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DOT Rejects Baruch's Pedestrian Plaza Plan

By Mary Johnson | November 16, 2011 6:51am
Baruch College had proposed turning East 25th Street between Third and Lexington into a pedestrian plaza. But the DOT has denied the school's request.
Baruch College had proposed turning East 25th Street between Third and Lexington into a pedestrian plaza. But the DOT has denied the school's request.
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DNAinfo/Amy Zimmer

GRAMERCY — The Department of Transportation has rejected a proposal from Baruch College to turn a chunk of East 25th Street into a pedestrian plaza.

A spokeswoman for Baruch College, Christina Latouf, confirmed that the school has received a letter from DOT declining the school’s application for a new plaza on East 25th Street between Third and Lexington, a stretch of road that slices between some of Baruch's most used buildings.

"We've gotten a variety of feedback from the DOT, and we're now planning next steps," Latouf said.

Baruch submitted a request for the plaza through the DOT's NYC Plaza Program, which allows organizations and groups to submit applications for plazas at various locations around the city.

If a proposal is accepted, the DOT will foot the bill for both design and construction.

However, in the case of Baruch, the college was willing to pay the entire cost of the plaza project, from construction to security and maintenance, officials said.

In a statement, a spokesman for the Department of Transportation, Scott Gastel, declined to elaborate what prompted the denial, especially given the fact that the plaza would come at no cost to the city.

"This is an extremely competitive citywide program," Gastel said. "And although the Baruch submission had strengths that warranted consideration, it was not selected for this round of the NYC Plaza Program."

"We’ve indicated to the organization they are welcome to apply in the future," he added.

Baruch's proposal has been in the works since earlier this year, when the school first floated the idea of giving the commuter school more of a traditional campus feel.

Their plan for the East 25th Street plaza was to shut the block down to general traffic but keep it open to emergency vehicles. Once complete, the plaza would also be accessible to the general neighborhood population.

The pedestrian plaza idea wasn’t universally championed. Several residents spoke out at meetings about the possible traffic congestion, the potential for increased noise and garbage in the area and security concerns.  

But Baruch managed to gather a healthy contingent of supporters, including business owners, residents and students.

The school also hired the engineering firm Philip Habib & Associates to assess how traffic in the area would be affected by the loss of a block. The results of that study, officials said, revealed that closing the street to traffic would have a minimal impact on the neighborhood.

“We see this as something that will benefit the community,” said Mitchel Wallerstein, president of the college, speaking at a Community Board 6 meeting in September. “We are, at our own expense, proposing to create more open space to benefit the community."

Last month, Community Board 6 passed a resolution in support of the plaza during a meeting dotted with students showing their school spirit in Baruch-blue T-shirts.

But in the end, even such ardent support proved insufficient.

City Councilwoman Rosie Mendez announced the DOT's rejection of the plaza plan at a Community Board 6 meeting last week, noting that she was “not happy” with the department's actions.

Mendez also said that she was pushing the DOT for more information about why the proposal was turned down.