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6. The Public Realm

Summer Streets

Our streets are the City’s biggest open space asset, making up 27 percent of New York City’s land area. For many New Yorkers, their local street is also their backyard: a place for neighbors to gather, children to play, and folks to take a rest or a stroll. DOT sees our streets not just as conduits for people and goods, but as public spaces essential to the life and vibrancy of the City. DOT is continuing its efforts to make our streets more inviting places for pedestrians, transforming them into attractive public spaces for people of all ages. This strategy works hand in hand with Vision Zero. The more attractive our streets and sidewalks are, the more pedestrians will choose to use them. As pedestrians fill our streets, sidewalks, and crosswalks, drivers become more aware of the need to drive slowly and attentively.  

Beyond improving our sidewalks and streets, DOT is supporting Mayor de Blasio’s efforts to create signature open spaces across the five boroughs, especially in neighborhoods with few open space resources. DOT continues to partner with local communities to convert under-used streets into public plazas. A well designed plaza provides residents with a place to gather, promotes local businesses, reconnect neighborhoods, and creates a venue for recreational and cultural events. DOT is now providing financial assistance to plaza partners in low- and moderate-income neighborhoods so that all communities can benefit from the program (see the box below). The agency is also exploring ways to activate and beautify areas under elevated highways and train lines (see the box below). These programs are an important part of the City's effort to ensure that all New Yorkers live within a 10-minute walk of a quality open space.

Photo of a plaza space under the elevated 7 train at 46th St - Bliss Station.

The Plaza Equity Program

The NYC Plaza Program works with local communities to create new public open spaces by reclaiming underutilized streets. The City plans and creates the pedestrian plaza with input from the neighborhood, while a community partner, such as a civic organization or business improvement district, maintains and programs the space. To date, DOT had developed or is planning 73 plazas across the five boroughs. Unfortunately, not every community has a partner organization that can afford the required upkeep a public plaza demands. This is particularly true in low-income communities, many of which are in need of more public open space.

That is why Mayor de Blasio created the Plaza Equity Program to provide $1.4 million in technical assistance for designated medium- and high-need plazas citywide. The program provides funding to under-resourced communities to support their plazas, providing needed funds for maintenance services, including daily cleaning, trash removal, furniture management, and horticultural care. Partner organizations also receive technical assistance with navigating City permitting processes, maintenance, and event planning. Of the 73 plazas throughout New York City in some phase of design, development or implementation, 30 have been identified to receive support, enabling these diverse communities  to have a high quality public space.

The El-Space Program

Photo of an El Space activation in Chinatown

New York City has over 300 miles of bridges and elevated highways and rail lines. Beneath this elevated transportation infrastructure lie millions of square feet of space—“el-space”—that is a largely unused and often uninviting. These elevated structures can also divide neighborhoods. In response, DOT is establishing the El-Space Program to enhance, activate, and reclaim el-spaces, reconnecting neighborhoods and providing more open space to communities. 

Currently, DOT is completing the first phase of a comprehensive asset inventory of el-space sites across the five boroughs. DOT is developing a toolkit of elements to enliven these spaces, including a multi-media seating installation, el-space lighting, green infrastructure, a concession booth, and more attractive fence designs. Simultaneously, the agency is pursuing two pilot projects in partnership with the Design Trust For Public Space, one in Sunset Park beneath the Gowanus Expressway and a second in the Rockaways beneath the elevated A train. Three additional agency-initiated pilots focused on el-space lighting enhancements are underway.

Make DOT’s streets and sidewalks attractive and safe public spaces for walking, resting, and gathering.
Expand public open space by creating pedestrian plazas across the five boroughs, especially in underserved neighborhoods.
Reconnect communities and create new open spaces by enhancing and activing underutilized areas under bridges, elevated roadways, and train lines.

Expanding Public Open Space

Expanding Public Open Space icon

Continue and enhance the NYC Plaza Program

DOT works with local partners to create neighborhood plazas throughout the City, transforming underused streets into vibrant public spaces. The Plaza Program includes one-day plaza projects, interim plazas created with temporary materials, and permanent plazas. Our plaza partners are responsible for on-going maintenance. DOT provides financial and technical support through the Plaza Equity program when neighborhoods need assistance. 


Programs to Improve the Street Environment

Programs to Improve the Street Environment icon

Continue DOT street furniture programs to improve our streets

DOT has a range of programs to make our streets more attractive, easier to navigate, and more comfortable for pedestrians. These programs include: 

  • Coordinated Street Furniture: provision and maintenance of bus shelters, newsstands, and automatic public toilets by DOT’s street furniture franchisee;

  • CityBench: the installation of benches at bus stops and plazas and on sidewalks to increase public seating on City streets;

  • WalkNYC: the installation of map-based way-finding information in neighborhoods and at SBS stations across the City; and,

  • Street Seats: a citywide program by which local partners apply to transform underused streets space, such as parking spaces, into seasonal public spaces.

Continue DOT Art program to enliven the streetscape

DOT Art partners with community-based organizations and artists to present temporary public art in neighborhoods across the City. Artists help transform the City's streets from ordinary to extraordinary through colorful murals, dynamic light projections and thought-provoking sculptures.


Programs to Temporarily Open Streets for Recreation

Programs to Temporarily Open Streets for Recreation

Continue DOT programs that open up City streets for public recreation

Each year, the City opens up streets across the five boroughs to pedestrians and cyclists. These programs include:

  • Summer Streets: an annual celebration during which nearly seven miles of Manhattan streets from the Brooklyn Bridge to Central Park are opened on three consecutive summer Saturdays for people to play, run, walk, and bike;

  • Weekend Walks: a series of  multi-block neighborhood events across the five boroughs during which, at the request of the community, commercial streets are temporarily closed to vehicles and opened to walking and other activities; and, 

  • Car-Free NYC: an annual Earth Day celebration that opens City streets for recreation, allowing residents and visitors to enjoy New York City’s most valuable public space—our streets.



Expanding Public Open Space

Programs to Temporarily Open Streets for Recreation

Transform areas under elevated transportation infrastructure into attractive public spaces and streetscapes through the El-Space program

DOT will conduct an inventory of el-spaces, develop an El-Space toolkit of design treatments, and initiate five El-Space pilot projects, some in partnership with the Design Trust for Public Space. The project will include a consideration of opportunities for secure bike parking.


Programs to Improve the Street Environment

Programs to Temporarily Open Streets for Recreation

Update news rack regulations to keep sidewalks clean and orderly

To accommodate pedestrian flow on busy sidewalks and to keep sidewalks clean, DOT is working with the City Council to pass legislation to streamline the news rack registration process, encourage the use of modular racks, and hold owners more accountable for their dirty or disorderly racks.


Programs to Temporarily Open Streets for Recreation

Programs to Temporarily Open Streets for Recreation

Build upon the Lower Manhattan Shared Streets pilot project

Shared streets give priority to pedestrians with accommodation for vehicles needing local access. Having pedestrians, cyclists, cars, and trucks all traveling slowly through a common street space discourages traffic and has been shown to improve traffic safety. In conjunction with this year’s Summer Streets, DOT held a Shared Streets event covering 60 blocks of historic Lower Manhattan. Based on this successful test, DOT will explore expanding Shared Streets and holding additional pilot events in 2017..     

Conduct a seasonal pedestrian street pilot project

In collaboration with a supportive community, DOT will create a seasonal pedestrian- and cyclist-only street in the summer of 2017. Car and truck access will be accommodated through special regulations, potentially during off-hours. The pilot project will last several months and will be evaluated by DOT.