The ongoing process of outreach to the community for reactions to a series of proposals for transforming South End Avenue — recently unveiled by the Battery Park City Authority (BPCA) — will continue tonight (Tuesday, September 6), at a meeting of the Battery Park City Committee of Community Board 1 (CB1).
This meeting will also be held at a venue closer to home than usual for Battery Park City residents: the new campus of Metropolitan College of New York, at 60 West Street (near the corner of Rector Street), in the first-floor community room, starting at 6:00 pm.
“We’re going to review some background,” says Committee chair Ninfa Segarra, “with a focus on the City Department of Transportation’s proposals for South End Avenue in 2013, which the community collaborated on.” The 2013 proposal (which was never implemented) originally contained some elements of the current BPCA conceptualization, such as a traffic island in the middle of South End Avenue, near the entrance to Gateway Plaza. These were removed, however, after CB1’s Battery Park City Committee raised concerns about safety and traffic flow.
“We also want to look more closely at the BPCA survey and the process behind it,” says Ms. Segarra, “because the quality and effectiveness of such a survey will necessarily have an impact on the proposals that are created based on its results.” The survey Ms. Segerra referred to was conducted by consultants on behalf of the Authority in 2015 and early 2016. It polled residents, workers, business owners, and tourists to gauge perceptions about the South End Avenue streetscape.
“CB1’s responsibility is to provide the public with information and solicit responses about critical decisions,” Ms. Segarra reflected. “And any change to South End Avenue is a critical decision, because that is the Main Street for Battery Park City. All of the concepts recently circulated by the BPCA, whether you like them or oppose them, would result in a dramatic change.”
“That’s why we want to use this meeting to provide a forum for people to air their reactions, both positive and negative, so that we can determine what the Committee’s next steps should be in this process,” she added.
Tonight’s meeting of the CB1 Battery Park City Committee follows a pair of outreach sessions hosted by the BPCA in July and August, at which many dozens of residents viewed presentations, asked questions, and offered suggestions about the BPCA’s conceptions for South End Avenue.
At the July sessions, representatives from the BPCA and Stantec (the consultant hired by the Authority) sketched out three groups of options for transforming South End Avenue. Each version involves narrowing the roadway on South End Avenue, widening the sidewalk on the west side of the street, and making changes to the arcades — a series of colonnades that adorn the sides of four large residential buildings on the west side the street, stretching from Albany Street to the South Cove cul-de-sac.
In the first of the three options formulated by Stantec, the arcades remain open to the public, but are refurbished with new lighting, arched ceilings, and new signage for the stores within. At the same time, the sidewalks along the west side of South End Avenue are extended by 19 feet (the most of any of the three options), while South End Avenue’s roadbed is narrowed to 44 feet (from 64 feet). In this option, traffic flow remains the same as it is currently, but South End Avenue and West Thames Street undergo a loss of 25 parking spaces.
In the second scenario, the arcades remain open and are revamped as described above, but also get an awning that extends out over the sidewalk, which is widened by 15 feet, while the South End Avenue roadway is narrowed to 44 feet. Under this version, traffic directions remain the same, but two new traffic islands are created: one starting at Liberty Street and extending south of the entrance to Gateway Plaza, and the other between the pair of Rector Place roadways on either side of the Rector Park Lawns. This option entails a loss of 32 parking spaces along South End Avenue and West Thames Street, with 62 remaining.
In the third version, the arcades are enclosed and become private retail space that extends to the outside edge of the columns. This option also widens the sidewalks along the west side of South End Avenue by 17 feet, while the roadway is narrowed to 40 feet. In this contingency, traffic flows are also significantly altered: Liberty Street becomes one way only (westbound) between West Street and South End Avenue; South End Avenue becomes one way only (southbound) between Liberty Street and Albany Street (with a dedicated left-turn lane as it approaches Albany Street); and Albany Street becomes one way only (eastbound) between South End Avenue and West Street. The number of parking spaces that would be lost under this version is unknown.
Authority representatives have repeatedly assured residents that the current ideas are tentative. Authority spokesman Nick Sbordone said that, “changes in or improvements to the South End Avenue/West Thames Street streetscape, if any, would only occur after all interested stakeholders — including residents, building and condo owners, area businesses, the City of New York, et cetera — have had the opportunity to provide input.” He added, “this is an iterative process, something we want to continue to get input on.” The Authority is now evaluating responses gleaned from its July and August public sessions, and requesting additional feedback, which can be submitted via email to firstname.lastname@example.org. The BPCA is also planning on future meetings that will focus on this subject, although dates for these have yet to be announced.