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So Why Does Mayor Adams Want to Spend $56M to Move a Chinatown Plaza Across the Street?

The city is taking another go at redesigning the busy Chinatown intersection.

Photo: Kevin Duggan|

Mayor Adams relaunched Bloomberg-era plans to simplify the six-way intersection at Kimlau Square.

What if they held a news conference with no actual news?

Mayor Adams on Friday celebrated himself for brushing off an old Bloomberg-era idea to move Chinatown's Kimlau Square from the east side of the Bowery to the west, but then neither City Hall nor the Department of Transportation would answer questions about the $56-million proposal.

Adams had teased the project, which also includes possibly reopening Park Row to private vehicles and a new welcome arch, during his State of the City address two weeks ago. But on Friday, he didn't provide details, but instead enjoyed being flanked by various officials (including frequent Adams attaché Assembly Member Jenifer Rajkumar of distant Queens) and claiming the pricey overhaul that doesn't even exist yet will boost Chinatown's economy by channeling tourists from the Brooklyn Bridge into the neighborhood. 

“For far too long, Chinatown residents, neighbors, and tourists alike had to deal with confined public spaces and dangerous intersections at Chatham/Kimlau Square, but those days are coming to a close,” City Hall said in a press release that offered no renderings.

Here's what we do know: The intersection of the Bowery, Worth Street, East Broadway, St. James Place, Mott Street, Oliver Street and Park Row is one of the city's most chaotic.

NYPD places traffic agents around the clock to guide motorists through the windy intersection, and pedestrians — many of them elderly — are forced to navigate long crossings while cyclists cut through the existing plaza to traverse the intimidating junction.

In workshops over the summer, city officials did show local electeds and community groups schematics of a major change to the neighborhood that includes a larger plaza on the western side of the Bowery, straighter intersections, shortened pedestrian crossings, and better possible bike connections, which are currently non-existent north of Park Row.

Kimlau Square would flip to the west side of the Bowery, allowing DOT to create straighter travel paths. Rendering: DOT

DOT says the realignment would straighten east-west travel routes between East Broadway and Worth Street, and north-south routes between St. James Place and the Bowery (above). Currently, car and truck traffic has to snake around Kimlau Square.

The new square and expanded sidewalks would also provide more space for pedestrians — and cyclists could get a protected route between Park Row and East Broadway, according to a DOT presentation shown in a closed-door meeting in September, a copy of which was obtained independently by Streetsblog (and was not provided by City Hall or DOT, despite Friday's press conference announcing the changes).

DOT showed off more details for the plan to a closed group in September. Photo obtained by Streetsblog

Construction on the new plaza would start in 2027 and wrap up by 2029.

But remember, there is no actual public design yet. The city said only that it will launch community outreach later this month; DOT spokesman Vin Barone called the existing renderings a "starting point" before including community feedback.

DOT has not even done a traffic study, which is set to include looking at the effects of reopening Park Row to regular traffic for the first time since the 9/11 terror attacks, and how congestion pricing will mesh with the overall redesign.

The plans mirror a project the city presented in 2009, in which then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg also planned to connect Chinatown roadways to the Brooklyn Bridge itself along Park Row between police headquarters and the Municipal Building (just outside the picture below).

Look familiar? This is what the city proposed in 2009. Map: DDC

Council Member Chris Marte (D-Chinatown) told Streetsblog in an interview that the top priority is improved safety in what he called "the chaos corner."

“It’s super dangerous to cycle, to walk, and with a rapidly growing aging population, it’s always scary to see aging people walk there with cars,” Marte said.

It's also not clear for whose benefit the city would be spending $56 million to move a plaza from one side of the street to the other. The intersection feels chaotic, but city data show that there are surprisingly few crashes and injuries — just 63 reported collisions over the last five years, injuring 18 people.

Marte hinted at one of the main beneficiary of any change: car drivers. He said the design would reduce "the bumper-to-bumper traffic that is created because of the confusion” at the multiple-street intersection.

At the Friday press event, though, DOT Commissioner Ydanis Rodriguez said any new design was about safety. 

“Improving safety in this area is going to be one of the top priorities,” Rodriguez said. “The community is bringing a lot of suggestions about Park Row, and this will be included as we get started with the community engagement process."

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