then the number of complaints by pedestrians for insufficient space would vastly outweigh the number of complaints about inconvenient loading/unloading space. Vornado had the courage and foresight to try something bold and needed such as the extended 32nd Street sidewalk. It is a shame that they are bowing to pressure over parking complaints that effect the few, and foregoing a benefit (the badly needed sidewalk widening) that effects the many.

  • Seth Rosenblum

    In this case we’re not talking about a couple of business owners and residents who want to park their private vehicles, but some very high-density residences and larger businesses that have their loading docks pointing onto this street. Vehicles like delivery trucks, garbage trucks, and moving vans do need to be able to get in here and unload.

    The real problem here is the MTA, which uses this street as a parking lot for the q32 bus. If they could move the terminal for this bus away from the densest part of the city(which unfortunately means away from Penn station) there would be enough loading space for everyone else.

  • Daphna

    That video is awesome in that it shows how vital, how widely used and how joyful that plaza was. I think it would have even more impact if it was contrasted with a few seconds showing the road as it is without the plaza. The plaza looks so natural and intrinsic once it is there that for people who never saw the road as it was previously, they do not fully see how dramatic a change it was.

  • Daphna

    The vehicles were able to get in there and unload. There was loading and unloading on the south side of the street.

    There must be an acceptance that street space is limited, and that this finite amount of street space should be allocated to serve the most people effectively. When the astronomical volume of pedestrians necessitates a sidewalk widening, space needs to be re-allocated. In this case, all loading/unloading was relegated to one side of the street.

    Or another solution has to be found. Maybe as Geck wrote, this block of 32nd Street should be pedestrian-only with vehicles allowed in for loading/unloading, no through traffic, and a policy to yield to pedestrians in the street at all times.

  • BBnet3000

    Is it possible that people are complaining about having to cross the street with deliveries because it’s too difficult to cross the street? If this is so, reducing traffic volumes by only allowing local access and using diverters for through traffic could solve the problem.

  • David Meyer

    Someone asked about this at last night’s meeting. Ricks said “it’s too soon to tell” but that their plan is “consistent with the philosophy” of Cuomo’s proposal, and we’ll have a better sense of how once proposals for the upgraded station have been submitted.

  • Daphna

    If the Q32 MTA/NYC Transit but is hogging the loading/unloading area on 32nd Street, then the staging area for that bus needs to be relocated. Another nearby street could be for the Q32 if there was the willingness to change the parking regulations on whatever street will work. The problem is that nobody ever wants a bus staging area on their street, so there will be resistance to a nearby relocation, even if one is feasible.

  • Maggie

    This is so disappointing, to nix a return of the 32nd Street beautification. Penn Station’s deliveries don’t get any more valuable than hundreds of thousands of people coming in every day.

    Hopefully we’ll see it come back and extend along 32nd between Fifth and Sixth Avenues, which would be completely transformational for the K-town restaurant row.

  • Why not until August?

  • chekpeds

    Exactly, especially because it is already operating like one… Just need to paint the asphalt to make it official.

  • chekpeds

    HA!: now DOT ready to install split phases…. Not to protect pedestrians but to improve car flow. Funny that they are not concerned about pedestrians jaywalking in this case…. As advertised in the world of Vsion Zero, vehicular LOS rules…

  • Andrew

    The M4 and Q32 turn left from 7th and terminate here in order to serve Penn Station. Did you have a different sort of terminal operation in mind? Where do you want the buses to go?

    The M4 has been terminating here for decades (the Q32 “recently” joined it, in the 1980’s) and the buses are suddenly the interlopers?

  • scastro87

    32nd street was completely full of drugged out homeless while they had the plaza set up. I work on 30th and 7th and saw it everyday.

  • Maggie

    This was the Steve Cuozzo argument against walkability, right? The homeless are still there, now the street is a lot less walkable.

  • scastro87

    Some homeless have been there for the 4 years I’ve worked in this area, but the availability of the benches and open space made it a haven for the druggies to congregate. From what I see, people would try to stay on the sidewalks trying to avoid the drugged out homeless who had taken over the plaza.

  • Maggie

    Penn Station commuters from the NJ and LI suburbs have plenty of people struggling with addiction in their home communities.

    If you’re asking people whether they feel safer / more comfortable around a destitute person or a truck spewing carbon monoxide, it’s an interesting social experiment. But as it stands, we’ve got both.

  • scastro87

    If the question is if people would rather walk next to a not particularly busy street (32nd between 6th and 7th) or have to avoid homeless encampments and unstable drugged out people, I don’t think many people would choose the latter.

  • Alexander Vucelic

    this is the model for many successful pedestrian zones in Europe. Loading & Unloading always allowed before 11am and afterwards by asking the local beat cop politely. It works

  • Maggie

    I mean, I don’t think that’s the question.

    32nd still has people who appear homeless; so does Penn Station itself; we can’t cure homelessness by closing down sidewalks.

    All over the city, BIDs, conservancies, property owners, and city agencies find a daily balance in creating places that work for the public and are perceived to be safe. I don’t want to belabor the point, but one stretch of sidewalk on 32nd Street shouldn’t be an exception.

  • Andrew
  • scastro87

    I think the homeless druggies on 32nd increased because of the expanded sidewalk/plaza. It became a camp for them.

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