The Downtown Alliance is proposing to eliminate a two-lane exit ramp from the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel and combine a pair of small Financial District plazas that it separates into a single, larger public square.
One of the two spaces, Elizabeth H. Berger Plaza, is located on the north side of the exit ramp, and surrounded by Edgar Street, Greenwich Street, and Trinity Place. Formerly known as Edgar Plaza, this space was renamed in December, 2013 to honor the deceased president of the Alliance, Elizabeth Berger, who was a tireless civic champion of Lower Manhattan.
The second space, known as Trinity Plaza and situated on the south side of the exit ramp, is a forlorn, irregularly shaped expanse of concrete that is bordered by Trinity Place on the east, but largely cut off from the surrounding community on all other sides by fencing and guard rails for the tunnel. The exit ramp that currently lies between them vents traffic from the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel onto Trinity Place, but is replicated by another, nearby ramp that directs vehicles exiting the tunnel onto Greenwich street. The value of both ramps is limited by the fact that they are closed to traffic during the morning rush hour, when drivers are most likely to utilize them.
The two-lane exit ramp takes up 2,500 square feet of open space. If eliminated and absorbed into a single plaza created by combining those on either side, the resulting new park would have an area of 18,000 square feet. The traffic that currently uses the ramp slated for removal would still be able to rejoin Trinity Place by making right turns onto either Edgar or Rector Streets.
“We’re pushing to have those parks combined,” says, Jessica Lappin, who succeeded Ms. Berger as the Alliance’s president in February, 2014. “The Department of Transportation needed to do some studies, which are now complete. And the Department of Parks and Recreation has a design, which is awaiting review by Commissioner Mitchell Silver.”
Ms. Lappin notes that, “there’s money in the capital budget for this that has been allocated by City Council member Margaret Chin, so we’re hoping to get this to the Community Board right after the Commissioner reviews it.”
“As the Financial District’s residential population continues to grow,” says Ms. Chin, “we must make it a priority to improve and increase public open space within the neighborhood. This proposal could make a great positive impact on that front, and that’s why I allocated the capital funding to help make it possible. I look forward to working with local residents and the Downtown Alliance, Community Board 1 and the City on this plan to provide a larger, more vibrant public space for the community.”
Community Board 1 (CB1) most recently included calls for funding to implement this project in both is 2014 and 2015 prioritized budget requests. CB1 chair Catherine McVay Hughes says, “the expansion of the former Edgar Plaza, now known as the Elizabeth Berger Plaza, has been a top priority of CB1 for the past decade. CB1 has repeatedly made capital budget requests in order to make this a top City priority. We are delighted that funding has now been secured to make this dream a reality. Beautiful public open space will transform this area.”
The mission of the Downtown Alliance, which has maintained both plazas (and upgraded them with seasonal plantings) for more than a decade, is to enhance Lower Manhattan for businesses, residents and visitors. (Along with other functions, the Alliance also provides local security and operates the business improvement district, or BID, that covers the area south of Chambers Street.) Among the services provided by the Alliance that Lower Manhattan residents especially prize is Downtown Connection shuttle, which ferries passengers (free of charge) between 37 local stops that link residential areas neighborhoods with business and shopping districts. Running from 10:00 am to 8:00 pm, seven days a week, the Downtown Connection was launched by the Alliance in 2003 and expanded in 2009. It is currently utilized by more than 800,000 people each year.
Photos by Matthew Fenton