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Live Music, Other Events Will Help Turn UES Block Into Public Plaza: Locals

By Shaye Weaver | June 19, 2017 5:56pm
 A view of James Cagney Place.
A view of James Cagney Place.
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DNAinfo/Shaye Weaver

YORKVILLE — Residents along a stretch of East 91st Street are hosting a night of live music in a bid to get the city to make the area an official pedestrian plaza.

On Wednesday, from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m., a series of local musicians will jam on the street between Second and Third avenues, where the public is invited to bring chairs and picnic blankets for the performance.

The event is one of many Make Music New York music festivals taking place across the city on Wednesday, but it has an added significance for those who live nearby.

For about a decade, neighbors living on the stretch — dubbed "James Cagney Place" in the late '80s — have been asking the city to remove it from the official map of city streets, arguing that it's been closed to traffic since about 1974, explained David Rosenstein, a member of Community Board 8's task force created for the effort.

"The [Department of Transportation] never de-mapped it," he said. "They told us, 'We don’t like doing that because we don’t know what the area will be like in 100 years. We may need the street.'"

The sloped street, which features bollards at both ends prohibiting vehicles, is already used as a pedestrian plaza and has been since the 1970s. Currently, elderly residents take advantage of benches on the tree-lined road, while kids play soccer and people walk their dogs there.

But in recent years, locals say they've been threatened by the possibility of traffic returning to the stretch.

Last fall, the community petitioned the DOT to remove a Citi Bike station it installed closer to Second Avenue, saying that it would bring cyclists speeding the wrong way to the foot of the hill where the station sits. However, the station remains in place.

In 2007, locals complained when the DOT installed a bike lane on the stretch because they were concerned it meant the street could be opened to traffic again, Rosenstein said.

Community Board 8 created the task force in 2015 and adopted a resolution that it should be protected in perpetuity.

The group has been unable to determine why the street was closed to traffic all those decades ago, but knowing that the DOT will not de-map it, the next best way to keep it closed off is to push the city to make it a public plaza.

The designation would not be permanent, but it seems to be the best option if it will not be de-mapped, residents said.

Last June, the task force submitted an application to make it a public plaza, like similar ones in the Flatiron District or Times Square, but it was denied because it didn't meet the criteria. To get approval, Rosenstein said residents should have previously held events on the street.

So locals are planning to reapply for the designation with a slew of public events planned for the rest of the year.

After Wednesday's performance, James Cagney Place will host a movie night in August, a Halloween costume contest and parade in October, a tree lighting in December, and a fun run on New Year's Eve, Rosenstein said.

"Without a closed street, the towers around it are bulky and looming," he added. "A park creates community."