Eyes on the Street: Gansevoort Plaza Open for Business (Updated)

The view of Gansevoort Plaza looking west.

Less than a month ago, the Meatpacking District’s Gansevoort Plaza was a chaotic free-for-all for vehicles. Today it sports a large pedestrian space lined with planters and bollards. The Open Planning Project’s Lily Bernheimer snapped these photos showing the new seating and street furniture in action, two weeks after capturing the construction phase. In terms of getting a good bang for the livable streets buck, this project seems like a real winner — a quick and inexpensive reallocation of space.

UPDATE: DOT says this phase of the project cost about $90,000, plus labor. Construction took three weeks (they’re laying down crosswalks and removing the construction barrels tonight). Also, we should note, while the implementation went by in a flash, an extensive community process led up to this point, going back to meetings held in 2005 between Project for Public Spaces and local businesses and residents.

More pictures after the jump.

  • Ed

    As far as traffic calming is concerned, it’s wonderful! Drivers are totally disoriented by this new weird stuff in the road. The cars look very tentative, like a cat creeping into a cardboard box. They look as if they aren’t sure if they just drove into a plaza by mistake, and they slow down to ridiculously low speeds and let pedestrians cross anywhere in the street.

    Huge success in my opinion.

  • Where’s the bike lane in this makeover?

  • Moser

    Shared space ? dedicated lanes for certain users

  • Moser

    Question mark in post above was originally a “does not equal” sign

  • Mark Walker

    The round bollards are something I saw in Madrid, where it looked and worked great. Except ours are shaped like olives stuffed with pimento.

  • Urbanis: This whole plaza is cobblestones and therefore best avoided by bikes. It’s a great makeover for pedestrians, though.

  • @Mike: that’s what I thought. I certainly wouldn’t want to ride over those cobblestones!

  • Dave

    I walked through there today and skeptic that I am found it ugly, temporary and a waste of space. Bets on when the first cab runs into a stuffed olive?

    Create a BID to pay to extend the sidewalks, do real planting areas and create a real urban oasis (yes this means I want my fountain) plus benches, seating areas.

    Get the restaurants to chip in so they can expand outdoor seating, get the hotels to add a BID fee of $1…there is so much money being invested and spent in the are that we shouldn’t be stuck with a temporary solution.

  • I love the look of cobblestones and the concept of a shared space that privileges pedestrians over automobiles; still, it would be nice if that space were accessible to cyclists.

  • bureaucrat

    boy, dave, you make it all sound so easy! may be you should apply to work in city government.

  • Streetsman

    Easier said than done Dave.

    Get the community to approve removing the cobblestones and modifying the curblines. Take a few years to establish a BID, in a non-commercial area, funded with millions of dollars for capital construction projects. Hire an architect to design the new space, coordinate moving any disturbed sub-surface utilities, do an EIS and public review, get approvals from all city agencies, including permits for sidewalk cafes in the roadbed, and presto – you’re done!

    Until of course someone has to maintain it…

    I say kudos to DOT for getting this first-of-its-kind shared space implemented in a timely fashion.

  • Albert

    It looks like it belongs in the food court at the Paramus Mall. Any thought on how those restaurants can get deliveries?

  • wil

    Albert – good point! I’m sure no one thought of that, and the restaurants are now doomed to run out of food.

  • Peter

    I have to say I lean towards agreeing with #8. It’s got a slightly ugly and temporary feel to it. But it’s better than it was. At least all the SUV limos are parked perpendicular to the curb there now.

    My wife and her friend were rather non-plussed by the bollards too, thinking they looked like giant boobs. That may have as much to do with their being nursing mothers than with anything else though. I tend to think they look like big eyeballs.

  • Re: Peter (#14) and Dave (#8). I agree that there’s a temporary feel to this set of changes, but that’s the beauty of it! For the relatively low capital cost of $90k, you can try this out to see what works.

    It’s more than obvious that there’s latent demand for seating here, whether this is the final solution or not.

    As for the cobblestones, they’re certainly difficult to bike on, but I wouldn’t trade them for the world. There are plenty of other streets to ride along around here.

  • urban designer


    agree with #8

    “ugly, (hopefully) temporary and a waste of space.”

  • Gargamel Tralfaz

    Geez we have certainly become picky haven’t we folks.

    Space for people is better than space for cars. I can’t wait to bring out a picnic blanket and just sprawl anywhere I want on those cobblestones. Even if I have to walk by bike there.

  • JK

    Great project. Government should be encouraged to try new things and take risks.

    re: Bikes. Traffic calming creates a good biking environment — calmed streets are safer and more congenial than bike lanes blocked by cabs and trucks or pedestrians wandering around paths.

    BIDs don’t do major capital improvements, governments do. BIDs collect fees from businesses for cleaning, security, signage and operational stuff.

  • Justin


    This should cause some accidents.

    On the other hand, the outside seating area at 14th & 9th is amazing. Great job on that!

  • yo

    as someone who frequents the area daily (not nightly) I’m thrilled.

  • Objectivist

    People, this is a perfect example of a good idea gone bad thanks to the major impediments of any project of this kind in NYC.

    The result is a bad joke at best.

    Extremely Ugly, but somewhat functional.

  • ddartley

    It may be ugly, but it’s a hell of a lot safer, and that’s more important. Now it’s time to do the same, maybe with better aesthetics, to other prominent busy areas. I nominate Herald Square, Canal Street, and Times Square.

  • BabyDave

    This looks fairly pointless. What was so bad abough the”chaotic free-for-all”?

  • Nick

    I’m disappointed. I’m part of a group that will hopefully be doing an evening project there in a month or so and from what I’ve seen and read, the concrete olive/boobs/whatevers are a mediocre head-nod to something that offers a massive potential.

    In Europe, plazas like this would simply remain open while the authorities-that-be would offer and encourage markets and vendors to use the open space. Restaurants would extend outdoor seating far beyond the curb and into the cobblestone street. Autos mindfully respect pedestrians with the understanding that this a pedestrian space that they are privileged to share and keep speeds to a minimum.

    This community understanding of space is based on use, not on some arbitrary object that is meant to be a ‘sign’ of approved activity in designated areas. In other words, the actual events that take place on the plaza define traffic and the way the space is used, not a few concrete sculptures that, mark my words, will end up being a pain in someone’s patootie in the not-to-distant future – besides being unsightly.

    Lastly, whether or not cobblestones are fun to ride on or not, as bike traffic is a sustainable means of transportation, and should be encouraged in *all* major cities worldwide, bikes should be given better consideration. It’s not likely that a hobby cyclist will be jaunting through this plaza given the cobblestones and auto traffic situation; it is, however, very likely that bike commuters (ie – cyclists traversing from point a to point b) will frequently cross the plaza, and that is what needs to be given consideration. Again, in many of the major cities in Europe bike traffic is given extra attention in order to provide safety to cyclists without impeding the inevitable auto traffic.

    New York is the US’ most European city – why not look to Europe for ideas instead of doing the usual US thing – throw some concrete at it and spend a lot of money? Bleh. Bleh!

  • Shemp

    What European plazas are you talking about where car traffic and restaurant seating mix it up and mutually regulate one another? I guess I missed that the past few trips, or maybe you missed something about the way things actually work. Gimme a break.

  • Mark Walker

    I’d like to say a few words in support of cobblestones. They may be bad for bikes but they calm traffic and therefore make pedestrians safer.

    Cobblestones are the sleeping giant of traffic calming — they still exist under many of New York’s streets, including the one I live on, and I’d love to see them make a comeback.

    I’d rather see small amounts of cobbles covered with asphalt for bikes than large amounts covered with asphalt for cars.

  • bureaucrat

    nick – those are all nice thoughts, but a few things to consider:
    1) your shared space approach is a wonderful idea. can you please convince the powers that be that doing what you suggest won’t lead to a massive lawsuit against the city the first time a car plows into tables full of people since there is no curb or objects in the roadbed to stop it?
    2) this wasn’t spending a lot of money – that’s the point. if you want something more intensive you’d have to spend a lot of money. and if you want to spend a lot of money on public works “like they do in europe” may be we need european-level taxes and a government system in which cities have more political power (and hence get more of their $$ back).

  • Fendergal

    I don’t know why people are bitching about how hard it is to ride over cobbles. Long before there were designer boutiques on West 14th, I’d ride downtown on 9th, hang a right on 14th, bump over the cobbles, and turn left on Washington Street. So I’d have to slow down. Big deal!

  • Ian D

    Listen. Really.

    There will never be a design that everyone thinks is perfect. Never.

    This was the result of an intensive process that clearly the complainers didn’t participate in. There are a lot of competing interests involved in any project of this magnitude – and none of them, not even you, Mr. Complain-it’s-not-perfect-for-you, got everything they asked for.

    What do I think? Suddenly cabs are driving verrrry slowly rather than trying to mow people down while leaning on their horns. People are lingering in the public areas, sitting on the stones, appreciating what was a car-strewn area. The streets have been reconfigured to actually discourage through-traffic and to keep the traffic from overflowing into neighboring residential areas. Parking zones have been redesignated to reflect the current uses and to keep double-parkers from bringing traffic to a honking halt.

    And all of that was done while keeping in the historical context of this landmarked district.

    And with the cooperation of city agencies, the public space in this immediate vicinity has been completely transformed in the span of months. It’s not exactly what came out of the GGUIP process, but it embraces many of the principles. Maybe we’ll see more parts being incorporated as times goes on – and American drivers prove that they are responsible enough to handle it.

    In the meantime, I think it’s a dramatically improved space and an impressive returning of public space to the non-driving majority that uses this neighborhood. Complain about that.

  • Dave

    Based on the traffic outside my windows and the horn-blaring it is now summertime and traffic on the weekends is on the upswing with our friends the horn-blowers from the outer-boroughs and especially NJ.

    I can’t imagine how the new traffic pattern in the MP has gone over: I bet it is mass confusion as people looking for free parking are circling and cabdrivers are confused and constantly on the horn.

    Also I drove across 14th today (the closest carwash to me is at 15ht/10th) and noticed they put two-way traffic on Washington. What the F***? All this talk of traffic-calming measures and they redirect traffic to allow for easier flow? Who’s the moron who implemented that?

    As I have said many times there needs to be a new Robert Moses to look at traffic/congestion in the city as a whole. Too many conflicting messages sent (contra-flow measures, two-way traffic on Washington to start) to accomplish anything.

  • Ian D

    Also I drove across 14th today (the closest carwash to me is at 15ht/10th) and noticed they put two-way traffic on Washington. What the F***? All this talk of traffic-calming measures and they redirect traffic to allow for easier flow? Who’s the moron who implemented that?

    It’s the “morons” who live in the residential blocks just to the south who had to deal with the massive volumes of circling traffic. Maybe you want to talk to the “morons” on 5th Ave. in Brooklyn about two-way streets being better for traffic calming – you know, the ones that stopped the one-way plan to push large volumes of traffic to Atlantic Yards.

    Since you (plural, not just Dave) know so much, why not come to the planning meetings and tell your side, that it’s not important to keep the circling out of the residential blocks by putting in a 2-way traffic flow… or that your designs for granite blocks is a lot better than DOT’s….

    And if you can’t imagine how the traffic pattern is going over, why not go have a look. It was decidedly tame when I was there Thursday night, and without triple-parking, there was very little honking.

  • Ian D

    …and because I’m not done…

    Maybe having Washington St. become only one-lane southbound also makes sense now that Washington has had one traffic lane removed to create the buffered bike lane. Or do you not like that traffic calming measure, either?

  • Nick

    I think my point was to reconsider how space is regulated – not in terms of legislation, but in terms of how we in US urban centers think of sharing it. Our urban culture is dominated by the automobile. I think if you examine the way we talk about things, mostly we examine these issues from the perspective of the car: regulating traffic or even making pedestrians safe from traffic – both these ideas are actually about the car, not about accessibility and not about pedestrians.

    That’s not a criticism, it’s an observation. By bringing Europe into the picture (and no, I’m not talking about the major intersections of Paris, but I can take you to quite a few places in London, Paris, Berlin, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Rotterdam and a score of small towns) I was meaning to illuminate the idea that the original culture of non-motorized transportation is given priority in civic planning and the automobile is still considered relatively new in that context.

    Yes, autos are heavily taxed in Europe. And the quality urban living and the possibility of sustainable living is so much greater in Europe due to higher taxation – they also earn more and work _less_ than we do. What I suggested as a point of reference above was an observation about urban psychology, not a solution to the expense. Things cost money, plain and simple. But don’t get uptight about it – the question is how is cash best spent and to what overall benefit. And where do you want your tax $s to go? I mean, the higher taxes result in a direct benefit to one’s daily life in Europe, one that is perceivable. Trust me, the taxes are worth it.

    Still, I see the concept as the issue here, not the money.

  • Damian

    #30 – Dave

    There was a huge closure of 8th Ave between 14th and 23rd for a street fair last weekend. That’s why traffic was super dense on 14th. It has nothing to do with a little pedestrian plaza over on 9th.

    When you invoke Robert Moses I think what you’re saying is you want even more space somehow given over to cars. Sorry, pal — a lot of people are working in exactly the OPPOSITE direction.

  • WTF!?

    Who is responsible for this absolute disaster? There wasn’t any urban planning involved other than a chaotic placement of hideous mismatched blocks, metal planters and alien orbs. The concrete blocks are too inviting for homeless to find another place to invade.

    This could not be a more pathetic attempt at organizing what used to be a gorgeous and quintessential West Village setting.

    Let someone who knows what they’re doing remove this eyesore and design a materpiece this space derserves. This is an incredible opportunity to creat art and something should be done…speak up fellow neighbors!

  • JF

    Fine. While we’re waiting for the masterpiece, can we have the safety provided by the “pathetic attempt”? The perfect shouldn’t be the enemy of the good.


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