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PHOTOS: Plans for Massive Orchard Street Redesign Includes Pedestrian Plaza

By Lisha Arino | September 5, 2014 4:30pm | Updated on September 7, 2014 9:43pm
 The Lower East Side Business Improvement District unveiled a proposed redesign of Orchard Street on Sept. 4, 2014 at a Community Board 3 transportation committee meeting.
LES BID's Proposed Orchard Street Redesign
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LOWER EAST SIDE — Orchard Street is about to become more walkable.

The Lower East Side Business Improvement District unveiled a proposal for a large-scale redesign of Orchard Street between Canal and Houston streets that includes multiple sidewalk extensions at each of the seven intersections that include planters, benches, bike racks and more room for pedestrians to stand.

The plan, which was revealed at a Community Board 3 transportation committee meeting Thursday night, will reduce the number of truck loading and unloading zones, and will prevent drivers from cutting through Orchard Street at Broome Street to get to the Williamsburg Bridge by placing a pedestrian plaza on Broome between Orchard and Allen streets, officials said.

"People need to drive, people need to bike and people need to walk. We've been able to put together a plan that works for everything," said LES BID Executive Director Tim Laughlin.

The plan follows months of community input, which included an interactive workshop where participants could place mini benches and bike corrals on 16-foot replica of the Orchard Street corridor.

The design was developed by the Pilot Projects Design Collective, and aims to improve pedestrian and cyclist safety while accommodating car and truck traffic.

Central to the plan is the “grove concept,” which relies on painted-on curb extensions at each intersection between Canal and Houston streets filled with plant boxes and room for pedestrians to stand while waiting to cross the street. They would also serve as a traffic calming measure designed to encourage vehicles to slow down at the intersections, which only have stop signs and no lights, Laughlin said.

“They’re designed strategically around [each] corner from Canal to Houston,” Laughlin said.

The groves could also include bench seating as well as bike parking that keeps the sidewalks accessible, he said.

The plan also changes the current “No Standing Zone” parking regulations from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.,  creating a portion of parking spaces into designated truck loading and unloading zones, and creating 27 new muni metered parking spots, Laughlin said.

“Because you’re defining the zones and it’s not the entire block, you’re able to add parking to the east side of the street that would not be there otherwise,” Laughlin said.

Laughlin defended a controversial plan to shut off the intersection of Broome Street between Orchard and Allen streets and turn it into a pedestrian plaza. The plan is designed to discourage drivers from using Broome and Orchard streets as a shortcut to the Williamsburg Bridge, Laughlin said.

Laughlin said it would improve pedestrian safety, especially since the area includes the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, which attracts tourists.

However, CB3 member Chad Marlow — who said he supported the other aspects of the plan — expressed concerns that the plaza would negatively impact traffic flow.

"We had some real reservations if that could have unintended consequences," said Marlow, explaining that in the past, street closures and pedestrian malls in the area have led to severe traffic congestion.

The BID believes it would have a negligible impact, but will conduct further traffic analysis and work with the Department of Transportation on the issue, Laughlin said.

“We are committed to further investigating of any potential impact,” he said.

CB3's transportation committee approved the plan, on condition the BID made efforts to preserve the area's character and investigate the Broome Street pedestrian plaza traffic impact. The plan next goes to the full board for a vote, and will also need approval from the Parks Department, the Department of Transportation, the Department of Design and Construction and others, Laughlin said.

Laughlin said the project has obtained some funds but is still working on securing the full funding amount. He said the BID hopes to start working on some of the groves next spring, in the first of a several-year-long project.