CB1 Discusses BPCA Revamp of South End Avenue, Calls for ‘Soft Reboot’ of 2018 Plan
South End Avenue, which functions as the equivalent of Main Street for Battery Park City’s southern neighborhood, has been the focus of a years-long effort to reach consensus on redesigning the thoroughfare.
At the March 7 meeting of the Battery Park City Committee of Community Board 1 (CB1), the Battery Park City Authority (BPCA) announced that it is taking preliminary steps to move ahead with a controversial plan to reconfigure South End Avenue and West Thames Street. This project envisions safety improvements that narrow both South End Avenue and West Thames Street, widen nearby sidewalks, and relocate several bus stops.
Authority spokesman Nick Sbordone said, “we have for a number of years been working, hand in glove, with the Community Board, on the traffic conditions on South End Avenue and West Thames Street. This thoroughfare was built in the 1980s, and it was built probably larger than it needs to be given some of the uses of it in a residential neighborhood.”
“There was a very lengthy and comprehensive resolution that the Community Board passed in 2018, on concepts for what a redesigned South End Avenue and West Thames Street streetscape might look like,” he continued, “with widened sidewalks and narrower streets, and other ideas for pedestrian safety and beautifying the space. So we are now getting geared up to put out an RFP,” or Request for Proposals. “The RFP is to do the design, not to start the work yet,” he added. “We have taken all that feedback from the Resolution, which forms the basis for what would be the language in the RFP.”
Committee chair Justine Cuccia elaborated that the most recent version of the plan, from 2018, divided the concept into three sections: along South End Avenue from Liberty to Albany Streets, from Albany to West Thames Streets (also on South End Avenue), and West Thames Street itself. “Between Liberty and Albany Street is the area that needs the most work,” she explained, “because it is the most congested. On the Gateway side of the street, you can’t open the doors to the stores without being bumped off the street.”
“It’s the next section, around Rector Place,” Ms. Cuccia continued, “that has controversy associated with it. Since the resolution was written, there’s been a traffic light installed at South End and Rector, and there are stop signs that have been put in.”
Committee member Robin Forst observed that, “since this resolution was done, several years ago, there has been an incredible, incredible proliferation of black cars, but I don’t know how that’s being accounted for. That study from four years ago does not reflect the current reality, with black cars, Ubers, and the cul-de-sac at Brookfield Place that has increasing amounts of traffic. These are considerations that have to be incorporated into whatever comes next.”
Mr. Sbordone replied, “yes, this was the state of play as of 2018. When the designer comes on board, they will have to incorporate the new facts on the ground.”
A rendering of the BPCA’s plan for changes to the South End Avenue streetscape, with widened sidewalks shown in red, new medians in green, and the new “speed table” in brown.
Committee member Jeff Galloway reflected that, “lots of things have changed since 2018. I really think that almost everything all I can see right now in the north section, needs to be rethought.” Citing the example of a traffic median planned for the middle of South End Avenue (currently the site of painted lines, which allow cars to move around stopped traffic), he said, “people get past that line by going in the middle of what would become a median, which would further clog the traffic. I think people with traffic expertise really need to look at this, in light of the very significantly changed universe, with the drastic increase in deliveries, combined with different modes of deliveries that are used. Now, there are lots bicycles with trailers, instead of vans parking. The usage has just changed a lot.”
Kelly McGowan, a leader of the Battery Park City Neighborhood Association, voiced the concern that narrowing South End Avenue would push delivery trucks onto local side streets, “where they would be idling under people’s windows. I think we all love to see bike lines, medians, and tree-lined streets with wide sidewalks, but we have to have a plan that recognizes reality, not what we want it to be.”
Pat Smith, president of the Battery Pointe condominium, said, “when this plan first surfaced four years ago, the boards of six condos along South End Avenue, below Albany Street, took the position that south of Albany Street, we do not have a problem. And to go to the expense of fixing a problem that doesn’t exist south of Albany Street is a waste of our ground-rent dollars. So fix what you need to fix north of Albany Street. We support you 100 percent. But south of Albany Street, we don’t want to widen our sidewalks.”
He added that, “right now, our sidewalks, on the west side of the street, are 25 feet wide. This plan would widen them five feet more. And when you push into the traffic lane and widen the sidewalk, you are inviting motorized two-wheel vehicles to ride on the sidewalk. You are increasing the danger to pedestrians.”
“This proposal also calls for truck parking on West Thames Street,” Mr. Smith continued. “This assumes drivers will park trucks there and walk several blocks on foot to make deliveries. It’s just not reasonable to expect that to happen.”
Ms. Forst observed that, “I have to question the appropriateness of this, particularly in light of the costs that are being born by the condominiums and indirectly by the rental properties. So I would encourage the BPCA, before an RFP is issued, to think hard and maybe have a community meeting to discuss what this is about at this moment. I think we need an evaluation and analysis, as to the costs and the benefits, and what this will bring us as a community, and in terms of the ground rent. We need to rethink the expenditure of this kind of money, the disruption to the community, which will certainly be incredibly large. Every time you rip up a sidewalk to widen it, there are so many implications—utilities, traffic disruptions, noise, and dust. The list is really long.”
Mr. Sbordone replied, “the next round of feedback comes with the design phase, which we have not yet started. So all of this feedback is really helpful. This should be exactly the conversation we have with the designer, when the design process starts. It hasn’t started yet.”
Ms. Forst countered, “given the fact that this plan has been on the shelf for years and is being dusted off for the issuance of an RFP, I think that it makes a lot of sense to have a discussion with the community before you meet with bidders on the RFP. I don’t know if that would be a town hall, or a meeting between Community Board leaders and the Authority’s leadership. But I don’t think that starting the process with this plan, as it would have been five years ago, is really sensible in light of the things that many of us have said.”
As Ms. Cuccia turned the Committee’s attention to the third section of the plan, which focuses on West Thames Street, she observed, “this area was a big concern for folks who live on West Thames Street, because there will be less room for people to load and unload if you narrow the street.”
Committee member Bob Schneck said, “bureaucracies sometimes try to take a very old studies and apply them as though they are new. I don’t think it’s right. Enough time has passed, and enough changes have happened that the resolution from 2018 is very dated and should simply be withdrawn.”
Barbara Ireland, who lives on Rector Place, said, “it frankly seems ridiculous that we’re doing this now. We have a lot of ripping up of the streets that will take place after resilience. And that would be better timing, in terms of what the streetscape really needs to look like.”
Ms. Cuccia concluded the discussion by saying, “we need a soft reboot, based on changes that have taken place since the resolution was written. This is just this is a different neighborhood than it was five years ago.”
Mr. Sbordone said afterward that, “addressing the design of South End Avenue and West Thames Street is primarily a safety initiative. CB1 has long been engaged on this matter and eager to give feedback. Soliciting public comment is a core element of the solicitation, too. There will be multiple public sessions required of the selected bidder, as well as numerous other ways for the public to contribute going forward. Like with the South Battery Park City Resiliency Project, where public engagement has yielded an improved final design, we see the community engagement elements of the design process to be key to its success.”
Editor’s note: Ms. Cuccia is related to the editor of The Broadsheet.
A Remnant Remembered
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Taking the ‘Our’ Out of ‘Arcade’
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Floating an Idea
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4) Water Street Privately Owned Public Spaces (POPS) Interim Installation Regulations – Report
TUESDAY APRIL 12
6 River Terrace
Join in on the fun featuring easy-to-follow Latin dance choreography while working on your balance, coordination and range of motion. Come prepared for enthusiastic instruction, a little strength training and a lot of fun. Participants are encouraged to bring their own equipment: weights, water bottle, hand towel etc. Free.
Webinar. Is there an ideal portfolio of investment assets, one that perfectly balances risk and reward? In Pursuit of the Perfect Portfolio examines this question by profiling and interviewing ten of the most prominent figures in the finance world―Jack Bogle, Charley Ellis, Gene Fama, Marty Leibowitz, Harry Markowitz, Bob Merton, Myron Scholes, Bill Sharpe, Bob Shiller and Jeremy Siegel. We learn about the personal and intellectual journeys of these luminaries―which include six Nobel Laureates and a trailblazer in mutual funds―and their most innovative contributions. In the process, we come to understand how the science of modern investing came to be. Each of these finance greats discusses their idea of a perfect portfolio, offering invaluable insights to today’s investors. Talk followed by audience Q&A. Advance registration is required. Registered guests will receive the link prior to the program.
The third session of the Construction History series focuses on Facades. Steel frames freed exterior walls from structural duties, allowing architects new freedom to develop facades that could respond to changing functional and aesthetic criteria. Developers’ desire for efficiency and natural daylight led to thinner, lighter walls – “veneers” in the dismissive language of early critics and “curtain walls” in the parlance of more enthusiastic designers. Electric lighting, building materials, and environmental controls all played roles in changing skyscraper skins in both New York and Chicago. However, each city’s proximity to varying sources of stone, glass, and terra cotta – coupled with differing approaches to fire codes and the politics of local labor unions – created subtly different approaches to skyscraper facades. Free.
In a genre-defying book hailed as “exquisite” (The New York Times) and “spectacular” (The Times Literary Supplement), the best-selling memoirist and critic Daniel Mendelsohn explores the mysterious links between the randomness of the lives we lead and the artfulness of the stories we tell.
On Saturdays and Sundays, visit the exhibitions and the ships of the South Street Seaport Museum for free. At 12 Fulton Street, see “South Street and the Rise of New York” and “Millions: Migrants and Millionaires aboard the Great Liners, 1900-1914,” and at Pier 16, explore the tall ship Wavertree and lightship Ambrose. Free.
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Lower Manhattan Greenmarkets
Greenwich Street & Chambers Street
Every Wednesday & Saturday, 8am-3pm
Food Scrap Collection: Saturdays, 8am-1pm
Open Saturdays and Wednesdays year round
Bowling Green Greenmarket
Green Greenmarket at Bowling Green
Broadway & Whitehall St
Open Tuesday and Thursdays, year-round
Market Hours: 8:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
Compost Program: 8 a.m. – 11 a.m.
The Bowling Green Greenmarket brings fresh offerings from local farms to Lower Manhattan’s historic Bowling Green plaza. Twice a week year-round stop by to load up on the season’s freshest fruit, crisp vegetables, beautiful plants, and freshly baked loaves of bread, quiches, and pot pies.