DOT Shows Off Grand Concourse Improvements

LOu_Gehrig_Plaza_New_.jpgLou Gehrig Plaza: No longer a parking lot for Bronx County Courthouse employees.

Bronx electeds joined DOT commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan yesterday to mark a completed round of ped-bike enhancements to the Grand Concourse and 161st Street. The package includes the newly ped-friendly Lou Gehrig Plaza (in front of the Bronx County Courthouse), and wider medians and bike lanes along one section of the Concourse. The project was launched in early 2006, while Iris Weinshall was in charge at DOT.

When Streetsblog posted photos of the nearly-finished courthouse plaza back in April, it was welcomed as a corrective to the rampant government employee parking that had taken over the space, while some readers questioned whether the design would truly invite public use. The plaza’s been there for a few months now — if you’ve had a chance to observe this place close up, tell us how you like it.

Follow the jump for a before shot of the plaza and plans of the new street geometry on the Concourse.

Lou_Gehrig_Plaza_Old.jpgHere’s the plaza back when it was a parking free-for-all.

concourse_plan.jpgFor a larger version of this image, go to page 26 of this PDF.

Images: NYCDOT

  • Ace

    Wonderful the before and after photos really tell the tale. Now, how to get the “judges” 100% out of Columbus Park in Brooklyn.

  • Another success from Janette Sadik-Khan. Thanks for the great work 🙂

  • I \v/ NY

    nyc is doing some remarkable things recently. it was always appalling to me that a pedestrian-oriented city like nyc for so long after moses’ power allowed a few motorists to run amok and pedestrians to be ignored. i know its a little late to the game but nyc is certainly now taking the lead nationwide.

    the rehabbed squares in nyc (union, bryant, city hall, washington, herald, etc) are another incredible success story for nyc.

    what i think is really great about all these new public spaces are that they are really simple designs that are about being great places to hang out, not abstract ideas for professional magazines. you can’t beat the classic park design of a basic bench facing a pathway with its back to a planter.

  • That looks awesome. If you have a wide two-way street this is absolutely the way to go. The same could be done with Park Avenue all the way down to Union Square, to pick another example, or with 14th Street river to river.

    I’m not sure why the quotes around judges in the first comment – the people concerned ARE judges, and while I don’t like their use of park space as we’ve seen, I think there’s a very real safety concern particularly related to criminal court judges. That being said, there’s no similar such concern with regards to, say, administrative personnel.

  • Rhywun

    > some readers questioned whether the design would truly invite public use

    I predict that in the summertime, every square inch that’s possible to sit on will be occupied at lunch time.

    > I think there’s a very real safety concern particularly related to criminal
    > court judges

    Can’t the courthouse afford a small parking garage?! Are we down to just nabbing any convenient nearby parkland for their (and only their) use? Feh.

  • Jeffrey Hymen

    Ace, the entrance has been moved on the judge’s old parking area and the entire lot repaved. The judges and assorted others — my guess for why you used quotation marks — ought to be out of Columbus Park shortly.

    On topic: It will be interesting to see if Yankee fans use this space before or after games. Instead of “meet me at the bat,” it is conceivable that people will meet in Lou Gehrig Plaza. Will the slugger be commemorated somehow, or is the space just named for Gehrig?

  • Better living through design!

  • Josh, I agree there is a bit of safety concern, and that’s why they already have a million dollar garage built for them just two blocks away. As I have followed the story in Columbus Park over the last few months, the most telling quote about it was this legitimate exasperation….

    — “They can’t walk two blocks to a garage, but they all walk to Queen for lunch,” quipped one insider, referring to a well-known Court St. Italian restaurant.

  • It is a huge improvement, of course, but note that it has traditional streetlights and bollards but has modernist planters (bare concrete boxes) and lots of bare concrete.

    I think they would do much better to create a traditional New York style park design similar to, say, City Hall Park, Peter Cooper Park, or Father Demo Square.

  • vnm

    I predict that in the summertime, every square inch that’s possible to sit on will be occupied at lunch time.

    Yes, you are correct. And at most other times, every square inch is occupied by skateboarders. Perhaps due to the Law of Unintended Consequences (actually, almost certainly due to that law since it has a “No Skateboarding” sign), this plaza has become a Mecca for the skateboarding community from about 3 p.m. until past midnight every day turning warm (and chilly, and anything except sub-freezing, blizzard-like) weather.

    Not that I’m complaining. First, SKATEBOARDING IS NOT A CRIME!!!!! Second, they’re entertaining to watch, and in fact sometimes draw small crowds, esp. during Yankee games. This plaza clearly fulfills at least one need that is obviously not being met.

  • @Charles Siegel : It’s not concrete it’s some kind of very nice stone– up close the surfaces are very pretty. Of course I’d love a nice statute or some other art– but the choice of materials for this plaza really makes up for the simple design.

    I live near this plaza and really love it. I also like the skateboarders– they keep it active through dusk so if feels safe over there. And they are funny to watch.

  • Mike

    Charles, my guess is they couldn’t really do a park design — at least not one with trees — because the whole thing is built on an overpass, without room for soil.

  • Boogiedown

    Mike: In fact there are many Gingko trees. Immature now but sure to grow larger. VNM: this plaza couldn’t have been better designed for skate boarders. The signs didn’t go up until after the space was infested with them. Susan: I agree completely. It is great to see the skate boarders enjoying the space, especially when they “invade” after the office workers go home for the evening.

  • Paco, I see what you mean and certainly there may be some hypocrisy on the part of the court employees in that regard.

  • I’m guessing this already happens but that center section looks ripe for some street vendors. Maybe even sprinkle in a few chairs and tables and you could have something.

  • Dave the vendor hangs out on the corner in front of the courthouse selling donuts and coffee. There seems to be more foot traffic over there… for now… but we shall see what the next summer brings.

  • @Boogiedown: Gingko trees? Why does the city continue to plant these smelly things? They make waling around Brooklyn at certain times of the year very unpleasant. They don’t really contribute to livable streets, IMO.

  • Boogiedown

    @Benjamin Kabak: It’s my understanding that the city is careful to plant only male Gingko trees now, having learned that the seeds of the female are considered by many to smell bad. I think the offending Gingkos you’ve come in contact with are mature and so are left alone rather than removed.

  • JMC

    Understated but beautiful! If the entire grand concourse was subject to this improvement, it could once again become a great boulevard!

  • vnm

    They must have removed about 60 official parking spaces to create this plaza. How did they manage that politically?

  • Benjamin Kabak,

    Having a degree in forestry (specializing in urban forestry), I can tell you that only the female Ginkgo trees produce the smelly and slippery fruit. The male trees are almost always exclusively planted in urban settings. If females were accidentally planted somewhere then someone wasn’t doing their job.

    BTW, the smelly fruit of the Ginkgo tree is considered an Asian delicacy and in places where the female trees are found, the fruit usually doesn’t last long since they are often quickly harvested by Chinese and other Asian immigrants.

  • PS – Oh yeah! Nice work DoT!!!

    BTW did anyone notice the other (and BIGGER!) before and after in that picture? One small park created but a much bigger one lost.

  • A huge improvement. I wonder if (at some point) it would be feasible to eliminate those traffic lanes in between the plaza and the courthouse/lawn area.

    I think the ultimate goal should be to eliminate as many traffic lanes possible around all of these new plazas. People should be able to sit and relax without continually inhaling exhaust.

    And maybe those government employees should be taking public transit…

  • I am a resident & business owner in the neighborhood that is in 100% support of the skateboarders using the park after hours.  Take down those unsightly signs.  This is a historic district.

  • I am a resident & business owner in the neighborhood that is in 100% support of the skateboarders using the park after hours.  Take down those unsightly signs.  This is a historic district.


Bike to Work Day Finale: Why the Bronx Commutes By Bike

Streetfilms’ Robin Urban Smith was up on the Grand Concourse this morning for one of New York’s Bike to Work Day traditions — the Bronx Borough President’s ride from Poe Park down to Lou Gehrig Plaza. Watch and see all the different answers you get when you ask people, "Why do you bike to work?" […]

Bronx County Courthouse Plaza Gets a Makeover

  StreetFilms’ Clarence Eckerson took these shots yesterday at the Bronx County Courthouse on Grand Concourse, where an area plagued by illegally parked government employee vehicles has been replaced by a public plaza. Here’s a "before" shot, courtesy of Transportation Alternatives. Additional current pics after the jump.