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Meatpacking District Will Get a Makeover

A rendering of the proposed Gansevoort Plaza, looking southbound.

Major public space improvements are on the drawing board for Lower Manhattan's old Meat-Packing District. Ian Dutton, Houston Street bike safety organizer, professional airline pilot and Streetsblog reader has the report: 

Last year, community groups came together as the Greater Gansevoort Urban Improvement Project to develop a vision to rein in chaotic traffic and create a great new public space for Lower Manhattan's old Meatpacking District. Only a few months later -- a virtual blink of the eye by city bureaucracy standards -- New York City's Dept. of Transportation has already stepped forward with a detailed plan that would create a new public plaza, a buffered bike lane, simplified pedestrian crossings, and a new road configuration designed to reduce the area's traffic chaos (download the plan here).

As Mayor Bloomberg's congestion pricing plan stalls in Albany gridlock, DOT's Office of Alternative Modes is showing one way for City Hall to take control of New York City's streets regardless of what Sheldon Silver or any other New York State Assembly member has to say about it.

DOT presented its renovation plan for the intersection of Ninth Ave. and 14th St. to Manhattan Community Board 4 on Wednesday evening.
Ryan Russo, DOT's Director for Street Management and Safety, explained that the agency is taking advantage of a scheduled repaving of Ninth Ave. in mid-July to respond to long-standing community request to remove the two-block northbound contra-flow traffic lane from the avenue, which has been blamed for several pedestrian fatalities, most recently in February.

DOT's plan also includes the conversion of one southbound lane on Ninth Ave. to a buffered-bike lane. The expectation is that by year's end, this bike lane will extend down Hudson St. and Bleecker St., eventually linking up with the recently-approved Bleecker St. bike lane, providing a continuous bike route across Lower Manhattan, all the way to the East Village.

Russo explained that there are many collateral benefits of removing the northbound lane and reconfiguring southbound traffic. Most notably, DOT is creating a 4,500 sq. ft. plaza just above 14th Street. To the east of this plaza will be two traffic lanes and the new bike lane. To the west will be a single lane for traffic making the right turn onto westbound 14th Street. The new plaza island also breaks up the lengthy, treacherous 120' crosswalk into two manageable crossings of 34' and 24'.

Responding to board member concerns that the new plaza would be uncomfortable surrounded by traffic and that local residents prefer attaching the new public space to the busy sidewalk on the west side, Russo said the benefit of this plan is that it provides an immediate solution and is not considered a "capital project." Altering any of the curbing or the existing central island that separates the northbound and southbound traffic would require new drainage studies, new traffic signals, and would require a lengthy process for funding and contracting through other city agencies. Further, Russo said he believed that the traffic on the west side of the new plaza would be relatively light, similar to the traffic one finds on the cobblestoned west side of Union Sq. Park.

Commenting on the new public plaza, DOT Manhattan Borough Commissioner Margaret Forgione mentioned that tables and chairs similar to those in Bryant Park have already been purchased, and that other programming such as a Greenmarket was being explored. Planters and granite blocks would sit atop a textured surface, similar to other public space reclaimations that have taken place in recent years. Jay Marcus, co-chair of Community Board 4's transportation committee, suggested that a group be created of neighborhood residents and members of CB4 and neighboring CB2 to oversee the planning of this public space.

On the south side of 14th St., the sidewalks would be extended, dramatically shortening the crossing distance of the current angled crosswalk. Also, a new crosswalk will be created across 14th St. on the west side of the southbound traffic lanes.

The CB4 committee was in general agreement that it was in the community's best interest to accept the current plan as a interim step, to be followed as soon as possible with the permanent plan emerging from the Greater Gansevoort Urban Improvement Project. As was pointed out by board members, the interim plan bears many resemblances to the design for the Ninth Ave./14th St. intersection that emerged from GGUIP and presents an opportunity to try out some possibilities before the capital program's implementation.

Here is another, more detailed view of DOT's plan, oriented with the north at the top: 

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