City Hall Park Bike Lane Controversy; "Public esplanades" on Broadway?

Squirrel at City Hall Park
Squirrel at City Hall Park

In theory, more bike lanes and more public space are a good thing. But some of the recent efforts by the NYC Department of Transportation (DOT) to add more of each are a bit, um, confusing. The most recent is the arrival of a bike path through City Hall Park.

A large swath of City Hall Park that flits behind City Hall was closed for years after September 11th, 2001 for “security concerns.” It was the stick-to-it-ness of a group called Friends of City Hall Park (which ultimately threatened a lawsuit) that got this portion of the park reopened this summer.

They weren’t able to rest for too long.

The Tribeca Trib reports: “In June, the DOT unveiled plans [to Community Board 1] for a bike path connecting Hudson River Park to the Brooklyn Bridge. The proposed path was to run the length of Warren Street from the river to the bridge, with a short, connecting jaunt through the north end of City Hall Park, between City Hall and the Tweed Courthouse. After seeing the plans, CB1 voted not to support the plan. Two weeks later, the path—indicated by markers set in the pavement and several small signs—was installed anyway.”

Community Board 1 did not mince words or sugar coat their reaction. CB1 member Paul Hovitz stated, “Typical Bloomberg. He’s really not interested in community input unless it supports his position.”

The Tribeca Trib quoted Friends of City Hall Park’s Skip Blumberg: “‘This is part of a pattern of disrespect” by the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation.

The main issue is the narrowness of the pathway. Bicyclists cycling through the park mixing with pedestrians are a concern for safety reasons. Friends of City Hall Park would like the DOT to implement a “dismount and walk rule.” The DOT has said they will not do this.

Transportation Alternatives weighed in, telling the New York Times, although they support the bike path through City Hall Park, they would like to see (instead) the addition of a bike lane on Chambers Street. The DOT believes this road is too dangerous for most cyclists.


Public esplanades along Broadway?

Then, there is DOT’s plan to make “public esplanades” along Broadway between 34th Street and 42nd Street, removing two traffic lanes to do so. It’s hard to imagine this. For some more insight, The New York Times turned to Barbara Randall, the executive director of the Fashion Center Business Improvement District, who said, “I’m envisioning it as a public park on the street.”

The Times‘ reports that the plans include “setting aside the east side of the roadway for a bicycle lane and a pedestrian walkway with cafe tables, chairs, umbrellas and flower-filled planters.”

As with most “initiatives” put forth by the Bloomberg Administration, the Business Improvement Districts play a major role.

The Fashion Center BID, along with the Times Square Alliance, and the 34th Street Partnership, two other area BIDS, are working with DOT “to create the boulevard.” The three BIDS “have agreed to pay for maintenance, which primarily involves buying and maintaining the plants for the planters.” The yearly cost for this is estimated at $280,000.

A local worker, Corey Baker, had a hard time envisioning the appeal of this. He told the Times, “They’ll have carbon monoxide in their tuna fish.”

It all remains to be seen.

* * *

Perhaps if the City would leave our great public spaces alone that actually work as public spaces (see: Washington Square Park, Union Square Park), and not take away parks that are desperately needed (see: Bronx. Yankee Stadium) and not privatize every space in sight (see: all of the above, as well as Randall’s Island), and not cut down thousands of mature trees in our public spaces (reference: all of the above), they wouldn’t have to fiddle in areas that just don’t quite make sense.

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