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Transportation & Environment

Sixth and ½ Avenue: Proposal by the Department of Transportation (DOT) to Construct Mid-block Crosswalks to Connect Six Privately-Owned Public Spaces between Sixth and Seventh Avenues from West 51st Street to West 57th Street

WHEREAS, Mid-block between Sixth and Seventh Avenues, from West 51st Street through West 57th Street, there are six public passageways running north-south through the blocks that are almost continuous (see figure 1 at bottom); and

WHEREAS, Some of these passageways are fully enclosed in building and others are partially enclosed or open to the air but covered, with a scattering of amenities like seating, tables, plantings, and art; and

WHEREAS, These passageways are all privately-owned public spaces (POPS), which are spaces created through New York City Zoning Resolution granting public access to private property which in some instances allowed the developer to build additional floor area and in other cases is a zoning requirement; and

WHEREAS, Privately Owned Public Spaces are permitted in the City's high-density commercial and residential districts and are intended to provide light, air, breathing room and green space to ease the predominately concrete character of these neighborhoods and improve pedestrian circulation;

WHEREAS, These midtown POPS form a relatively continuous and uninterrupted route from West 51st Street to West 57th Street.  From north to south the buildings are:

1.      146 West 57th Street Metropolitan Tower an indoor through block connection which was required pedestrian circulation space

2.      156 West 56th Street CitySpire also an indoor through block connection adjacent to the City Center Theater

3.      151 West 54th Street Rihga Royal Hotel a covered but outdoor connection

4.      135 West 52nd Street Flatotel another outdoor through block connection which has in the past had food service; and

5.      1285 Sixth Avenue (Paine Webber) a larger open air through block arcade which is the southern terminus of this network of spaces. 

WHEREAS, Pedestrian volumes of these thru-block arcades vary with the highest volumes found in the southern thru-block arcades where during peak hours close to 1,200 pedestrians are using these connections; in the northern arcades usage is less with 200-300 pedestrians per hour; and

WHEREAS, Repeated site visits make clear that pedestrians do cross between these through blocks but often have limited visibility of oncoming traffic because parked cars and trucks obstruct a clear view of traffic; and

WHEREAS, Because many of these midtown POPS provide an opportunity to alleviate pedestrian congestion on Sixth and Seventh Avenues in a stretch of CB5 that has very high pedestrian volumes, in May of 2011 Community Board Five passed a resolution by a vote of 35 in favor, 0 opposed, 1 abstaining requesting that the New York City Department of Transportation (DOT): 

"undertake a study, consistent with that previously requested for a comprehensive surface transportation plan for midtown Manhattan, to determine the feasibility of improving both the visibility and safe utilization of these urban plazas for which they originally had been intended by:

(1) identifying them with clear but unobtrusive pedestrian-oriented signage; and

(2) creating controlled and clearly-marked pedestrian crossings that also prohibit or significantly restrict parking at those locations."

WHEREAS, In March of 2012, DOT submitted to Community Board Five a proposal to connect six of these thru-block arcades running from West 51st Street to West 57th Street. The proposed treatment would include a raised crosswalk which would be ADA accessible in addition to a stop sign to provide pedestrians a safe midblock crossing; and

WHEREAS, The proposed scheme will not lead to a loss of parking because DOT will change the parking restrictions on other portions of the block to allow new parking to offset the loss of parking spaces resulting from the creation of these new crosswalks; and 

WHEREAS, DOT staff noted that stop signs, rather than yield signs, were necessary because 'yield' signs were customarily used for cases where cars need to yield to other cars; and

WHEREAS, DOT has represented that there will be no significant impact to traffic flow through Midtown as a result of inserting these mid-block stop signs; and

WHEREAS, DOT staff explained that existing east-west traffic signal timing prevents a car from traveling through the traffic signal on Sixth Avenue and Seventh Avenue  (or from Seventh to Sixth Avenue) in one light and therefore the proposed mid-block stop signs will not prevent a car from getting through a traffic light any less quickly than they would today; and

WHEREAS, If implemented DOT has agreed to return to the Community Board Five at the earliest possible date but no later than November 1, 2012 to report back on the results of the project with the goal of ensuring that Community Board Five has an opportunity to continue to monitor the project and recommend changes as needed particularly with respect to:

1)      traffic circulation

2)      pedestrian safety

3)      loading and unloading activities in adjacent buildings among other issues; and

WHEREAS, Some of these POPS may have zoning violations and DOT has represented that they will work with the Department of City Planning, Department of Buildings, and building owners to cure these violations prior to returning to Community Board Five; and

WHEREAS, Because these arcade spaces are private the City does not have the jurisdiction to re-design the connections.  Nonetheless, Community Board Five urges DOT to work with the property owners and the Department of City Planning to make upgrades to these spaces and in particular improve the public space signage so as to make as clear as possible that these spaces are for public use and enjoyment; and

WHEREAS, Community Board Five appreciates DOT responding to the Board's request for a study and hopes this project helps strengthen a dialogue between the Community Board and DOT to address many of the pressing transportation issues faced by the Board; and

WHEREAS, Community Board Five is supportive of efforts to better manage pedestrian congestion and find ways of using these POPS for greater public benefit; therefore be it

RESOLVED, That Community Board Five recommends approval of Sixth and ½ Avenue, a proposal by the Department of Transportation (DOT) to construct mid-block crosswalks to connect six privately-owned public spaces between Sixth and Seventh Avenues from West 51st Street to West 57th Street.   

The above resolution passed with a vote of 30 in favor, 7 opposed, 1 abstaining.

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