DOT's Progress in 2017
DOT maintains and manages a large portion of New York City’s public space as our streets make up 27 percent of the city’s total land area. The agency is committed to making our streets inviting places for people of all ages and abilities. In the past year, DOT has continued its efforts to turn underutilized spaces into plazas and worked with partners to test innovative street designs and new uses of our streets. For a complete list of the agency’s progress on Public Realm Initiatives, refer to nycdotplan.nyc/initiative-table.
Avenue C Plaza
DOT recently completed construction on the Avenue C Plaza in Kensington, Brooklyn. In 2014, the Kensington Stewards, in collaboration with the Horticultural Society of New York, applied to DOT’s Plaza Program, hoping to turn an under-utilized triangle at the intersection of Avenue C and McDonald Avenue into a community asset. The plaza was built out in concrete in June 2017 after two months of construction, and it hosts many events in the community. For example, the plaza served as the rallying point for a group of Kensington residents who gathered earlier this year to declare their neighborhood a “Hate-Free Zone.”
The Avenue C Plaza would not have been possible without the One NYC Plaza Equity Program, which provides assistance to medium- and high-need plaza partners to help them maintain and manage plaza spaces. The Horticultural Society of New York provides technical assistance and maintenance services to high-need partner organizations for a period of three years, during which they help grow partner capacity to the point where the plaza partner can assume full responsibility for maintaining the space. DOT currently provides this kind of support to 28 of its plaza partners, with 14 medium-need partners receiving $20,000 a year and 14 high-need partners receiving a full package of support such as daily sweeping, trash cleanup, power washing, and snow removal.
“This [plaza] is good for me and my business. I live right around the corner and set up here almost every day. I even come here on my days off, too, to sit and relax. It’s a good place to have a conversation.”
-Ozgur, fruit seller and Queens resident
Flatiron Shared Street
DOT is now looking at new ways it can transform its streets into more inviting public spaces. For example, the agency is testing and evaluating shared streets, which are roadways designed for slow travel speeds where pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists all share the right of way. On a fully implemented shared street there is no grade separation between the sidewalk and the roadway, and the advisory speed limit is five miles per hour. DOT implemented its first shared street in temporary materials on Broadway between 24th and 25th Streets. The project is part of a series of improvements that DOT and its partners, the Flatiron 23rd Street Partnership and the Madison Square Park Conservancy, have implemented in the past few years. The resulting public space improves pedestrian safety and access while maintaining vehicular access and circulation. It also has the City’s first installation of tactile guideways for visually impaired pedestrians, which the agency plans to evaluate for use in other parts of the city.
Seasonal Street: Garment District Urban Garden
In another experiment, DOT and the Garment District Alliance conducted a seasonal street closure pilot on two blocks of Broadway between 36th and 37th Streets and 39th and 40th Streets from June to August 2017. Called the Garment District Urban Garden, this pilot added 26,400 square feet of public space to the neighborhood and included 19 birch trees, 61 planters, and 400 linear feet of public art. The Garment District Alliance also programmed the space with weekly fitness classes and a pop-up food market.
Seasonal street closures are a great way to repurpose space during the summer months when traffic volumes are lower and the desire for public space is greatest. During the course of the Garment District Urban Garden pilot, an additional 1.8 million pedestrians were counted on the blocks compared to the same time period in 2016. A survey of users found that 88 percent of respondents who live or work in the neighborhood use the Broadway plazas at least once per week, showing how the space serves as an important neighborhood amenity.
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.
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
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.