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Union Square Pedestrian Plaza Plan Gets Green Light From Community Board

By DNAinfo Staff on July 12, 2010 9:41am

A rendering of the proposed redesign of E. 17th Street between Broadway and Park Avenue South on the north side of Union Square.
A rendering of the proposed redesign of E. 17th Street between Broadway and Park Avenue South on the north side of Union Square.
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NYC Department of Transportation

By Jill Colvin

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

MIDTOWN — A plan to reshuffle traffic around Union Square and add a new pedestrian plaza nearby has been given the final green light after months of contentious debate.

Community Board 5 voted overwhelmingly in favor of the Department of Transportation's plan for the square despite continuing cries from a group of vocal residents who say the changes will only make traffic in the congested neighborhood worse.

The revised plan, which the DOT will begin implementing in the coming months, will restrict traffic to one-way westbound on E. 17th Street between Broadway and Park Avenue South.

Broadway will be narrowed to one lane from 17th to 23rd streets, and a new pedestrian plaza will be added to the east side of Broadway between 17th and 18th streets. The exact design of the plaza, including whether or not it will have tables and chairs like Herald Square and Times Square, is still up for debate.

To improve traffic on Park Avenue South, southbound cars will be prohibited from turning left at 18th Street, while northbound cars will be banned from turning left onto 19th and 23rd streets, among other restrictions.

Numerous dedicated turning lanes will also be added, in addition to new protected bike lanes and revised parking schemes.

The DOT's Ryan Russo said the department hopes the plan will make the stretch more pedestrian-friendly, less chaotic and cut accidents in half.

Nonetheless, a handful of residents continued to complain that they've been left out of the decision process and haven't been given enough time to consider the changes.

"I think this plan is being rushed to the extreme and rammed down neighbors' throats," lawyer Milton Meyers, 63, a 20-year resident of 18th Street and Irving Place, told the standing room-only crowd at the CB5 meeting Thursday.

Artist Silvia Kolbowski, who has collected more than 300 neighborhood signatures opposing the plan, accused the DOT of caring less about improving safety than pushing through another pedestrian plaza as part of a larger city plan.

"If the issue was safety at the crossings, then surely this plan is overblown," said Kolbowski, 56, who has lived on East 18th Street at Park Avenue South for a decade. The plan, she said, will create "nothing but chaos."

While such opinions were overwhelming when the idea was first presented back in April, opposition has faded as the DOT has made revisions, including dropping an initial plan to completely shut down Broadway to traffic between E. 17th to 18th streets at certain times of the day.

Numerous organizations, including representatives from New York University, the Union Square Green Market, the Union Square Partnership, and Transportation Alternatives have now joined in support of the plan.

"This neighborhood has a chance to have some significant safety improvements that other neighborhoods are clamoring for," dance instructor, Detta Ahl, 31, who lives in Morningside Heights but frequently cycles in the area, told the audience.

The plan was ultimately adopted on a 'pilot' basis, with a provision that the DOT return in three and six months after implementation to report on the results.