The Financial District Neighborhood Association (FDNA) is proposing to reclaim a large swath of Lower Manhattan’s streetscape for pedestrians with a program that would widen sidewalks, take down construction scaffolds, put trash in its place, decrease traffic, exile parking, and create new public plazas.
The plan builds on a previous proposal, known as “Make Way for Lower Manhattan,” which sought to create new pedestrian and cycling arteries throughout the Financial District. FDNA’s updated plan would focus on creating a “slow-street district” — between Broadway and Water Street, from City Hall to the Battery — within which vehicular traffic would be subject to a ten mile-per-hour speed limit.
Throughout the slow-street zone, roadways would be configured as “shared space,” in which pedestrians and cyclists would be equal to (and more numerous than) vehicles. Experience with similar programs in the central business district of cities around the world suggests that this would (somewhat counter-intuitively) reduce the need for traffic lights, signs, bike lanes, painted crosswalks, or even sidewalks.
Inside of this sector (the gateways to which would be marked by traffic-calming devices), most street parking would be removed, under the theory that fewer than 20 percent of residents own a car, while less than one-fifth of local workers drive to their offices. The exception to these statistic are government employees, whose cars park illegally (but with impunity), because they display official placards. The FDNA scheme aims to drive these vehicles from local streets (mostly to indoor garages) by making it physically impossible to park. This would be accomplished by removing parking spaces, with their footprints filled in by loading zones for nearby residences and businesses, wider sidewalks, and vest-pocket parks, which could include event spaces, or gardens.
Also slated for the space freed up by removing parking slots will be specially designated trash-collection points, which the plan envisions as a way to ease the chronic crowding on local sidewalks, which is made worse by large piles of refuse clogging narrow local sidewalks.
Another plank in the FDNA’s plan is to crack down on construction scaffolds that obscure the facades of dozens of local buildings for years at a time, often when no apparent work is being performed on those buildings.
Finally, the FDNA proposal calls for expanding or creating three new public plazas. At Bowling Green (New York’s first park, dating from more than 300 years ago), the left side of Broadway would be “pedestrianized,” in order to enlarge the open space, and visually connect it to the Battery. A refurbished plaza in front Federal Hall and the New York Stock Exchange would also become a central pedestrian focal point. And an entirely new plaza, between City Hall and Brooklyn Bridge, would be created by closing parts of Centre Street and Park Row to traffic, and building a central fountain or monument there. All three plazas would be linked by a historic pedestrian passageway, similar to Boston’s Freedom Trail.
FDNA hopes that the City’s Department of Transportation (DOT) will approve the slow-streets district as a pilot program, beginning on Earth Day (April 22), and continuing through September of this year. The organization hopes to fund this effort with a $500,000 allocation set aside by City Council member Margaret Chin in 2016, to improve mobility and safety on Lower Manhattan streets.
“Now is the time for implementing Make Way for Lower Manhattan,” said Patrick Kennell, FDNA’s president. “We urge that funds already allocated to DOT be used for this pilot project to test some of the ideas that have worked in other cities, identified in both a 2010 DOT study — including improved walking corridors, targeted sanitation interventions, slow-street zones, and pedestrian-safe plazas. And we urge that this pilot starts immediately this spring, to alleviate problems this summer and beyond.”
Ms. Chin noted, “Lower Manhattan has evolved over the years to become a growing residential neighborhood that has retained its vital role as a commercial and tourist center. With its unique Colonial-era street grid, including narrow streets and sidewalks, this increasingly congested area deserves more than just a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to essential City services, like sanitation and street management.”
Anthony Notaro, chair of Community Board 1 (CB1), added that, “the Financial District is the birthplace of our nation and must be cherished. But it continues to evolve, now with a wider range of businesses and increased tourism, and it is also home to families. To serve all these needs, CB1 works hard on addressing the impact of change and development and seeks to partner with FDNA to affect real solutions.”
The FDNA, which was founded in 2016, is a non-profit organization that aims to beautify local streets, cultivate a neighborhood feel throughout the community, and advocate for new open spaces, while also pushing to maintain and upgrade existing parks.
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